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U.S. on Track for Aug. 31 Afghanistan Withdrawal, Biden Says
President Biden said that the U.S. was on track to complete evacuations and withdraw military forces from Afghanistan by Aug. 31, but that he had prepared military leaders to adjust the timetable “should that become necessary.”
We are currently on a pace to finish by August the 31st. The sooner we can finish, the better. Each day of operations brings added risk to our troops. But the completion by Aug. 31 depends upon the Taliban continuing to cooperate and allow access to the airport for those who we’re transporting out, and no disruption to our operations. In addition, I’ve asked the Pentagon and the State Department for contingency plans to adjust the timetable should that become necessary. I’m determined to ensure that we complete our mission, this mission, every day Every day we’re on the ground is another day we know that ISIS-K is seeking to target the airport, and attack both U.S. and allied forces, and innocent civilians. Additionally, thus far, the Taliban have been taking steps to work with us so we can get our people out. But it’s a tenuous situation. We’re already had some gunfighting break out. We run a serious risk of it breaking down as time goes on. Second, the G7 leaders and the leaders of the E.U., NATO and the U.N. all agreed that we will stand united in our approach to the Taliban. We agreed the legitimacy of any future government depends on the approach it now takes to uphold international obligations, including to prevent Afghanistan from being used as a base for terrorism. And we agree that none of us are going to take the Taliban’s word for it.
President Biden said that the U.S. was on track to complete evacuations and withdraw military forces from Afghanistan by Aug. 31, but that he had prepared military leaders to adjust the timetable “should that become necessary.”CreditCredit…Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times
President Biden said on Tuesday that the United States was on track to end its two-decade military involvement in Afghanistan by his Aug. 31 deadline.
But the president, speaking at the White House, said he had spoken to military leaders so that they would be prepared to “adjust that timetable, should that become necessary.”
U.S. forces are still working around the clock to evacuate Americans and some of their Afghan allies from Kabul, the capital.
“It is a tenuous situation,” Mr. Biden said.
“We are currently on pace to finish by Aug. 31,” he said. “The sooner we can finish, the better. Each day of operations brings added risk to our troops.”
But he said much of the success of that effort hinged on the Taliban’s continuing to cooperate with the operation and allowing access to the airport. He said the legitimacy of the Taliban government in the eyes of the United States and its allies depended on the approach it now takes to uphold its international obligations, including ensuring that Afghanistan does not once again become a base for international terrorism.
Earlier in the day, the president met virtually with leaders of the Group of 7 nations. Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said in a statement that he had told his counterparts: “Our mission in Kabul will end based on the achievement of our objectives. He confirmed we are currently on pace to finish by Aug. 31.”
Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times
Ms. Psaki said the president had warned the other world leaders that every day American forces stayed in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, the risk escalated, especially from terrorist groups operating in the country in the aftermath of the militants’ takeover.
The president also made clear, Ms. Psaki said, that “completion of the mission by Aug. 31 depends on continued coordination with the Taliban, including continued access for evacuees to the airport.”
Military officials will start withdrawing the 6,000 U.S. troops in Kabul as early as this week or this weekend, according to an American military official, who said that U.S. forces would continue to fly evacuation missions up until the last few days. They will then need to give priority to the remaining troops and equipment, and to any U.S. citizens wanting to leave.
Already, the United States has started to reduce its military presence at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul. A Defense Department official said that of the 5,800 Marines and soldiers at the airport, about 300 who were not essential to the escalating evacuation operation had left the country.
Given the logistics of moving so many troops and so much equipment, officials said, the military needs to start moving out within the next several days if it is to meet the deadline. Officials said military officials could slow the departure if Mr. Biden extended the date.
Many world leaders have urged the United States to delay its final exit from Afghanistan to ensure that all citizens of other countries can be evacuated safely.
The president and his team have said for days that Mr. Biden is considering whether the troops securing the Kabul airport should stay longer to facilitate more evacuations.
Officials have said they are hopeful that won’t be necessary, but activists, lawmakers and representatives of other governments have expressed skepticism that all of the people seeking to flee the Taliban government will be able to do so by the end of the month.
