The Latest: Taliban leader reported in Kabul for talks

National & World News

A U.S. Chinook helicopter flies over the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, Sunday, Aug. 15, 2021. Helicopters are landing at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul as diplomatic vehicles leave the compound amid the Taliban advanced on the Afghan capital. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)

Senior Taliban leader Amir Khan Muttaqi is said to be in the Afghan capital negotiating with Kabul’s political leadership, including Abdullah Abdullah, who once headed the country’s negotiating council, and former President Hamid Karzai.

That is according to an official familiar with the talks and who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the media..

Muttaqi was a higher education minister when the Taliban last ruled and he began making contacts with Afghan political leaders even before Afghan President Ashraf Ghani secretly slipped away from the Presidential Palace on the weekend, leaving a devastating vacuum that Taliban who were surrounding the city strode in to fill.

The official says the talks underway in the Afghan capital are aimed at bringing other non-Taliban leaders into the government that Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen has said will be an “inclusive Afghan government.”

There is little indication about the substance of the talks, but Shaheen earlier told The Associated Press that a government will be announced after negotiations with non-Taliban leaders are completed.

Afghans familiar with the talks say some rounds have gone late into the night and have been underway since soon after Ghani’s departure.

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MORE ON THE CRISIS IN AFGHANISTAN:

— Taliban take over Afghanistan: What we know and what’s next

— Chaos as thousands flee Afghanistan after Taliban takeover

— Afghan woman in limbo at Kabul airport after Taliban sweep

— Concerns over US terror threats rising as Taliban hold grows

— Biden team surprisedby rapid Taliban gains in Afghanistan

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

UNITED NATIONS — Pakistan’s ambassador at the United Nations says U.S. President Joe Biden’s endorsement of the previous American administrations’ decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan was “a logical conclusion to this conflict.”

Munir Akram told reporters at U.N. headquarters in New York on Monday that the international community must now work together “to ensure an inclusive political settlement for a long-term peace, security and development of Afghanistan.” He says Pakistan’s stance “that the conflict in Afghanistan never had a military solution” has been confirmed.

The envoy says the best time to end the conflict through negotiations probably was when U.S. and NATO troops were at a maximum military strength in Afghanistan. Akram adds that “therefore, endorsement by the Biden administration of the previous U.S. administrations’ decision of troop withdrawal was indeed a logical conclusion to this conflict.”

Akram says leaders of a number of Afghan political parties and groups “representing all the multiethnic groups apart from the Pashtuns” are in Pakistan’s capital and met with the foreign minister and other leaders Monday. He says Pakistan will work with them and with Taliban representatives to advance the goal of an inclusive political government.

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WASHINGTON — The family of a Navy veteran who was abducted in Afghanistan last year has met in Washington with senior Biden administration officials.

The meeting took place Monday as the family of Mark Frerichs appealed for the U.S. government’s help getting him home.

Frerichs is a civil engineer who was abducted in Kabul on Jan. 31, 2020. It is believed he is being held by the Taliban-affiliated Haqqani network.

Frerichs’ sister Charlene Cakora says in a statement that if it would help get her brother home, she would support the release from U.S. prison of a drug trafficker that the Taliban has said it wants freed.

She says that if the administration is not prepared to support the trade, then officials should tell the family what it will do instead.

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WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden is acknowledging that the collapse of the Afghan government occurred much faster than his administration expected.

The president says in Monday’s remarks at the White House, “The truth is this did unfold more quickly than we had anticipated.”

Afghanistan erupted into disarray as the Taliban swept across the country in recent days, taking the capital of Kabul this weekend as the United States has been attempting to withdraw its forces, diplomats, allies and Afghans who worked with the coalition over the course of the 20 year war.

Yet the president says that the rapid end of the Afghan government only vindicates his choice to end the war.

Biden says, “American troops cannot and should not be fighting the war, and dying in a war that Afghan forces are not willing to fight for themselves.”

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PARIS — President Emmanuel Macron promised on Monday that France would not abandon Afghans who worked for his country — from translators to kitchen staff, as well as artists, activists and others under threat from the Taliban.

Macron said that protecting those who helped France over the years is an “absolute urgency,” adding that two military transport planes, with special forces, were due to arrive in Kabul “in the coming hours.”

The exact timing was not immediately clear since the United States temporarily shut down the Kabul airport to civilian and military flights following deadly chaos on the tarmac that left at least seven people dead. The aircraft would fly from a base in Abu Dhabi, a transit stop for France’s evacuees.

According to Macron’s pre-recorded speech, it’s not known how many would be involved in the evacuation. France has already pulled out some 1,400 Afghan employees and families, and evacuated citizens on a charter flight in July. Paris withdrew all its soldiers from Afghanistan after 13 years by December 2014, but continued work with civil society.

The French president vowed that the fight against “Islamic terrorism in all its forms” would not end.

“Afghanistan cannot again become the sanctuary for terrorism that it was,” Macron said. Stability can only come about through political and diplomatic actions to be defined in the days ahead with the U.N. Security Council.

