US 'on pace' to meet August withdrawal deadline as Taliban warn against extension
Speaking from the White House Tuesday, US President Joe Biden defended his August 31 Afghan withdrawal deadline and said coalition forces were “on pace” to meet it if the Taliban “continue to cooperate”. Earlier, G7 leaders said the Taliban must “guarantee” safe passage for those fleeing beyond the end of August while a spokesman for the Taliban said they would no longer allow Afghan nationals to go to Kabul airport. See below for a look at events as they happened.
01:40 Paris time (GMT+2)
Biden’s assurances on Afghan evacuations come with big caveat
US President Joe Biden defended his self-imposed deadline, saying on Tuesday that the coalition effort is “currently on pace to finish by August 31” — but only if the Taliban “continue to cooperate”. He also said the US government is working on “contingency plans” for extending evacuation efforts beyond August 31, as G7 allies have urged him to do.
FRANCE 24’s Washington correspondent Kethevane Gorjestani breaks down Biden’s speech.
00:00 Paris time (GMT+2), August 25
World Bank suspends aid to Afghanistan over women’s rights concerns
The World Bank has suspended aid to Afghanistan, saying it is “deeply concerned” about the situation there after the Taliban seized power and especially the prospects for women, a bank spokesperson told AFP.
“We have paused disbursements in our operations in Afghanistan and we are closely monitoring and assessing the situation,” the official said.
The World Bank has more than two dozen development projects ongoing in the country and has provided $5.3 billion since 2002, mostly in grants, according to the bank’s website.
23:40 Paris time (GMT+2)
Biden stands by Aug. 31 Afghan withdrawal deadline, says US-led coalition ‘on pace’ to meet it
US President Joe Biden said Tuesday evening that the United States has helped evacuate more than 70,000 Americans, Afghans, and other allies since August 14 and that the operation is “currently on pace to finish by August 31” if the Taliban “continue to cooperate”.
“So far, the Taliban have been taking steps to work with us… but it’s a tenuous situation,” Biden said. “We run a serious risk of it breaking down as time goes on.”
Biden also warned of an increasing threat from the Islamic State group’s Afghan arm, known as ISIS-K or Islamic State-Khorasan.
“Every day we’re on the ground is another day we know that ISIS-K is seeking to target the airport and attack both US and allied forces,” he said.
Biden did however leave open the possibility of extending the Aug. 31 deadline, saying he had asked the military and State Department for contingency plans “to adjust the timetable should that become necessary”.
Watch the full speech, starting at 6:30:
Happening Now: President Biden delivers remarks on our ongoing efforts in Afghanistan. https://t.co/YuEdUml7rE— The White House (@WhiteHouse) August 24, 2021
22:10 Paris time (GMT+2)
Afghan singer recounts harrowing escape
Aryana Sayeed, an Afghan singer who has used her international fame to amplify calls for women's rights, wore an all-enveloping veil to escape her homeland as the Taliban took Kabul, Sayeed recounted in an interview with Reuters.
Sayeed was in Kabul to start a clothing business when she received a call on August 14 warning her that the Taliban were closing in on the capital. She and her fiancé Hasib Sayed made reservations on a commercial flight scheduled the next day, the day the Taliban entered Kabul. But the overcrowded commercial flight never took off.
She and Sayed, fearful of being recognised by Taliban fighters, left the airport and sheltered with relatives in Kabul. The next day, they heard Taliban forces were searching door-to-door in their neighborhood. Sayeed again went to the airport, wearing a veil that revealed only her eyes and travelling with Sayed's young cousin as if on a family outing.
"We passed through five Taliban checkpoints. One of them stopped our car," Sayeed said. "The minute he saw me and the little boy, he said, 'Go.'"
Her fiancé, in a separate car, was the first to reach the airport. Sayeed said he was recognised by an Afghan at the airport who told a US official: "This is the fiancé of a very famous singer in Afghanistan, and you should let him in because if they catch him, they will kill him." The two flew out on a US military plane early on August 17, landing first in Doha, Qatar.