Bipartisan Push in House for Afghanistan Withdrawal Extension
House Democrats and Republicans held news conferences and pushed for the Biden administration to extend the withdrawal of troops in Afghanistan past the Aug. 31 extension deadline, citing the need for a slow exit in order to not escalate the current situation with the Taliban.
“We must do everything necessary, regardless of the deadline at the end of the month. We must extend that and get the mission done. The deadline is when the mission is accomplished and we bring our people home — full stop.” “I think it is critically important we ensure our military has the tools it needs to complete the mission. I do not believe that this can be accomplished by Aug. 31. And I’ve requested that the Sec. Def. and State encouraged the president in the strongest possible terms to reconsider that deadline.” “There’s no possible way that we can get every American that’s still in Afghanistan out in the next seven days. We are just three weeks away from the 20th anniversary of 9/11, at no time should America ever been or allow the Taliban to tell us when we have to stop bringing Americans out. We should stay until every single American is able to get out of Afghanistan. We should use every resource possible to make that happen, and we should not negotiate it. We should explain that this is what is going to happen, and anybody in our way to stop us from bringing an American out will be in danger.”
House Democrats and Republicans held news conferences and pushed for the Biden administration to extend the withdrawal of troops in Afghanistan past the Aug. 31 extension deadline, citing the need for a slow exit in order to not escalate the current situation with the Taliban.CreditCredit…Sarabeth Maney/The New York Times
Lawmakers in both parties urged Biden administration officials in a closed-door briefing Tuesday to extend the Aug. 31 deadline for withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan, arguing that it would not be possible to evacuate all Americans and Afghan allies by then.
The rising pressure from Congress came as President Biden said that he intended — for now — to stand by the end of the month deadline. But in recent days, even top Democratic lawmakers have said that date is unrealistic.
“There is a broad bipartisan agreement within the United States Congress that we have to get American citizens out and we have to get our Afghan partners and allies out,” said Representative Jason Crow, Democrat of Colorado, who is a former Army Ranger. “That can’t be accomplished between now and the end of the month, so the date has to extend until we get that mission done.”
Lawmakers pressed the Biden administration to extend the mission during a classified briefing with the secretary of defense, the secretary of state, the director of national intelligence and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
“That was a major point we all tried to make: urging them to do more to advocate with the president to extend the deadline,” said Representative Elissa Slotkin, Democrat of Michigan and a former C.I.A. officer and defense official.
On Monday, the president told leaders during a virtual meeting of the Group of 7 that he intended to withdraw American troops by the deadline, a senior administration official said. He cited a high risk of terrorist attacks as one reason.
But Representative Michael McCaul of Texas, the top Republican on the Foreign Affairs Committee, said that if the president did not extend the withdrawal date, “he will have blood on his hands.”
“People are going to die, and they are going to be left behind,” Mr. McCaul said.
Lawmakers said they were not told during the briefing how many American citizens remain on the ground in Afghanistan. White House officials said on Tuesday that since Aug. 14, the United States had “evacuated and facilitated the evacuation” of approximately 58,000 people.
For weeks, members of Congress have been inundated with thousands of pleas from American citizens and Afghans trying to escape Afghanistan.
“After 20 years at war, our actions over the next week will leave the most lasting impression around the world,” Ms. Slotkin said on Twitter. “And I want the U.S. to be known as a nation that takes risks for those who risk everything for us.”
Credit…Victor J. Blue for The New York Times
When the Taliban were last in power, Afghan women were generally not allowed to leave their homes except under certain narrowly defined conditions. Those who did risked being beaten, tortured or executed.
In the days since the Taliban swept back into control, their leaders have insisted that this time will be different. Women, they say, will be allowed to work. Girls will be free to attend school. At least within the confines of their interpretation of Islam.
But early signs have not been promising, and that pattern continued on Tuesday with a statement from a Taliban spokesman that women should stay home, at least for now. Why? Because some of the militants have not yet been trained not to hurt them, he said.
The spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, called it a “temporary” policy intended to protect women until the Taliban could ensure their safety.