“We will do everything so that Russia, the United States and Europe can cooperate efficiently because our interests are the same,” he said and also said France — along with Germany and other European countries — would work swiftly on developing a “robust response” to another major concern for many countries, a flux of irregular migration by Afghans.

Afghanistan, he said, “will also need in the times ahead its (people) and Europe cannot alone assume the consequences of the current situation.

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KABUL, Afghanistan — A Taliban official said Monday in a news conference at the Afghan presidential palace that he had been held for eight years by the U.S. at the Guantanamo Bay detention center before he was released under former President George W. Bush.

Gholam Ruhani was among 13 Afghan prisoners released in December 2007. A military review panel had recommended he be transferred out of U.S. custody after concluded he posed a “medium” risk to the U.S. and its allies. He was one of 485 prisoners sent back to their home countries from Guantanamo under the Bush administration.

Ruhani, who was among the first prisoners brought to what was then a makeshift prison on the U.S. base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in January 2002, had admitted to the military panel that he had been a member of the Taliban and spent four years in their intelligence service in Kabul.

Now about 46, Ruhani grew up in the Ghazni area and fled the country for Iran during the Afghan-Soviet war, returning to the country in 1992. He told the U.S. military that he was conscripted by the Taliban in 1996 after working in his family’s store. He also admitted that his brother-in-law was the chief of intelligence for the Taliban.

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BLUFFTON, South Carolina — A Republican congressman who served in the air force in Afghanistan says both the Trump and the Biden administration are to blame for what is happening in Kabul now.

Adam Kinzinger, from Illinois, spoke to The Associated Press about the dramatic scenes from Kabul’s airport on Monday, with “people falling off of a C17 aircraft” in the mad scramble to get out. He says: “This is going to make Saigon look like Disney World in comparison.”

Kinzinger added that the “impact to America’s reputation” would also be considerable and that “this is an embarrassment to our country.” He condemned both Republicans and Democrats for what he said were their efforts “to pin it on one person or one party.”

He said “all Republicans, all Democrats bear some blame. And the last administration and this one bear huge.”

Kinzinger added: “You really have to question whether this was worth it in the long run.”

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WASHINGTON — U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan says the failure of the Afghan military is to blame for the Taliban’s swift takeover of Afghanistan.

Sullivan says President Joe Biden didn’t want the U.S. to enter a “third decade of conflict” in Afghanistan and believed it was time for the Afghan army to defend the country two decades after billions of dollars of investment and training by the U.S.

But Sullivan says, “we could not give them the will and ultimately they decided that they would not fight for Kabul.”

He says the “worst-case scenario” for the U.S. would be to send thousands and thousands of troops back to “fight and die” in a civil war when the Afghan army “wasn’t prepared to fight itself.”

Sullivan says Biden faced “bad choices” and that he chose to bring U.S. troops home and leave the Afghans to fight for themselves.

He says “it’s heartbreaking” to see what’s happening in Kabul but that Biden “stands by” his decision.

Sullivan spoke on Monday on ABC’s “Good Morning America” and NBC’s “Today.”

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ANKARA, Turkey — The leader of Turkey’s main nationalist party, allied with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling party, says he sees no reason for Ankara to withdraw its troops or diplomats from Afghanistan, insisting that Turkey’s presence there is “legitimate, friendly and peaceful.”

Devlet Bahceli, the leader of the Nationalist Action Party also said on Monday that the presence of ethnically Turkic groups in Afghanistan “imposes a responsibility on Turkey.”

On the threat of a possible Afghan migrants making their way to Turkey, Bahceli said the government should “consider every option, including negotiating with the Taliban” to prevent an influx.

“It is not possible for Turkey to digest irregular migration originating from Afghanistan,” he said.

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GENEVA — A top aviation industry association says airlines are avoiding the airspace over Afghanistan — a key route for travel between Europe and Asia — which could raise costs for airlines.

The International Air Transport Association says Afghan airspace no longer has operations from a civilian air traffic service.

IATA said on Monday that countries near Afghanistan have indicated they can accommodate additional traffic. It said that “the use of alternative routes through these states will support safe and secure operations, but will have time, operational and fuel impacts upon airlines.”

The association also said traffic through the area had already been reduced due to the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

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WASHINGTON — The Biden administration is reaching out to top rivals Russia and China as the situation in Afghanistan continues to deteriorate amid a scramble to evacuate Americans, other foreigners and at-risk Afghans from the Kabul airport.

The outreach also comes amid concerns that either or both Moscow and Beijing might stymie an international consensus on isolating the Taliban should conditions worsen.

The State Department says Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke on Monday to his Chinese and Russian counterparts about “developments in Afghanistan, including the security situation.” Department spokesman Ned Price said Blinken called Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov a day after the U.S. evacuated its embassy in Kabul and relocated remaining diplomats to the airport.

China has in recent weeks expressed an interest in working with the Taliban while Russia has its own history in Afghanistan. Earlier Monday, China said its embassy in Kabul remains open and is willing to assist with Afghan reconstruction. The foreign ministry would not say if Beijing would recognize the Taliban as the new government but said China would respect the choice of the Afghan people.