"I got lucky to get out of Afghanistan. But what about the rest of the people that are there?" Sayeed, a British citizen, told Reuters. She was dressed in a T-shirt with a US flag on the sleeve that she had been given in Doha. She had left Kabul with only the clothes she was wearing that evening.
This is Aryana Sayeed, famous Afghan pop singer who fled Kabul. In 2015, when she sang at a stadium, she broke 3 taboos: 1-Singing as a woman 2-Not wearing hijab. 3-Entering a stadium as woman , which was forbidden under Taliban.— Masih Alinejad 🏳️ (@AlinejadMasih) August 18, 2021
Now, all of those have turned into a pipe dream pic.twitter.com/XCosumhBKW
21:55 Paris time (GMT+2)
US forces have evacuated "more than 4,000 American passport holders plus their families" since mid-August, a senior State Department official has said, adding that the number is expected to "continue to grow in the coming days".
"We are continuing to contact the Americans who have previously registered with Kabul embassy to determine whether or not they are still in Afghanistan, and to help them evacuate if they want to leave," the official said.
Counting other nationalities, including Afghans considered at risk in their country, the United States has evacuated around 48,000 people since August 14, the day before the Taliban entered Kabul and took power, according to the White House.
21:35 Paris time (GMT+2)
Biden cites 'added risk' of delayed Afghan withdrawal
In a meeting with G7 leaders today, Biden warned of "added risk" to keeping US troops in Afghanistan beyond the Aug. 31 deadline, citing a threat from a local affiliate of the Islamic State (IS) group, the White House has said.
Biden "made clear that with each day of operations on the ground, we have added risk to our troops with increasing threats from ISIS-K, and that completion of the mission by August 31 depends on continued coordination with the Taliban, including continued access for evacuees to the airport", White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement.
20:10 Paris time (GMT+2)
Taliban fighters 'are supremely confident'
Here's more from our senior reporter in Kabul, Catherine Norris-Trent, who has been touring the Afghan capital and talking to Taliban fighters as they tighten their grip on the city.
19:45 Paris time (GMT+2)
G7 demands Taliban guarantee 'safe passage' from Kabul after Aug. 31
The Taliban must "guarantee" safe passage for those fleeing Afghanistan beyond the current August 31 evacuation deadline, the G7 agreed Tuesday, according to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
Johnson, who convened the emergency meeting, said that he and his colleagues had agreed "a roadmap for the way in which we're going to engage with the Taliban" in the future. But he added that the "number one condition" was "to guarantee [...] through August 31 and beyond, a safe passage for those who want to come out".
The UK chaired the emergency talks among the group of wealthy countries on Tuesday, saying it would urge Biden to extend his deadline to pull American forces out of Afghanistan. France also called on Washington to push back the timeline, but US media report that Biden plans to stick the Aug. 31 date.
19:20 Paris time (GMT+2)
Exclusive report: On patrol with the Taliban
Omnipresent on the streets of Kabul, Taliban fighters are keeping a tight grip over the city, the centre of their new regime, which they call the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. FRANCE 24's reporters Catherine Norris-Trent and Cyril Payen sent this exclusive report from the Afghan capital.
18:10 Paris time (GMT+2)
Biden 'to stick with Aug. 31 withdrawal deadline'
The US president is expected to confirm an Aug. 31 deadline to withdraw the last US troops from Kabul when he speaks later today, according to White House sources, despite pressure from allies to extend the deadline.
Biden has accepted a Pentagon recommendation to stick to the Aug. 31 date, an administration official has told Reuters. However, the US president has also asked for contingency plans to be prepared should US forces need to stay longer, the official said.
