KABUL, Afghanistan (NewsNation Now) — A Taliban spokesman said Tuesday the U.S. must complete its evacuation of people from Afghanistan by the Aug. 31 date the Biden administration set for the withdrawal of all American troops.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid says his group will accept “no extensions” to the deadline. He says life is returning to normal in the country but chaos at the airport remains a problem. Many Afghans are desperate to flee the Taliban takeover of the country.
This comes as the director of the CIA met with the Taliban’s top political leader in Kabul as more reports emerged of abuses in areas held by the fighters, fueling concerns about Afghanistan’s future and the fate of those racing to leave the country before the looming U.S. withdrawal.
Mujahid said he is “not aware” of any meeting between the Taliban and the CIA, but he did not deny that such a meeting took place. An official says the director of the U.S. agency met with the Taliban’s top political leader in Kabul on Monday.
President Joe Biden has been considering whether to extend his self-imposed deadline for completing the airlift, taking into account the continued security threats, the Taliban’s resistance to an extension and the prospect that not all Americans and at-risk Afghan allies can be evacuated by next Tuesday.
Biden is scheduled to deliver remarks on the situation in Afghanistan at 12 p.m. ET. This comes as the president is facing growing pressure to negotiate with the Taliban.
Recent days have seen a flurry of efforts to speed a chaotic evacuation of foreigners and vulnerable Afghans from Kabul’s airport, where scenes of desperation have highlighted both the disarray of the American pullout and fears that the Taliban will again impose a brutal rule. Leaders of the Group of Seven nations planned to meet Tuesday to discuss possibly extending the airlift past the Aug. 31 deadline for the U.S. pullout despite a Taliban warning that would be a “red line.”
About 21,600 people were flown safely out of Taliban-held Afghanistan in the 24-hour period that ended early Tuesday, the White House said. That compares with about 16,000 the previous day.
Thirty-seven U.S. military flights — 32 C-17s and 5 C-130s — carried about 12,700 evacuees. An additional 8,900 people flew out aboard 57 flights by U.S. allies.
While details of William Burns’ discussion with Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar were not released, the meeting represents an extraordinary moment for a CIA that for two decades targeted the Taliban in paramilitary operations. And it gives a sense of the extent of the wrangling happening ahead of the end of America’s two-decade war in the country.
The CIA partnered with Pakistani forces to arrest Baradar in 2010. He spent eight years in a Pakistani prison before the Trump administration persuaded Pakistan to release him in 2018 ahead of peace talks.
In the wake of their stunning takeover of Afghanistan, Taliban leaders have promised to restore security and tried to project an image of moderation, but many Afghans are skeptical. U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet added to those concerns Tuesday, warning she had credible reports of “summary executions” and restrictions on women in areas under Taliban control. She urged the Human Rights Council to take “bold and vigorous action” to monitor the rights situation.
Bachelet did not specify what time timeframe she was referring to or the source of her reports. It has been difficult to determine how widespread abuses might be and whether they reflect that Taliban leaders are saying one thing and doing another, or if fighters on the ground are taking matters into their own hands.
When the Taliban last ruled Afghanistan in the late 1990s, the group largely confined women to their homes, banned television and music, chopped off the hands of suspected thieves and held public executions.
Tragic scenes at the airport have transfixed the world. Afghans poured onto the tarmac last week and some clung to a U.S. military transport plane as it took off, later plunging to their deaths. At least seven people died that day, and another seven died Sunday in a panicked stampede. An Afghan soldier was killed Monday in a gunfight.
Underscoring the fears of those seeking to flee, Bachelet cited reports Tuesday of “summary executions” of civilians and former security forces who were no longer fighting, the recruitment of child soldiers and restrictions on the rights of women to move around freely and of girls to go to school. She cited repression of peaceful protests and expressions of dissent.
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