Russia’s foreign ministry said Lavrov and Blinken “discussed the situation in Afghanistan after the flight of the country’s leader, disintegration of the existing government bodies and a de-facto ongoing regime change.”

It said Lavrov had shared “Russian assessments of the situation” and Moscow’s contacts with “representatives of all main political forces in Afghanistan in the interest of ensuring stability and order.” The two agreed “to continue consultations” that would involve China, Pakistan, other “interested nations” and the UN to try to press for an intra-Afghan dialogue.

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BERLIN — German Chancellor Angela Merkel has called the latest developments in Afghanistan “bitter, dramatic and awful.”

Merkel told reporters on Monday night that the “breathtaking speed” with which the Taliban have taken over is especially bitter for the “millions of Afghans who supported a more liberal society and who counted on the support of the Western countries when it comes to democracy, education, women’s rights and who also had achieved important progress.”

Merkel said the development was also bitter “for Germany and the other allied nations who fought against terrorism under the lead of the United States and NATO in Afghanistan for 20 years after the terror attacks of September 11.”

The chancellor added that especially in these difficult hours one should never forget the people who gave their lives in this conflict — including 59 Germans who died in Afghanistan and many more who were injured.

She said a thorough analysis was needed of what went wrong and lessons had to be drawn for future military engagement. Merkel also vowed to support neighboring countries such as Pakistan when it comes to helping refugees fleeing the crisis in Afghanistan.

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LONDON — The office of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Monday he has spoken to French President Emmanuel Macron to discuss the situation in Afghanistan.

Johnson said he planned to host a virtual meeting of the Group of Seven leaders on Afghanistan in the next few days, Downing Street said.

“He stressed the need for the international community to come together and take a unified approach on Afghanistan, both in terms of recognizing any future government and in working to prevent a humanitarian and refugee crisis,” his office said in a statement.

Johnson and Macron agreed that Britain and France should work together at the United Nations Security Council, including a possible joint resolution. They also agreed on the importance of cooperation in helping their citizens and others get to safety.

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UNITED NATIONS — The U.N. Security Council is calling for an immediate halt to hostilities in Afghanistan and establishment of a new government “that is united, inclusive and representative” and that also includes women.

The council said in its first statement since the Taliban takeover that “institutional continuity and adherence to Afghanistan’s international obligations, as well as the safety and security of all Afghan and international citizens, must be ensured.”

Council members “called for an immediate end to the violence in Afghanistan” and the “restoration of security, civil and constitutional order,” as well as urgent talks to resolve the current crisis of authority and find a resolution “through an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned process.”

The council — without singling out the Taliban — also called for all parties to adhere to international human rights norms and standards and “put an end to all abuses and violations.” It also called for immediate access for U.N. and other humanitarian personnel to provide aid to millions in need, “including across conflict lines.”

The statement, drafted by Estonia and Norway, was approved by all 15 council members at an emergency meeting on Afghanistan.

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WARSAW, Poland — Poland’s prime minister says the country is sending planes to Afghanistan to evacuate translators and other people who have helped Poland over the years.

“Our priority now is to ensure the safety of all those who are associated with Poland in Afghanistan,” Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said, adding that “some these activities must, for obvious reasons, remain secret.”

He said that more planes than necessary will be sent and that Poland will be in a position to help other allies evacuate people as well.

He said Poland would do its best to “everyone who has helped Poland over the years, whether as a translator or in any other form of assistance” as humanely as possible.

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CAIRO — Japan’s top diplomat has urged all parties in Afghanistan to work on restoring security and order in the country after the Taliban seized power there.

Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi spoke on Monday at a joint news conference in Cairo with his Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shukry.

Motegi also called for all concerned parties in Afghanistan to ensure the protection of lives and property in the country. He said he has agreed to cooperate with Egypt, as an influential power in the Islamic world, to ensure that the latest developments in Afghanistan don’t cause further unrest.

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KABUL, Afghanistan — The U.N. resident coordinator in Afghanistan says they will continue to work with the “de facto authorities” to provide humanitarian assistance after the Taliban takeover.

Ramiz Alakbarov told The Associated Press on Monday that the recent fighting had displaced some 600,000 people, and that because of the fluidity of the situation, humanitarian teams are not able to help everywhere.

Alakbarov, who is in Kabul, says he thought the international community should have invested more in health, education, and the future of women and young people, not necessarily so much in security infrastructure, if it had wanted to avoid “the results that we have now”.

He noted that the U.N.’s humanitarian appeal for Afghanistan, 1.3 billion dollars for 2021, is funded only to 38%.

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UNITED NATIONS — The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations is calling for a halt to attacks on Afghan civilians, protection of the human rights of all people in the country especially women, girls and minorities, and for all parties to prevent terrorism.

Linda Thomas-Greenfield told an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council on Monday that “we must all ensure Afghanistan cannot ever, ever again be a base for terrorism.”

She reemphasized that “civilian populations, including journalists and non-combatants, must be protected.”