Earlier today, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the US military believes it can get all Americans who want to leave out of Afghanistan by Aug. 31. "We're absolutely still aiming towards the end of the month," Kirby said, while adding that the Pentagon may need additional bases to house evacuees from Afghanistan.
17:25 Paris time (GMT+2)
Germany warns of IS group threat in Kabul
Germany’s top military commander has voiced concern about the growing risk of attacks by the Islamic State (IS) group in Kabul.
“We have signals both from American sources as well as our own assessment, that there is an increase of [IS group] suicide bombers [slipping] into the city,” Gen. Eberhard Zorn told reporters. “That’s increasing and leads to heightened precautions.”
Meanwhile, Germany's Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer said she takes "very seriously" the Taliban threat not to allow any foreign troops to remain beyond Aug. 31, adding that the threat could also be an attempt by the group to “drive up the price” in negotiations with foreign officials.
17:10 Paris time (GMT+2)
Female Afghan govt workers told to stay home
More from the Taliban spokesman, who said all female government workers should stay home until the security situation improves. Mujahid sugggested women will not be permanently prevented from going to work, adding: "It's currently for their benefit to prevent any ill-treatment."
Earlier on Tuesday, the UN Human Rights High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet warned that the Taliban's treatment of women and girls would be a "red line".
16:58 Paris time (GMT+2)
Afghans 'no longer allowed to go to Kabul airport'
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid has told a press conference in Kabul that Afghan nationals are no longer allowed to go to the city's international airport due to the chaotic situation there. Mujahid said Afghans already at the airport should go home, adding that their security would be guaranteed.
The Taliban spokesman told the US and its allies to stop "encouraging" Afghans to leave the country, adding: "We need their talent". He also reiterated the militants' rejection of any extension to the Aug. 31 deadline for evacuation from Kabul airport.
15:50 Paris time (GMT+2)
France detains Afghan evacuee amid Taliban links probe
France has detained an Afghan it helped evacuate from the country as part of an investigation into possible links with the Taliban, a government spokesman has said.
The man is believed to be close to another Afghan evacuee who is suspected of working for the Taliban, Gabriel Attal told BFM-TV. Both had been placed under surveillance on their arrival in France, and the man held was detained for violating the terms of this control measure.
Attal said the main suspect helped in the evacuation of French people from Afghanistan "at an incredibly tense moment and probably saved lives". But he had "links with the Taliban, at some point, and this needs to be specified".
14:30 Paris time (GMT+2)
WHO warns medical supplies running low
The World Health Organization has enough medical supplies in Afghanistan to last "one week", says Ahmed al-Mandhari, the head of WHO's Eastern Mediterranean region – stretching from Morocco to Afghanistan.
Mandhari told reporters that 500 metric tonnes of medicines and supplies stored in Dubai were unable to be delivered due to the chaotic evacuation efforts at Kabul airport which does not have the capacity to receive commercial flights.
14:10 Paris time (GMT+2)
CIA director met Taliban leader, US media report
Central Intelligence Agency Director William Burns met Taliban leader Abdul Ghani Baradar in Kabul on Monday, the Washington Post has reported, citing US officials who spoke on condition of anonymity.
A CIA representatives said the agency had no comment. The White House did not respond to a request for comment.
If confirmed, the secret meeting would mark the highest level diplomatic encounter since the Taliban took over the Afghan capital.
11:10 Paris time (GMT+2)
One Afghan evacuated to France now in custody, interior minister says
Five Afghans who were evacuated from Kabul to France were placed under surveillance due to suspected links to the Taliban and one of them is in custody for failing to comply with a stay at home order, the French interior minister said on Tuesday.
"More than a thousand Afghans, some hundred French nationals have been taken from Kabul to Abu Dhabi and from Abu Dhabi to Paris," Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin told Franceinfo radio.
"Among those 1,000 Afghans, one was supposedly – and I do say supposedly – linked with the Taliban. But he helped a lot, the French army, French citizens, journalists ... We put him and his friends under surveillance on their arrival in France to clear up any doubt," he said.
