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Afghanistan: Taliban say August 31 deadline for troop withdrawals a 'red line'

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By Euronews with AP, AFP
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Taliban fighters travel on a vehicle mounted with the Taliban flag in the Karte Mamorin area of Kabul on August 22, 2021
Taliban fighters travel on a vehicle mounted with the Taliban flag in the Karte Mamorin area of Kabul on August 22, 2021   -   Copyright  HOSHANG HASHIMI/AFP
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The Taliban say the 31 August deadline for the withdrawal of international troops from Afghanistan is a "red line" and that no extension will be allowed.

US President Joe Biden said on Sunday that personnel may need to stay beyond that date to continue the evacuation of all Americans (see full story below). Britain is urging Washington to extend the evacuation and Prime Minister Boris Johnson plans to press Biden at an emergency G7 meeting on Tuesday.

But Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen has said that such a move by the US or the UK would mean "they are extending occupation" and would bring "consequences", creating "mistrust" between the two sides.

See our live blog below for the latest updates.

Key developments:

  • The German military says an Afghan security guard was killed and another three were wounded in an exchange of fire involving German and American forces at Kabul airport early on Monday.
  • Boris Johnson said on Sunday that leaders of the G7, whose presidency is currently assured by the UK, will meet remotely on Tuesday for "urgent discussions" on Afghanistan.
  • Western countries are rushing to evacuate their citizens as well as Afghans considered at-risk following the Taliban takeover.
  • At least seven people died in the chaos outside the Kabul airport, the British military said on Sunday, as thousands try to flee.
  • The UK prime minister spoke on Sunday with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, saying countries should work together to share the burden over aid and refugees.
  • The US defence department has ordered the emergency use of commercial aircraft to assist in Kabul evacuations.
  • The Taliban have sent fighters north to face a potential rebellion in the Panjshir Valley.

08.23.2021
19:13

Pace of evacuations has 'doubled' since yesterday: NATO official

Stefano Pontecorvo, the NATO senior civilian representative to Afghanistan, said on Monday evening that "the pace of departure has nearly doubled from yesterday."
He made the comment on Twitter with a picture showing Afghan employees and their families boarding a plane at Kabul airport.
08.23.2021
17:36

Berlin in talks with US, Turkey to keep Kabul airport secure past August 31

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told reporters on Monday that Berlin is in talks with Washington and Ankara and others "about the continued operation of Kabul airport beyond the military evacuation."
"This also requires talks with the Taliban, who will have a role to play after the withdrawal of US forces," he said. 
08.23.2021
17:10

16,000 evacuated over past 24 hours: Pentagon

The Press Secretary for the Pentagon, John F. Kirby, is giving a press conference.
It was announced that 16,300 people have been evacuated from Kabul over the previous day, bringing the total of evacuees since the end of July to about 42,000.
08.23.2021
16:34

5,000 waiting to be evacuated from Kabul: Germany’s top military commander

Gen. Eberhard Zorn said Monday the figure has declined from about 7,000 at the weekend.

He said: “We are now trying internationally to reduce this number as far as possible to make room for others … and above all, ultimately to cushion somewhat the precarious accommodation and waiting situation there.”

Zorn said he couldn’t say what proportion of people at the airport are children or families. But he said on Germany’s flights, about 50% of the Afghans evacuated were women.

Germany flew in supplies Sunday in an effort to help improve the situation inside the airport. Zorn said they included diapers, pacifiers and cuddly toys for small children, as well as food for children. More supplies are in the pipeline.

“The situation in front of the gates remains difficult," Zorn said. “I would also call it dramatic, because the accumulation of people interested in getting into the airport grounds is enormously high (and) additional potential for violence is arising on the ground in this group.”

08.23.2021
16:27

French ministers in Abu Dhabi to meet those organising evacuations

France has been evacuating its nationals and Afghan staff via the United Arab Emirates.

Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and Defense Minister Florence Parly are travelling to Abu Dhabi on Monday to meet with diplomats, soldiers, police officers and other staff involved in evacuation operations, the ministries said in a statement Monday.

More than 1,000 Afghans, almost 100 French and more than 40 people from other nationalities have been evacuated by France over the past week, authorities said.

A seventh plane landed in Paris airport Monday, carrying 246 Afghans and five French.

The ministers’ trip is also aimed at praising the support of the UAE, where France has a permanent military base, the statement said.

Le Drian and Parly are to meet with Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Abu Dhabi’s crown prince, to have talks over the situation in Afghanistan and how to “preserve the regional security and stability.”

08.23.2021
15:21

Taliban urge imams to 'calm' Afghan population

The Taliban’s longtime spokesman has urged imams in Afghanistan to give assurances to Afghans about their security and safety.

Zabihullah Mujahid said Monday at a gathering of clerics in the capital Kabul that they are responsible for keeping their constituents calm.

He also urged them to “clear the baseless propaganda” he says is being disseminated by the U.S. about the Taliban.

He says: “Imams, keep your people calm, we should indoctrinate people to support the Islamic government and Islamic Emirates of Afghanistan.”

Mujahid said government employees will soon be able to return to work and Afghans will remain safe under a previously announced amnesty.

The Taliban have pledged amnesty to those who worked with the U.S., NATO and the toppled Afghan government, but many Afghans still fear revenge attacks. There have been reports in recent days of the Taliban hunting down their former enemies.

08.23.2021
15:02

Evacuations from Afghanistan to Europe: the tally so far

Context: the White House said on Sunday that around 25,100 people had been evacuated by the US and its allies since August 14. President Biden is aiming to pull out all remaining 10-15,000 Americans and hopes to do the same for Afghan allies and their families (50-65,000 people) by August 31, a task deemed "mathematically impossible" by the EU's top diplomat Josep Borrell.
Here's a round-up of evacuations to main European countries:
UK: 5,725 people since August 13, including 3,100 Afghans.
Germany: nearly 3,000 people of 38 nationalities on 21 flights. The United States also organised the evacuation of some 5,000 people to its military base in Ramstein.
Italy: around 1,600 Afghan civilians in less than a week, with an overall target of 2,500.
France: 100 French nationals, nearly 40 nationals of partner countries and some 1,300 Afghans.
Denmark: 650 people including at least 45 Afghans and their families.
Poland: more than 350 people have already landed.
Belgium: the first two planes arrived Monday with 226 people, mostly Afghans and their families, from Islamabad where Belgian forces have already evacuated some 400 people.
Spain: 314 Afghans arrived overnight on board two military planes. Via its bases in Rota and Moron in Andalusia, it also now serves as a transit country for US evacuations.
Sweden: over 170 people including 68 who worked for its army who have residence permits.
Hungary: the first plane participating in the airlift arrived Sunday evening with 173 people including 96 Afghans as well as Hungarians and Americans, evacuated via Uzbekistan. At least 26 Hungarians had previously been brought out by allies.
Bulgaria: 20 nationals evacuated via allied planes.
Romania: over 45 Romanians repatriated including 15 on a Romanian military plane.
Austria: at least eight Austrians have been evacuated, dozens more and Afghans with Austrian residence permits are waiting to leave. 
Switzerland: around 100 people so far, including at least 11 Swiss and Afghans with their families. A 300-seat plane flew to Tashkent on Monday to transport evacuees from Kabul to Uzbekistan.
08.23.2021
14:43

Iran seeks a government 'representative of Afghan diversity'