Thomas-Greenfield made no mention of the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan but said the role of U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and the two U.N. envoys — special representative Deborah Lyons and personal envoy Jean Arnault — “is especially vital now as we enter an uncertain and crucial period that requires the international community to speak with a clear and unified voice.”

She called on the Taliban “to permit humanitarian organizations to continue their vital work in Afghanistan,” stressing that in addition to violence the Afghan people “are suffering acutely from the effects of COVID-19 and drought” and their needs must remain a top priority in the “days, weeks and beyond.”

The U.N. World Food Program is reporting that more than 500 tons of aid are currently sitting at border crossings taken by the Taliban, the U.S. ambassadorsaid, urging that this aid be allowed into Afghanistan immediately.

“Finally and critically, all Afghan nationals and international citizens who wish to depart must be allowed to do so safely,” Thomas-Greenfield said, adding that the U,S, promises “to be generous in resettling Afghans” and “we need to all do more.”

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LJUBLJANA, Slovenia — Slovenia’s right-wing Prime Minister Janez Jansa has described the deadly chaos in Afghanistan and the handover of modern weapons to the Taliban as the “greatest defeat for NATO in history.”

Jansa tweeted on Monday that leaving Afghan allies to the Taliban “terror” has been a “shameful act.” All this is a “symbol of the end of an era,” said Jansa, who is known as a backer of former U.S. President Donald Trump.

The Biden administration and much of the international community have been stunned at the Taliban blitz and the speed with which the insurgents seized power, two weeks before the U.S. is set to complete its troop withdrawal after a costly two-decade war.

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CHICAGO — United Airlines and Virgin Atlantic rerouted flights to avoid passing over Afghanistan amid the Taliban takeover. A United flight from Newark, New Jersey, to Delhi jogged east on Monday to avoid Afghan airspace.

“Due to the dynamic nature of the situation we have begun routing affected flights around Afghanistan airspace,” a United spokeswoman said, adding that the change affects only flights to and from India.

A spokeswoman for U.K.-based Virgin Atlantic said that “following the latest situation reports in Afghanistan, we will be re-routing our upcoming services to avoid Afghanistan’s airspace.”

The airline’s last plane to pass over Afghanistan was Sunday from London to Lahore, Pakistan. The airline’s flights to Pakistan and India typically pass over Afghanistan, but are being rerouted. The airline also avoid flying over Iran.

Neither carrier said how long the changes would last, but said they were in contact with aviation regulators to monitor the situation.

Also on Monday, a Turkish Airlines jetliner landed in Kabul and departed more than five hours later and landed in Istanbul, according to tracking service Flightradar24.

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UNITED NATIONS — Afghanistan’s U.N. ambassador says “there is no time for the blame game anymore.” He is urging the Security Council and secretary-general to use every means at their disposal to call for an immediate halt to violence and respect for human rights and to “prevent Afghanistan descending into a civil war and becoming a pariah state.”

Ghulam Isaczai told an emergency meeting of the U.N.’s most powerful body on Monday that he was “speaking on behalf of millions of people in Afghanistan, whose fate hangs in the balance and are faced with an extremely uncertain future,” including “millions of Afghan girls and women who are about to lose their freedom to go to school, to work and to participate in the political, economic and social life of the country.”

Isaczai, who was appointed by Ashraf Ghani’s government that was ousted by the Taliban on Sunday, expressed extreme concern that the Islamic militant group will not honor commitments and agreements it made during talks in Qatar’s capital Doha and other international meetings.

“We have seen gruesome images of Taliban’s mass executions of military personnel and target killing of civilians in Kandahar and other big cities,” he said. “Kabul residents are reporting the Taliban have already started house-to-house searches in some neighborhoods, registering names and looking for people in their target list. There are already reports of target killings and looting in the city. Kabul residents are living in absolute fear right now.”

He urged the Security Council and Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to call on the Taliban to stop the violence, targeted killings and revenge attacks and respect their own previous general amnesty offer, and to “unequivocally state that it does not recognize the restoration of the Islamic Emirate.”

Isaczai said the U.N. should also urge the Taliban not to demolish works of art as they did in the 1990s and stress that anyone violating the human rights of Afghans and international humanitarian law “will be held accountable.”

The ambassador also called for the urgent establishment of “a humanitarian corridor for the evacuation of those at risk of Taliban’s retributions and attacks” and for neighboring countries to open their borders to people trying to escape and for humanitarian goods entering the country.

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GENEVA — Some two-dozen human rights experts working with the United Nations say countries must not “stand on the sidelines” now that the Taliban — a U.N.-listed terror organization — have seized control of Afghanistan.

A sharply worded statement on Monday demanded action from the U.N. Security Council. The experts denounced the Taliban’s “relentless campaign” against civilians, aid workers and journalists that have included assassinations, illegal restrictions on the rights of women and girls, and “mass executions of civilians.”

“It is unacceptable for states to stand on the sidelines when a United Nations Security Council listed terrorist organization overruns the territory of Afghanistan and engages in acts that may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity,” the experts said in a joint statement that drew an unusually large number of signatures.