"One of those five persons left the place we asked them to stay in, he was taken into custody yesterday, which shows the security services are closely monitoring those individuals," he added.
10:55 Paris time (GMT+2)
EU boosts humanitarian aid for Afghans to over €200 million
The European Union will ramp up humanitarian support for Afghans in and around their country to over €200 million from over €50 million, the head of the European Commission said on Tuesday.
"This humanitarian aid will come on top of member states' contributions to help the people of Afghanistan," Ursula von der Leyen said on Twitter, adding that she would announce the additional support at a G7 summit later in the day.
At today’s @G7 Leaders call, I will announce an increase in the humanitarian support for Afghans, in and around the country, from #EU budget from over €50m to over €200m.— Ursula von der Leyen (@vonderleyen) August 24, 2021
This humanitarian aid will come on top of Member States' contributions to help the people of Afghanistan.
The aid will be conditional on the respect of human and women's rights, according to an EU official, who said this would determine how much money would flow into Afghanistan directly or into neighbouring regions.
10:30 Paris time (GMT+2)
UN human rights boss says Taliban's treatment of women will be a 'red line'
The top UN human rights official Michelle Bachelet said on Tuesday that she had received credible reports of serious violations committed by the Taliban in Afghanistan, including summary executions of civilians and restrictions on women and on protests against their rule.
Bachelet urged the UN Human Rights Council, holding an emergency session at the request of Pakistan and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), to set up a mechanism to closely monitor Taliban actions.
"A fundamental red line will be the Taliban's treatment of women and girls, and respect for their rights to liberty, freedom of movement, education, self expression and employment, guided by international human rights norms," Bachelet told the Geneva forum.
10:00 Paris time (GMT+2)
France to end Afghan evacuations on Thursday if US withdraws on August 31
France will end its evacuations of Afghans from Taliban-controlled Afghanistan later this week if the United States presses on with a plan to pull all troops out of the country at the end of this month, a senior foreign ministry official said.
If the United States carries out a total withdrawal on August 31 as planned "for us ... that means that our operation ends Thursday evening. So we have three days left", Nicolas Roche, the chief of staff for Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, told French Prime Minister Jean Castex in the presence of reporters.
9:00 Paris time
UK says evacuation window at Kabul airport unlikely to be extended although 'worth us all trying'
Western governments are unlikely to extend the evacuation window to allow their citizens and Afghans more time to fly out of Kabul airport, Britain's defence minister Ben Wallace said.
US President Joe Biden will face pressure to extend an August 31 deadline to evacuate thousands seeking to flee the Taliban in Afghanistan when he meets G7 leaders at a virtual meeting on Tuesday.
The Taliban have said the August 31 deadline is a red line.
Wallace told Sky News on Tuesday morning that he was doubtful there would be an extension "not only because of what the Taliban has said but also if you look at the public statements of President Biden, I think it is unlikely".
He added: "It is definitely worth us all trying and we will."
8:00 Paris time
7:00 Paris time
G7 to meet on Afghan deadline
Leaders of the Group of Seven countries are set to discuss whether to seek an extension to a August 31 deadline for the evacuation of thousands of people trying to flee Afghanistan and whether to recognise or sanction a Taliban government.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will on Tuesday chair emergency online talks with G7 counterparts – Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States - over the Afghanistan crisis with the race to evacuate those fleeing Kabul top of the agenda.
But Johnson also said the leaders of the world's top economies should have an eye on the "next phase" for Afghanistan once the high-stakes withdrawal is complete.
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said Monday that Johnson would "try to raise the prospect of seeing if the United States will extend" the deadline for evacuations from Afghanistan, a move the Taliban warned would lead to "consequences".
France has said more time was needed, and German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said on Monday the G7 needed to consider whether to remain beyond August 31.