“We are worried our forces who are new and have not been yet trained very well may mistreat women,” Mr. Mujahid said. “We don’t want our forces, God forbid, to harm or harass women.”
Mr. Mujahid said that women should stay home “until we have a new procedure,” and that “their salaries will paid in their homes.”
His statement echoed comments from Ahmadullah Waseq, the deputy of the Taliban’s cultural affairs committee, who told The New York Times this week that the Taliban had “no problem with working women,” as long as they wore hijabs.
But, he said: “For now, we are asking them to stay home until the situation gets normal. Now it is a military situation.”
During the first years of Taliban rule, from 1996 to 2001, women were forbidden to work outside the home or even to leave the house without a male guardian. They could not attend school, and faced public flogging if they were found to have violated morality rules, like one requiring that they be fully covered.
The claim that restrictions on women’s lives are a temporary necessity is not new to Afghan women. The Taliban made similar claims the last time they controlled Afghanistan, said Heather Barr, the associate director of women’s rights at Human Rights Watch.
“The explanation was that the security was not good, and they were waiting for security to be better, and then women would be able to have more freedom,” she said. “But of course in those years they were in power, that moment never arrived — and I can promise you Afghan women hearing this today are thinking it will never arrive this time either.”
Brian Castner, a senior crisis adviser at Amnesty International who was in Afghanistan until last week, said that if the Taliban intended to treat women better, they would need to retrain their forces. “You can’t have a movement like the Taliban that has operated a certain way for 25 years and then just because you take over a government, all of the fighters and everyone in your organization just does something differently,” he said.
But, Mr. Castner said, there is no indication that the Taliban intend to fulfill that or any other promises of moderation. Amnesty International has received reports of fighters going door to door with lists of names, despite their leaders’ public pledges not to retaliate against Afghans who worked with the previous government.
“The rhetoric and the reality are not matching at all, and I think that the rhetoric is more than just disingenuous,” Mr. Castner said. “If a random Taliban fighter commits a human rights abuse or violation, that’s just kind of random violence, that’s one thing. But if there’s a systematic going to people’s homes and looking for people, that’s not a random fighter that’s untrained — that’s a system working. The rhetoric is a cover for what’s really happening.”
In Kabul on Wednesday, women in parts of the city with minimal Taliban presence were going out “with normal clothes, as it was before the Taliban,” said a resident named Shabaka. But in central areas with many Taliban fighters, few women ventured out, and those who did wore burqas, said Sayed, a civil servant.
Ms. Barr, of Human Rights Watch, said that in the week since the Taliban said the new government would preserve women’s rights “within the bounds of Islamic law,” the Afghan women she has spoken to offered the same skeptical assessment: “They’re trying to look normal and legitimate, and this will last as long as the international community and the international press are still there. And then we’ll see what they’re really like again.”
It might not take long, Ms. Barr suggested.
“This announcement just highlights to me that they don’t feel like they need to wait,” she said.
Pelosi: ‘Real Concern’ Over Lawmakers’ Kabul Trip
Speaker Nancy Pelosi urged lawmakers not to travel to Afghanistan against government advisement, after Representatives Seth Moulton and Peter Meijer, both veterans, secretly flew to Kabul unauthorized to witness evacuations.
There’s a real concern about members being in the region. And so, with the, shall we say, shall we say, knowledge of the Secretary of Defense as to what the risk would be to these members, the resources necessary to facilitate their visit and to protect them was an opportunity cost of what we needed to do to be evacuating as many people as possible. Point is, is that we don’t want anybody to think that this was a good idea and that they should try to follow suit. Again, I haven’t — I’ve been busy — it’s an important thing we want to make sure they were safe for themselves, but also for what consequences could flow and ramification if something happened to them while they were there. So they have to make their own case as to why they went and this or that. But it is, it was not, in my view, a good idea.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi urged lawmakers not to travel to Afghanistan against government advisement, after Representatives Seth Moulton and Peter Meijer, both veterans, secretly flew to Kabul unauthorized to witness evacuations.CreditCredit…Victor J. Blue for The New York Times
Two members of Congress secretly flew to Kabul without authorization on Tuesday to witness the frenzied evacuation of Americans and Afghans, infuriating Biden administration officials and prompting Speaker Nancy Pelosi to urge other lawmakers not to follow their example.