They cited unspecified reports from 16 provinces in Afghanistan that have shown women and girls have faced rights violations including the requirement to wear full-body burqas, forced marriage, ban on employment and limits to freedom of movement and health care. The experts alluded to similar restrictions when the Taliban last held power before being toppled by a U.S.-led coalition two decades ago.

The experts called on the Security Council – which was holding a special session on Afghanistan on Monday — to be “unequivocal in action.”

“The people of Afghanistan deserve better than to endure the silence and by-standing of the member states of the United Nations at this perilous moment,” they wrote. “We cannot stand idly by as the lives of the Afghan people are treated with contempt, derision, and weariness.”

The experts also demanded accountability for what they said were the deaths of 1,000 civilians who were killed “last month alone.”

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WASHINGTON — The U.S. military is sending another battalion of about 1,000 troops to help safeguard the Kabul airport as American forces killed two armed individuals there during a chaotic evacuation.

That’s according to Pentagon spokesman John Kirby, who briefed reporters on Monday.

The development is a sign of the ongoing turmoil and violence as thousands of Afghans rushed onto the tarmac of Kabul’s international airport following a swifter-than-expected Taliban takeover of the country.

The speed at which the Taliban seized power, two weeks before the U.S. is set to complete its troop withdrawal after a costly two-decade war, has stunned the Biden administration and many in Afghanistan and the international community.

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BERLIN — Germany’s foreign minister has acknowledged that the German government — and also the international community — has misjudged the situation in Afghanistan and the speed with which the Taliban would take over the country.

Heiko Maas said on Monday that, “all of us, the government, the intelligence services, the international community, all of us misjudged the situation. Neither we nor our partners and experts did foresee the speed which with the Afghan security forces withdrew and capitulated.”

The foreign minister added that the images from Kabul “are very painful” and that the government is doing everything to evacuate as many people as possible.

Maas said that of the 2,500 embassy staffer who had been identified previously for evacuation, 1,900 had already been brought to Germany. In addition to the 600 still remaining on the ground, Maas added that Germany feels responsible to evacuate another 2,000 people — including human rights activist and their families.

He said one of the biggest problems right now was to get the people from their homes or safe houses to the airport to fly them out.

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BUDAPEST, Hungary — A Hungarian official on Monday criticized the pullout of American-led forces from Afghanistan and said Hungary will not take in refugees fleeing the country after its takeover by the Taliban.

Levente Magyar, a state secretary with Hungary’s foreign ministry, told state news agency MTI that the government would not make Hungarians pay for the “flawed geopolitical decision” of the U.S. military withdrawal by accepting refugees “without any kind of restrictions.”

Hungary’s right-wing government is a staunch opponent of immigration, and in 2015 built a fence along its southern border in response to an influx of refugees from the Middle East and Africa.

That fence would be used to deter a potential wave of refugees from Afghanistan, Magyar said, adding that the government is assessing how it can help those Afghans who have worked as interpreters or in other capacities for Hungarian troops.

On Sunday, more than 60 countries issued a joint statement calling for all Afghans wishing to depart Afghanistan to be allowed to do so. Of the 27 member states of the European Union, only Hungary and Bulgaria did not sign the statement.

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GENEVA — The head of the U.N. refugee agency says its recent interaction with the Taliban — Afghanistan’s new rulers — has been “relatively positive” and that humanitarian aid teams will stay in the country to help people in need after the Kabul government was toppled.

Filippo Grandi, the United Nations’ High Commissioner for Refugees, said UNHCR discussions with the Taliban “may at times be difficult.”

In an interview at UNHCR headquarters in Geneva, Grandi said the agency would continue to press for respect of the rights of women and girls, who had faced strict rules and bans on school education, for example, when the Taliban previously ran the country — before a U.S.-led international coalition drove them from power in 2001.

Grandi noted that most of the displacement in recent weeks has been within Afghanistan, but appealed to other countries to keep their borders open and take in any refugees who could flee in the future. He said a half-million people have been internally displaced this year, the “vast majority” of which in the last few weeks alone.

He said that while UNHCR and partners have been previously in contact with Taliban leaders in rural areas before its forces swept into cities in recent weeks. Most of the recent interaction has been on issues like security and safety of the sites of UNHCR and partners

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UNITED NATIONS — The United Nations chief is calling for an immediate end to violence in Afghanistan and urging the international community to unite to ensure that the human rights of all people, especially women and girls, are respected.

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres appealed to the U.N. Security Council at an emergency meeting on Monday “and the international community as a whole to stand together, work together and act together.”

He said he is “particularly concerned by accounts of mounting human rights violations against the women and girls of Afghanistan who fear a return to the darkest days” in the 1990s when the Taliban ruled and barred girls for getting an education and imposed draconian measures on women.

Guterres said “the world is following events in Afghanistan with a heavy heart and deep disquiet about what lies ahead” and with the country’s future and the hopes and dreams of a generation of young Afghans in the balance, the coming days “will be pivotal.”