Widespread chaos punctuated by sporadic violence has gripped Kabul's airport since the Taliban took over the Afghan capital on August 15, with Western and Afghan forces driving back crowds desperate to flee.
Evacuations were being conducted on a "war footing" as foreign forces try to meet the August 31 deadline, a NATO diplomat told Reuters on Tuesday.
Thousands of Afghans have returned to their homes after learning that situation is “relatively calm” in provinces across the country, said the diplomat, who asked not to be identified, while cautioning that scant intelligence and security reports were coming in from remote districts.
US President Joe Biden, who has said US troops might stay beyond the deadline, has warned the evacuation was going to be "hard and painful" and much could still go wrong. Democratic US Representative Adam Schiff, chairman of the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee, told reporters after a briefing on Afghanistan by intelligence officials that he did not believe the evacuation could be completed in theeight remaining days.
"I think it's possible but I think it's very unlikely given the number of Americans who still need to be evacuated," Schiff said.
A Taliban official said foreign forces had not sought an extension and it would not be granted if they had. Washington said negotiations were continuing.
The US military pulled off its biggest day of evacuation flights out of Afghanistan by far on Monday. Twenty-eight US military flights ferried about 10,400 people to safety out of Taliban-held Afghanistan over 24 hours that ended early Monday morning, and 15 C-17 flights over the next 12 hours brought out another 6,660, White House officials said. The chief Pentagon spokesman, John Kirby, said the faster pace of evacuation was due in part to coordination with Taliban commanders on getting evacuees into the airport.
FRANCE 24’s Marios Sofos brings us a recap of Monday’s events:
06:05 Paris time (GMT+2)
NATO official: Kabul evacuations being carried out on a ‘war footing’
Evacuation is being conducted on a “war footing” at Kabul airport as foreign forces try to meet an Aug. 31 deadline to leave Afghanistan, a NATO diplomat told Reuters on Tuesday.
Taliban officials have been briefed about the evacuation and logistical process at the airport, the NATO official said. The official said that while the situation outside the airport was relatively calm, better crowd management was still required.
04:20 Paris time (GMT+2)
People of Panjshir ready to respond to ‘any aggression’, spokesman for the National Resistance Front of Afghanistan tells FRANCE 24
Ali Maisam Nazary, the Washington, DC-based spokesman for the National Resistance Front of Afghanistan, told FRANCE 24’s Mark Owen the Panjshir resistance is ready to fight the Taliban if a political settlement is not reached.
“If constructive negotiations do not happen and an inclusive government is not formed, then resistance is inevitable. No one is going to surrender,” said Nazary, representing the movement led by Ahmad Massoud, son of legendary Afghan resistance hero, Ahmad Shah Massoud.
Nazary recalled the region’s successful resistance against both Soviet occupation and the Taliban regime of the late 1990s.
“The people of Panjshir throughout history have proven that they’re ready to defend their land, their region, their people,” he said. “Whether it was during the Soviet invasion of the ‘80s or the Taliban aggression in the ‘90s, we resisted … we succeeded at the end of the day.”
For now, he said, “the situation in Panjshir is stable. There haven’t been any attacks yet,” although Taliban fighters are reported to be stationed nearby.
Ultimately, Nazary said lasting peace in Afghanistan will depend on creating a more decentralised form of government, reflecting the country’s diverse ethnic makeup.
“We believe, in a country made up of ethnic minorities – there is no majority in Afghanistan – power has to be distributed equally through the country. It cannot be concentrated and centralised in Kabul.”
03:05 Paris time (GMT+2)
US House intelligence committee chair says US ‘unlikely’ to meet Aug. 31 deadline
US House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, speaking to reporters on Monday after a briefing by intelligence officials, said he thinks it is very unlikely the evacuation of Afghanistan will be completed by a Aug. 31 deadline.
“I think it’s possible but I think it’s very unlikely given the number of Americans who still need to be evacuated,” Schiff said.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP, REUTERS)
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