The two members — Representatives Seth Moulton, Democrat of Massachusetts, and Peter Meijer, Republican of Michigan, both veterans — said in a statement that the purpose of their trip was “to provide oversight on the executive branch.” Both lawmakers have blistered the Biden administration in recent weeks, accusing top officials of dragging their feet on evacuating American citizens and Afghan allies.
“There is no place in the world right now where oversight matters more,” they said.
Credit…Erin Schaff for The New York Times
Credit…Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times
Today with @RepMeijer I visited Kabul airport to conduct oversight on the evacuation.
Witnessing our young Marines and soldiers at the gates, navigating a confluence of humanity as raw and visceral as the world has ever seen, was indescribable. pic.twitter.com/bWGQh1iw2c
— Seth Moulton (@sethmoulton) August 25, 2021
But administration officials were furious that Mr. Moulton and Mr. Meijer had entered Afghanistan on an unauthorized, undisclosed trip, arguing that efforts to tend to the lawmakers had drained resources badly needed to help evacuate those already in the country.
The trip was reported earlier by The Associated Press.
Mr. Moulton and Mr. Meijer said that they had left Afghanistan “on a plane with empty seats, seated in crew-only seats to ensure that nobody who needed a seat would lose one because of our presence,” and that they had taken other steps to “minimize the risk and disruption to the people on the ground.” They were in Kabul for less than 24 hours.
Still, Ms. Pelosi pressed other lawmakers not to do the same.
“Member travel to Afghanistan and the surrounding countries would unnecessarily divert needed resources from the priority mission of safely and expeditiously evacuating Americans and Afghans at risk from Afghanistan,” Ms. Pelosi wrote in a letter. She did not refer to Mr. Moulton and Mr. Meijer by name.
In their statement on Tuesday night, the congressmen sharpened their criticism of the administration’s handling of the evacuation, saying that “Washington should be ashamed of the position we put our service members in” and that the situation they had witnessed on the ground was more dire than they had expected.
“After talking with commanders on the ground and seeing the situation here, it is obvious that because we started the evacuation so late,” they wrote, “that no matter what we do, we won’t get everyone out on time.”
Credit…Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times
European allies failed in their campaign to persuade President Biden to extend the evacuation from Kabul beyond his Aug. 31 deadline. Mr. Biden said he would stick to the timeline, which Britain, France and other allies said did not leave enough time to rescue everyone who wanted to leave Afghanistan.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain, who led a virtual meeting of the Group of 7 nations on Tuesday, sought to put a good face on the discussions, maintaining that the evacuation had been remarkably successful.
He also said the leaders had agreed on a road map for dealing with the Taliban in the long term, vowing to use Afghan funds held in Western banks as a lever to pressure the them.
“The No. 1 condition is that they’ve got to guarantee, right the way through to Aug. 31 and beyond, safe passage for those who want come out,” Mr. Johnson told the BBC after the meeting.
But he did not persuade Mr. Biden to extend the evacuation beyond that date, and it was not clear what other options the allies had to protect their own citizens and Afghan allies without U.S. military might.
Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany said that plans were being made to find a way to ensure that “afterward we can still get as many local employees and people needing protection to be allowed to leave the country.” But her downbeat tone as she spoke laid bare the sense of futility felt by Western leaders about Afghanistan.
“How can it be that the Afghan leader left the country so quickly?” Ms. Merkel said. “How can it be that Afghan soldiers who we trained for so long gave up so quickly? We will have to ask these questions, but they were not the most pressing today.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada, who broke away from campaigning to attend the meeting, said Canadian troops would stay in Afghanistan to continue evacuations beyond the U.S. deadline if necessary — and possible.
“We’re going to continue to work every single day to get as many people out alongside our allies,” he told reporters in Hamilton, Ontario, before boarding a campaign bus. “The commitment by our fellow G7 nations is clear: We’re all going to work together to save as many people as possible.”