At this “grave hour,” the secretary-general urged all parties, especially the Taliban, “to exercise utmost restraint to protect lives and to ensure that humanitarian needs can be met.”

Guterres said the U.N continues to have staff and offices in areas now under Taliban control, and which so far have been respected. “Above all, we will stay and deliver in support of the Afghan people in their hour of need.”

“We cannot and must not abandon the people of Afghanistan,” he said.

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MOSCOW — The Russian embassy in Kabul alleged Monday that Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has fled from Kabul with four cars and a helicopter full of cash, Russia’s state news agency RIA Novosti reported.

The report quoted embassy spokesman Nikita Ishchenko as saying that “the collapse of the regime … is most eloquently characterized by how Ghani escaped from Afghanistan: four cars were filled with money, they tried to shove another part of the money into a helicopter, but not everything fit. And some of the money was left lying on the tarmac.”

Ghani left Kabul on Sunday as the Taliban swept into the Afghan capital. Media reports suggested that the president went to the neighboring Tajikistan or Uzbekistan, but there was no official confirmation of his whereabouts.

Kremlin envoy on Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov on Monday described Ghani’s flight from Kabul as “disgraceful,” adding that Ghani “deserves to be brought to justice and held accountable by the Afghan people.”

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KABUL, Afghanistan — The Taliban entered Afghanistan’s most popular TOLO-TV compound in the capital on Monday, looking for government-issued weapons,” said the station’s owner Saad Mohsini.

“They sent a bunch of people just to look at the security to check the weapons . . . They are collecting government-issued weapons and other assets, they let us keep our own weapons,” he said.

“They were polite.” Mohsini said, adding that the insurgents offered to keep a watch outside and even offered to provide security inside the compound. Mohsini said the station declined.

There was no mention of the many women who work for TOLO TV.

The TV staff were told to continue with their transmissions. “No mention of the women reporters, Mohsini said. “They just said keep your transmissions, normal programming going. ”

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MOSCOW — A plane carrying more than 100 Afghan servicemen landed in Tajikistan on Monday, the Tajik Foreign Ministry said.

Officials told Russia’s state news agency Tass that Tajikistan received an SOS signal and allowed a plane bound from Afghanistan to land in an airport in the Khatlon province, which borders with Afghanistan and Uzbekistan’s Surkhandarya region, where an Afghan warplane was shot down on Sunday.

More than 100 Afghan military disembarked from the plane, the Foreign Ministry said. It wasn’t immediately clear why the plane sent an SOS signal.

The announcement by the ministry came as thousands packed into the Kabul airport on Monday, rushing the tarmac and pushing onto planes in desperate attempts to flee the country after the Taliban overthrew the Western-backed government the day before.

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BERLIN — The head of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s center-right party has refused to make any kind of commitment regarding the possible intake of Afghan refugees following the takeover of the country by the militant Taliban.

Armin Laschet, who is also running to succeed Merkel in national elections next month, said Monday that, “I don’t think we should send out the signal that Germany can accept all those who are currently in trouble.”

German news agency dpa reported that Laschet added the focus of support for Afghans must be on “giving humanitarian aid locally on the ground in time — different from 2015.”

In 2015, Germany took in more than 1 million migrants fleeing war-torn countries like Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq. The influx of migrants helped strengthen the anti-migrant, far-right party AfD.

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BRUSSELS — NATO envoys are set to meet Tuesday to discuss security developments in Afghanistan after the Taliban seized control of the strife-torn country over the weekend.

The 30-nation military organization said Monday that NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, who will chair Tuesday morning’s meeting of ambassadors, will hold a news conference after it, at 1300 GMT.

NATO took charge of international security operations in Afghanistan in 2003 – its first major mission outside Europe and North America – aiming to help stabilize the government, build up local security forces and remove a potential rear-base for terrorist groups.

The U.S.-led military alliance wound down combat operations in 2014 to focus on training Afghan security forces but the Afghan armed forces withered before the insurgent offensive.

The Taliban were emboldened by the Biden administration’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops and wind up the NATO training mission in Afghanistan. The mission numbered about 10,000 personnel a year ago. An official said Sunday that “there are no troops under NATO command in Afghanistan currently.” NATO also has a small diplomatic mission in Afghanistan. An official said Sunday that the military organization continues to “maintain our diplomatic presence in Kabul.”

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ISLAMABAD — Pakistan’s political and military leadership on Monday called for a political settlement of the conflict in Afghanistan, a day after the Taliban swept into Kabul after the government collapsed there.

The appeals comes shortly after Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan, government officials and army chiefs met to review the latest situation in Afghanistan.

At the meeting of National Security Committee, Khan directed that all possible facilities be made available to repatriate Pakistanis, diplomats, journalists and staff of international organizations seeking to leave Afghanistan, according to a government statement.

It said Pakistan would continue to work with the international community and all Afghan stakeholders to facilitate an inclusive political settlement in the country.

The National Security Committee noted positively that major violence had been averted in Afghanistan, the statement said.

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LONDON — British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace held back tears as he conceded that Britain was unlikely to be able to evacuate all its Afghan allies from Kabul.