Iran has called on "all parties" in Afghanistan to end the violence and to negotiate to form a government "representative of the diversity" of the country, and which wants good relations with its neighbours.
"There is no military solution to the crisis", foreign affairs spokesman Saïd Khatibzadeh told a televised press briefing.
"All groups and all political camps must refrain from resorting to force and work towards negotiation and dialogue," he said, adding that Tehran keeps open a permanent channel of communication with all sides in Afghanistan.
Iran shares a border of more than 900 km with Afghanistan and had conflicting relations with the Taliban during their previous rule, which Tehran never recognized.
But its Shi'ite government as recently showed signs of a rapprochement with the Taliban's Sunni militia in the name of pragmatism.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Iran has accepted more than 3.46 million Afghans on its soil, the vast majority of them refugees or undocumented, more than 4% of the country's population.
Khatibzadeh would not say how many Afghan refugees had entered Iran recently.
08.23.2021
14:26

Russia says it won't intervene in standoff with Taliban

Russia says it will not interfere in the stand-off between the Taliban and their opponents in Afghanistan.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Monday that leaders of the Collective Security Treaty Organization member states discussed the standoff and its implications of “another civil war in Afghanistan." He says that, “Of course, no one is going to intervene in these events.”

Taliban spokesman said Monday the group’s forces have surrounded Panjshir, the only one of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces that has not yet fallen to the Taliban. Several Taliban opponents have gathered in Panjshir.

They include Amrullah Saleh, the vice president in the toppled government who claims to be the acting president, and Ahmad Massoud, son of the slain commander of the Northern Alliance militias that partnered with the U.S. to drive the Taliban from power in 2001.

The Collective Security Treaty Organization includes Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Armenia, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

Moscow fought a 10-year war in Afghanistan that ended with Soviet troops’ withdrawal in 1989 and has made a diplomatic comeback as a mediator, jockeying with the U.S. for influence in the country. It has hosted several rounds of talks on Afghanistan, most recently in March, that involved the Taliban — even though Russia has labeled them a terrorist organisation.

08.23.2021
14:24

Taliban won't form government 'as long as single US soldier present' in country

The Taliban will not announce the constitution of a government in Afghanistan as long as American soldiers remain on its soil, two sources within the Islamist movement told AFP on Monday.
"It was decided that the formation of the government (...) would not be announced as long as a single American soldier was present in Afghanistan," said one of the sources. The information was confirmed by a second.

Biden: Kabul airlift deadline may be extended beyond August 31

President Joe Biden said Sunday the U.S.-led evacuation of Americans, at-risk Afghans and others from the Kabul airport accelerated this weekend, although it remains vulnerable to threats posed by the Islamic State extremist group, AP reports.

One week after the Taliban completed its takeover of Afghanistan by capturing Kabul, Biden said discussions are underway among military officials about potentially extending the airlift beyond Biden's Aug. 31 deadline. “Our hope is we will not have to extend, but there are discussions,” he said, suggesting the possibility that the Taliban will be consulted.

Since Aug. 14, one day before the Taliban entered Kabul, the airlift has evacuated 28,000 people, Biden said. He said that included 11,000 who had departed from Kabul in a 36-hour period this weekend, but he did not provide details. The number appeared to include flights by charter and non-U.S. military aircraft as well as the U.S. Air Force C-17 and C-130 transport planes that have been flying daily from the capital. The U.S. military is controlling air traffic on both the civilian and military sides of the airport.

Tens of thousands of people remain to join the airlift, which has been slowed by security issues and U.S. bureaucracy hurdles.

Biden asserted, without a full explanation, that U.S. forces have managed to improve access to the airport for Americans and others seeking to get on flights. He suggested that the perimeter had been extended, widening a “safe zone.”

“What I’m not going to do is talk about the tactical changes we’re making to make sure we maintain as much security as we can," he said. "We have constantly, how can I say it, increased rational access to the airport, where more folk can get there more safely. It's still a dangerous operation but I don’t want to go into the detail of how we’re doing that.”

Later Biden added: “We've discussed a lot with the Taliban. They’ve been cooperative in extending some of the perimeter.”

He said groups of Americans in Kabul are being moved more efficiently and safely to the airport, but he provided no details.