The meeting came at a moment of acute strain in the trans-Atlantic alliance, with Britain and other allies bruised by what they view as the White House’s lack of consultation on the timing or tactics of the withdrawal.
Diplomats said the meeting was important to clear the air and prevent the chaotic withdrawal from undermining other efforts in security and counterterrorism. But it also demonstrated yet again the impotence of European allies, who acknowledged they could not stay in Kabul after the United States left.
“There is serious loss of trust, and that will require a significant reassurance effort by Washington,” said Wolfgang Ischinger, a former German ambassador to the United States. “But the real lesson from this for Europe is this: Do we really want to be totally dependent on U.S. capabilities and decisions forever, or can Europe finally begin to be serious about becoming a credible strategic actor?”
Other European diplomats played down that prospect.
“The Europeans are moaning, but they are so dependent on the U.S. for their security that eventually, as usual, they will be satisfied with a few nice words from the administration,” said Gerard Araud, a former French ambassador to the United States.
Credit…Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times
WASHINGTON — The United States has started to reduce its military presence at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul as President Biden signaled that he will stick to his Aug. 31 deadline for withdrawing from Afghanistan.
A Defense Department official said that of the 5,800 Marines and soldiers at the airport, about 300 who were considered not essential to the evacuation operation had left the country.
Mr. Biden has left the door open to maintaining the U.S. military presence — now at 5,800 Marines and soldiers — at the airport beyond the deadline. But he does not want to do so, administration officials said, and the Taliban has warned of “consequences” if the United States military stays beyond the deadline.
The Pentagon will probably add additional military bases in the United States to provide temporary housing for Afghan refugees, the Pentagon press secretary, John F. Kirby, said. Discussing the evacuations, he said, “our plan is to continue this pace as aggressively as we can.”
Still, bottlenecks at the airport and at the bases around the world where the people are being temporarily housed could stand in the way, officials said. In particular, they pointed to the bureaucratic process of vetting people.
Mr. Kirby said Afghan allies of the United States, who fear reprisals from the Taliban, were still being processed at the Kabul airport, although several times over the past week the airport’s gates have been shuttered because of the surge of people.
And a Taliban spokesman said on Tuesday that the group’s fighters would physically block Afghans from going to the airport.
VideoAfghan nationals are continuing to flood the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, looking for an escape route after the Taliban took hold of the country. While emergency flights are chartered every day, it is still difficult to leave the country.CreditCredit…Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times
The Taliban said on Tuesday that they would block Afghans trying to leave the country from traveling to Kabul’s airport and would reject any plans to extend the deadline for American troops to withdraw from Afghanistan by the end of this month.
Hours later, President Biden told world leaders gathered virtually for a meeting of the Group of 7 nations that he was aiming — for now — to get American troops out of Afghanistan by his Aug. 31 deadline, citing a high risk of terrorist attack, a senior administration official said. But the president said there was still a possibility of extending that mission, the official said.
Speaking at a news conference on Tuesday, a Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, noted that chaos at the airport remained a dangerous problem, and said the way was being closed to Afghan citizens to prevent people from joining the crowds.
“The road that ends at the Kabul airport has been blocked,” Mr. Mujahid said. “Foreigners can go through it, but Afghans are not allowed to take the road.”
He did not say how long that policy would be in effect, but Mr. Mujahid did urge the crowds of Afghans thronging the airport in hopes of leaving the country to go home. he said the Taliban would “guarantee their security.”
Witnesses, however, have described a Taliban crackdown on those who protest against the militants. The Taliban is also actively seeking out Afghans who worked alongside U.S. and NATO forces.
Mr. Mujahid called on the United States “to not encourage Afghan people to flee their country,” and said, “This country needs our doctors, engineers and those who are educated — we need these talents.”
President Biden’s deadline for the U.S. evacuation of its citizens and allies in Afghanistan is one week away. The operation could enter a dangerous new phase as time runs out to rescue people whom the administration has pledged to protect from Taliban reprisals.
The effort has picked up speed in recent days as U.S. forces pushed past Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul to rescue stranded people in the city, evacuating thousands.
But chaotic and deadly scenes have also played out as crowds of Afghans eager to leave the country have converged on the airport.