Speaking on Monday via webcam on LBC Radio, Wallace said it was a “really deep part of regret for me” that not all Afghans eligible to come to the U.K. will be able to do so during the current evacuation drive.

In addition to the 4,000 or so U.K. nationals in Afghanistan, Britain is processing claims of Afghan citizens, such as interpreters, who have helped in the 20 years since first arrived following the 9/11 attacks.

A visibly emotional Wallace, a former captain in the Scots Guard. said that Britain will in the future “have to do our best in third countries to process those people.”

Asked why he felt the situation “so personally,” Wallace said it was because he was a soldier and “because it’s sad and the West has done what it’s done, and we have to do our very best to get people out and stand by our obligations and 20 years of sacrifice is what it is.”

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WASHNGTON — A U.S. defense official says the head of Central Command has met face-to-face with senior Taliban leaders to urge their fighters not to interfere with the U.S. military’s evacuation operations at the Kabul airport in Afghanistan.

The official said that in the meeting on Sunday in Doha, Qatar, Gen. Frank McKenzie won Taliban agreement to establish a “deconfliction mechanism” — an arrangement by which evacuation operations at the airport can continue without interference by the new rulers of the country.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive talks not yet announced publicly. The official said McKenzie urged the Taliban not to interfere with the evacuation and said the U.S. military would respond forcefully to defend the airport if necessary.

—Robert Burns in Washington;

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NEW DELHI —India’s Foreign Ministry has said the suspension of commercial operations at the Kabul airport has forced the Indian government to pause its repatriation efforts but the process would restart once the flights are resumed.

In a statement on Monday, the ministry said it is in touch with some Indian nationals in Afghanistan who wish to return to the country and that it has been issuing periodic advisories for their safety and security.

The ministry said it is in “constant touch with the representatives of Afghan Sikh and Hindu communities” and it will facilitate repatriation to India of those who wish to leave Afghanistan.

“There are also a number of Afghans who have been our partners in the promotion of our mutual developmental, educational and people to people endeavors. We will stand by them,” the statement said.

The ministry said the Indian government is monitoring the rapidly developing situation “on a constant basis at high levels” and that it will “ensure the safety and security of Indian nationals and our interests in Afghanistan.”

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BUCHAREST, Romania — Romania’s president on Monday ordered the “emergency involvement” of the Romanian Air Force to help evacuate Romanian citizens from Kabul airport, the president’s office said in a press release Monday.

“This decision was taken at the proposal of the Prime Minister of Romania … given the accelerated deterioration of the security situation in Afghanistan,” the press release said.

Prime Minister Florin Citu said Monday that there are currently 35 Romanian citizens in Afghanistan and that an airplane needs to be sent to the country as soon as possible to repatriate them.

“We have two options,” Citu told the press Monday. “A NATO plane or a plane of ours going there. But we need to send a plane as soon as possible.”

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ROME — An Afghan-Italian doctor who was evacuated from Kabul had harsh words on the West’s decision to leave Afghanistan in the hands of the Taliban after 20 years.

Dr. Arif Oryakhail told reporters at Rome’s Leonardo da Vinci airport on Monday, “We left our colleagues to die.” He was among some 20 Afghans who were on an Italian military flight also carrying about 50 embassy staff, including Italy’s ambassador, and other Italian citizens.

“We left Kabul destroyed, abandoned,’’ Oryakhail said, his voice breaking. “The big fear is for our colleagues who worked with us. The Taliban are going from house to house looking for them.”

They include doctors and nurses at clinics that the Italian Agency for Development Cooperation set up around Afghanistan.

“They believed in us,’’ Oryakhail said. He called the West’s 20-year mission in Afghanistan “totally failed,” and of the country’s future he said: “You ask me about the future? Ask those who failed.”

Italian Premier Mario Draghi underlined in a statement on Monday that “Italy’s commitment is to protect the Afghan citizens who worked with us on our mission.”

The Italian plan called for an air bridge over the next three days, but the security situation at the airport is deteriorating. One Italian development agency expert who was evacuated, Pietro del Sette, said it might still be possible to get others out “if the military part of the airport manages to stay open.” He estimates some 300 Afghans who worked with Italian agencies and their family members are still in Afghanistan.

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THE HAGUE, Netherlands — The Dutch defense minister says a Dutch military aircraft is en route to Afghanistan to evacuate embassy staff, their families and Afghan translators who worked with the Netherlands.

Ank Bijleveld says in a tweet on Monday that more flights are planned “in part due to the uncertain situation.”

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PRAGUE — A humanitarian organization that has been operating in Afghanistan since 2001 is facing uncertain times with the Taliban back in power.

The deteriorating security situation forced the Prague-based People in Need organization to evacuate their foreign employees and halt all their activities.

“We’re facing an uncertain future,” People in Need regional director told the Associated Press. The key is the safety of their local cooperators.

“In recent weeks and days, we’ve noticed information from the Taliban with increasing frequency, that they want the humanitarian organizations to keep operating in Afghanistan, and that our international employees are safe. But we haven’t heard, any such assurances about the safety of our local employees,” Kocian said “That will certainly be part of our talks with the Taliban.”