“Any American who wants to get home, will get home,” he asserted.

Earlier Sunday, administration officials said the U.S. military is considering “creative ways” to get Americans and others into the Kabul airport for evacuation from Afghanistan amid “acute” security threats, and the Pentagon on Sunday ordered six U.S. commercial airlines to help move evacuees from temporary sites outside of Afghanistan.

Addressing a criticism cited by many Republicans, Biden said no Afghan evacuees are being flown directly to the United States from Afghanistan without prior screening. He said they are being screened in third countries.

Biden and his top aides have repeatedly cited their concern that extremist groups in Afghanistan will attempt to exploit the chaos around the Kabul airport.

“The threat is real, it is acute, it is persistent and something we’re focused with every tool in our arsenal," said Biden's national security adviser, Jake Sullivan.

Sullivan said on CNN's “State of the Union” that 3,900 people had been airlifted out of Kabul on U.S. military flights over the past 24 hours. A U.S. defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity to provide details not yet made public, said those people were flown on a total of 23 flights — 14 by C-17 transports and nine aboard C-130 cargo planes.

That represents an increase from 1,600 flown out aboard U.S. military planes in the previous 24 hours, but remains far below the 5,000 to 9,000 that the military says it has the capacity to airlift daily. Sullivan also said about 3,900 people were airlifted on non-U.S. military flights over the past 24 hours.

The Biden administration has given no firm estimate of the number of Americans seeking to leave Afghanistan. Some have put the total between 10,000 and 15.000. Sullivan on Sunday put it at “several thousand.”

Speaking on ABC’s “This Week,” Austin said that as Biden’s Aug. 31 deadline for ending the evacuation operation approaches, he will recommend whether to give it more time. Tens of thousands of Americans and others have yet to be flown out of the country.

Austin’s interview with ABC aired Sunday but was taped Saturday. In a notice Sunday, the State Department urged people seeking to leave Afghanistan as part of an organized private evacuation effort not come to the Kabul airport “until you have received specific instructions” to do so from the U.S. Embassy’s flight organizer. The notice said that others, including American citizens, who have received specific instructions from the embassy to make their way to the airport should do so.

Austin said the airlift would continue for as long as possible.

“We’re gonna try our very best to get everybody, every American citizen who wants to get out, out,” Austin said in the interview. “And we’ve got -- we continue to look at different ways to -- in creative ways -- to reach out and contact American citizens and help them get into the airfield.”

The British military said Sunday another seven people had been killed in the unceasing crush of crowds outside the airport.

Republicans in Congress stepped up their criticism of Biden's response. “If the Taliban is saying that Americans can travel safely to the airport, then there is no better way to make sure they get safely to the airport than to use our military to escort them,” GOP Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa, an Army veteran, said on ABC's “This Week.”

Ryan Crocker, who served as U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan under Presidents George W, Bush and Barack Obama, told CBS' “Face the Nation” that Biden’s management of the withdrawal was “catastrophic” and had unleashed a “global crisis.”

A central problem in the evacuation operation is processing evacuees once they reach other countries in the region and in Europe. Those temporary waystations, including in Qatar, Bahrain and Germany, are sometimes reaching capacity, although new sites are being made available, including in Spain.

In an attempt to alleviate that, and to free up military aircraft for missions from Kabul, the Pentagon on Sunday activated the Civil Reserve Air Fleet. The Defense Department said 18 aircraft from American Airlines, Atlas Air, Delta Air Lines, Omni Air, Hawaiian Airlines and United Airlines will be directed to ferry evacuees from interim waystations. The airlines will not fly into Afghanistan. The six participating airlines have agreed to assist for a little less than two weeks, which roughly coincides with the currently planned duration of the airlift, which is to end Aug. 31.

The civil airline reserve system was last activated in 2003 for the Iraq War. The commercial airliners will retain their civilian status but the military's Air Mobility Command will control the flights.