People trying to flee Afghanistan must brave Taliban checkpoints and jostle with desperate crowds, risking injury or death. Seven Afghan civilians, including a toddler, have been trampled to death in the crowds outside the airport, according to British military officials.
Other Afghans who supported the two-decade U.S. war effort, particularly women, are terrified to leave their homes, scared of incurring the Taliban’s wrath at checkpoints.
The Taliban and U.S. officials have taken steps to ensure that the situation does not spiral further out of control. The top U.S. official in Afghanistan talks with the Taliban nearly every day, U.S. military officials have said, leading to an agreement that expanded the security perimeter outside the airport, with the goal of bringing more order to the chaos.
The Pentagon has deployed helicopters and troops into select spots in Kabul to extract stranded U.S. citizens and Afghan allies, at least twice venturing from the immediate area of the airport.
The U.S. military has helped secure the evacuation of 58,000 people since Aug. 14, when Kabul fell to the Taliban, and has increased the pace recently. About 21,600 people were evacuated in the past 24 hours, military officials said on Tuesday.
Credit…Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times
WASHINGTON — The C.I.A. director, William J. Burns, traveled to Kabul for talks with the Taliban leadership, American officials familiar with his visit said on Tuesday, conducting the administration’s highest-level in-person talks so far with the new de facto leaders of Afghanistan.
Mr. Burns, a former longtime diplomat who is the Biden administration’s most experienced back-channel negotiator, met on Monday with Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban leader who had led diplomatic negotiations in Qatar with the U.S. government that began during the Trump administration.
While American officials would not provide details of the brief trip, they said Mr. Burns was not there to negotiate an extension of President Biden’s planned Aug. 31 troop withdrawal. Indeed, after Mr. Burns departed, the Taliban announced they would reject any postponement of the American military’s departure, and Mr. Biden said he would not seek one, though he left open the possibility of shifting course.
Mr. Burns’s negotiations appeared to be more general, covering the evacuation operations and terrorist threats. American officials need the Taliban to tolerate the evacuation flights and to help stop the Islamic State or others from mounting attacks on Afghan civilians, including any suicide bombings outside the airport, American officials have said.
The Taliban consider the Islamic State’s Afghanistan branch a threat, and the two have fought long battles in recent years. Islamic State leaders have criticized the Taliban leadership as overly moderate.
The Taliban have an incentive to cooperate. They want to secure international legitimacy and to try to avoid the isolation they experienced in the 1990s, when they were last in power. Taliban leaders have urged international governments to maintain their embassies in Afghanistan.
The United States sent thousands of troops to secure the airport, and the pace of evacuations has stepped up in recent days. But getting Afghans from their homes to the airport in Kabul safely has become more difficult and dangerous, and the Taliban said on Tuesday that they would no longer allow Afghans to leave.
Former officials have said that the United States will need more time, perhaps until late September, to try to ferry out Afghans who have applied for special visas from the United States.
The White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, declined to discuss Mr. Burns’s visit but noted the administration had acknowledged it was “in regular contact with the Taliban.” The C.I.A. and the National Security Council declined to comment on Mr. Burns’s trip, which was reported earlier by The Washington Post.
Mr. Burns, who titled his memoir “The Back Channel,” specialized in delicate, secret communications during his long State Department career. A former ambassador to Russia and Jordan who rose to the department’s No. 3 post during the Obama administration, he was responsible for the initial undisclosed discussions that ultimately led to the Iran nuclear talks in the Obama administration.
When Mr. Burns was chosen to run the C.I.A., officials in the incoming administration said he would act as a traditional intelligence chief assessing threats, not take on his old work as a diplomat. But the State Department tapped him as the Biden administration faces its gravest national security and foreign policy crisis.
Dispatching Mr. Burns also fit because with the fall of the Afghan government and the withdrawal of American diplomats and troops, the C.I.A. will bear much of the responsibility for monitoring Afghanistan going forward.
The visit was Mr. Burns’s second to Kabul this year. In April, as concerns mounted about the Afghan government’s ability to effectively fight the Taliban, Mr. Burns met there with Afghan intelligence officials.