Coming after the United States and their allies ousted the Taliban from power, the People in Need was involved in hundreds projects, ranging from humanitarian aid to building schools and infrastructure, including water and sewage networks and many others.

It wants to continue but not at all costs. “We can see what needs to be done and we are determined to keep our operations in Afghanistan but only on condition that it will be safe for our workers,” Kocian said.

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ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey’s Defense Minister Hulusi Akar has been quoted as saying that Turkey is closely following the situation in Afghanistan and that measures have been taken to ensure the safety of Turkish troops in the country.

A ministry statement said Akar made the comments after chairing a high-level military meeting to discuss the situation in the country on Monday.

The commander of the Turkish forces in Afghanistan joined the teleconference meeting.

The statement said the minister “emphasized that the safety of (Turkish) personnel in Kabul is (the government’s) first priority and announced that all kinds of measures have been taken regarding this.”

It did not elaborate on the safety measures.

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BERLIN — Two German military transport planes that are on the way to Kabul to help with evacuations there, are currently stuck in Baku, Azerbaijan, where they initially stopped to get refueled.

Germany news agency dpa reported on Monday afternoon that the A400M planes could not continue their flight to Kabul as planned because they currently could not land there because of the chaos at the airport in the Afghan capital.

The news agency reports that one of the planes will try to continue its trip to Afghanistan later Monday to be near the airport when it opens again for evacuation planes.

All in all, the German Air Force has sent three planes to Afghanistan to help with the evacuation of embassy staff and local employees.

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LONDON — Families of British soldiers who died in Afghanistan have expressed dismay at the sudden fall of the country to the Taliban.

Graham Knight, the father of 25-year-old Ben Knight who was killed when his Nimrod aircraft exploded in Afghanistan in 2006, said the British government should have moved more quickly to get civilians out.

The 69-year-old said the Taliban made their intent “very clear that, as soon as we went out, they would move in.”

He said the evacuation process should have started about a week ago and voiced worry that “some hothead American, or British hothead, will decide that the Taliban isn’t behaving how they want, shoot at them and that will be it.”

Ian Sadler, whose 21-year-old son Jack died when his Land Rover struck a mine in Afghanistan in 2007, was surprised that the U.S. and its allies had so much confidence in the Afghan national army.

The 71-year-old said it was left “without any direction” after the sudden withdrawal of allied forces.

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MOSCOW — The Uzbek authorities said the Afghan military plane that crashed in Uzbekistan on Sunday with only two pilots on board was downed by the country’s air defense system.

Uzbekistan’s Defense Ministry told Russia’s state RIA Novosti news agency that the country’s air defense system “averted an attempt by an Afghan military plane to illegally cross Uzbekistan’s air border.”

The incident took place in the Surkhandarya region in southeastern Uzbekistan on Sunday and was first reported by local media. Uzbekistan’s Defense Ministry initially said it was studying the reports of the crash, then confirmed the crash took place without offering any details, and only later on Monday revealed the plane was downed.

According to RIA Novosti, two pilots of the plane survived the crash and have been hospitalized in serious condition.

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GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — The Islamic militant group Hamas has congratulated the Taliban for their swift takeover of Afghanistan and the end to the United States’ 20-year presence in the country.

In a statement on Monday, Hamas welcomed “the defeat of the American occupation on all Afghan land” and praised what it said was the Taliban’s “courageous leadership on this victory, which was the culmination of its long struggle over the past 20 years.”

Hamas, a Palestinian group that opposes Israel’s existence, has governed the Gaza Strip since taking over the area in 2007, a year after it won a Palestinian election. Hamas is considered a terrorist group by Israel, the U.S. and the European Union.

It wished the people of Afghanistan future success and said the ouster of the American troops proves “that the resistance of the peoples, foremost of which is our struggling Palestinian people, is due for victory.”

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VILNIUS, Lithuania — The Baltic country of Lithuania is trying to evacuate 30 Afghan interpreters who helped the country’s troops during peacekeeping missions in Afghanistan, an official said Monday.

“The possibilities for transporting them are decreasing fast,” deputy minister Margiris Abukevicius told reporters. Lithuania estimates that when the family members are included, the figure is of 100 people.

The Baltic country depends on other nations, he said. “The only option is one of partners’ military transport as Lithuania currently has no troops or other personnel of Afghanistan soil” he added.

Vilnius chiefly had troops in the southern Ghor province. The Baltic country joined the multinational operation in Afghanistan in 2002

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BERLIN — Germany’s defense minister says the country’s military will airlift as many people as possible out of Afghanistan as long as it is possible.

Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer told reporters that three A400M military transport planes had left for Kabul on Monday.

The defense minister said: “For the army it’s clear: as long as possible — and this depends extremely on the support by the Americans — we will make as many rounds as we can out of Kabul.”

She added that in addition to German and local staff at the embassy in Afghanistan, Germany is also considering flying out people who had been supportive of the Germans. She said she could not give a concrete figure of how many people were affected.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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