While ultimate power in Afghanistan most likely rests with the Taliban’s supreme leader, Haibatullah Akhundzada, Mr. Baradar has led negotiations with the West.
Mr. Baradar, a top Taliban leader since the group was formed, has a reputation as both a shrewd, battle-hardened military commander and a polished political operator and administrator. He has also long been seen as the Taliban leader least likely to take a hard line on either the group’s harsh moral code or its relations with the rest of the world.
Mr. Baradar, thought to have been born in 1968, is now the Taliban’s political leader, but even that description only hints at his stature. He fought the Soviets in the 1980s alongside Mohammed Omar, they were co-founders of the Taliban in 1994, and for 15 years he served as chief deputy to Mullah Omar, the Taliban leader.
While the Taliban were in power from 1996 to 2001, Mr. Baradar served as a provincial governor and deputy military chief. After they were ousted by the U.S.-led invasion in 2001 and the Taliban leadership took refuge in Pakistan, Western officials say, it was Mr. Baradar, rather than the reclusive Mullah Omar, who mostly ran day-to-day operations, convening leadership and military councils, meeting with the Taliban’s shadow governors, overseeing finances and often directing ruthless insurgent operations in Afghanistan.
In 2009, Mr. Baradar reached out to the Afghan government to explore peace talks, but the Pakistani authorities arrested him in early 2010 and held him for more than eight years.
Pakistan was the Taliban’s chief sponsor and the Americans had long accused Pakistan of sheltering them, so the arrests of Mr. Baradar and other Taliban leaders came as a surprise. But it soon emerged that the Pakistanis, fearing a loss of influence in Afghanistan, wanted to sabotage prospects for a brokered end to the war.
With Mr. Baradar out of the picture, the nascent talks collapsed. Kai Eide, a former United Nations envoy to Afghanistan, later said, “I believe that he was already, before his arrest, the most prominent Taliban leader in favor of finding a political settlement.”
In his absence, other Taliban leaders rose to prominence and Mr. Baradar’s longtime ally and mentor, Mullah Omar, died.
In 2018, under pressure from the United States, Pakistan released Mr. Baradar and he quickly became the Taliban’s chief negotiator in talks with the United States held in Doha, Qatar.
When those talks produced the February 2020 agreement for American troops to withdraw, Mr. Baradar signed on behalf of the Taliban. A few days later, he spoke with Donald J. Trump — the first conversation between a U.S. president and a Taliban leader.
Credit…Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times
The farmer, surnamed Mohammad, had been making his way into Kabul. The Taliban were making their last offensive push, an advance that would result in the abrupt fall of Afghanistan’s capital on Aug. 15. Mr. Mohammad had found a ride in a minivan that was also carrying Taliban fighters.
Automatic fire suddenly rang out from an abandoned government vehicle. He felt a burning sensation in his chest. Later, he would find out that five passengers had been killed in the chaos.
“Other drivers were so afraid,” said Mr. Mohammad, who had been hit by six bullets, “they didn’t even stop to help.”
Mr. Mohammad spoke this week from his bed at a hospital run by Emergency, an international humanitarian organization running hospitals in Afghanistan, giving its personnel a firsthand look at the violence there.
In interviews, they said they had seen a shift in violence, including more casualties from the Kabul airport. But they have also seen an ebbing of violence, a potentially positive sign, as well as a shift in the types of injuries.
When the Taliban battled government forces for control of the country, the patients arriving at Emergency’s hospitals had suffered trauma caused by airstrikes, mortar rounds, rocket-propelled grenades and small explosives, said an official with the group at a Kabul-area hospital.
Now, conflict-related injuries tend to come from bullets, which he attributed to general lawlessness amid the Taliban takeover. Some people, the official said, were taking advantage of the lack of police.
Since then, the number of casualties has gone down, the official said. Now the group takes in about six people per day — generally, people suffering gunfire wounds — from armed clashes around the airport.
Another one of Emergency’s hospitals, in Lashkar Gah, in the southern province of Helmand, was receiving 50 casualties per day at the height of the siege of that city. They were forced to raise the criteria of admission. Soft tissue injuries, for example, were passed on to another government hospital.
Since last week, violence has dropped significantly, and now the hospital takes civilian trauma cases from other causes, like traffic accidents.
The Taliban are aware of their work. A man named Dr. Omar, who identified himself as a Taliban health director, had visited the Kabul hospital and told its administrators that they would be able to perform their work unbothered. Emergency has been able to send supplies to first aid outposts by road across the country.
One worker at the hospital was cautiously optimistic.
“It has been one week now,” the worker said. “The number of injured people is decreasing. We don’t hear gunshots anymore, and we don’t have concerns about suicide attacks. Even the casualties that come from the airport have been decreasing over the last three days.”
Some local workers remember what it was like when the Taliban ruled the country two decades ago, when life — particularly for women — was heavily restricted.
“Women are still walking around without a full veil,” the worker said. “But they’re afraid that when a government is announced, those policies will change.”
Still, the worker welcomed the new sense of security.
“The last three or four years, whenever I left my home, I said goodbye to my family, because I was not sure whether I would return to them,” the worker said. “But these days, to be honest, it is not a concern for me now. I hope it will last forever.”
Credit…Victor J. Blue for The New York Times
BRUSSELS — For all of President Biden’s promises to respect and consult with the NATO allies who were so disdained by his predecessor, officials from Britain, France, Germany and Italy complain that there has been more diktat than conversation on Afghanistan.
Now that the rapid Taliban advance and rushed U.S. pullout have produced chaos and fear in Kabul for more than week, Mr. Biden is likely to hear grumbling on Tuesday in an emergency videoconference call among the Group of 7 leaders.
The crisis in Afghanistan raises once again the question that has dogged NATO virtually since the end of the Cold War: Will there be any serious shift in the way the alliance operates, with the United States leading and Europe following behind?
Whenever the United States acts without much regard for the allies’ views — in Libya and Syria, to say nothing of Iraq — it fuels new calls for European allies, in particular, to become less dependent on Washington in military and security matters. But more autonomy would mean more military spending, and there is little sign that European leaders have the political will for that.
Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, NATO’s secretary-general from 2004 to 2009, said that European criticism of Mr. Biden was accurate, but also somewhat irrelevant, because “we Europeans have become addicted to U.S. leadership.”
Some of the calls for strategic independence are more serious — and angrier — than in the past.
“Europeans are up in arms, but there are no alternative options,” said Rem Korteweg, a senior fellow at the Clingendael Institute, a Dutch research institution. “So I take this with a grain of salt.”
Credit…Chang W. Lee/The New York Times
Two Afghan Paralympians have fled Kabul with the help of a group of Australian sports stars, according to Nikki Dryden, a former Canadian Olympian turned human rights lawyer who was involved in the effort.
She said on Tuesday that they were part of a group of more than 50 athletes — including soccer players, referees and their families — who had secured protection in Australia. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported that the athletes and their families had been granted humanitarian visas.
“The operation is still ongoing, but at least 50 athletes and their families are on planes or — for us it was just safely getting them into the airport, that’s when we called it a win,” Ms. Dryden told the ABC.
The two Paralympians were “safely out of Afghanistan,” she added. She did not identify them by name.
Last week, the Afghanistan Paralympic Committee said the country’s athletes would not participate in the Games because of the difficulty of leaving the country.
Ms. Dryden said the Australians had worked for days to contact the athletes over social media, to secure a commitment from the Australian government to accept them, to obtain visa sponsorship and arrange paperwork, and to guide the athletes remotely to the airport in Kabul.
The athletes spent 48 hours in line at the airport before making it inside, she said. “The only thing we could tell them was push forward, push forward push forward, stay in the line, don’t move, and they did it,” she said. “Every single one that is going to make it to Australia did it on their own.”
She said she was unsure whether the Paralympians would compete in Tokyo.
FIFPro, the international federation of soccer players, posted on Twitter that it was “encouraged by recent developments” and “grateful for the assistance of governments, military and human rights groups who are collaborating closely with us to evacuate women footballers and other athletes from Afghanistan.”
Overnight, 650 more people were evacuated from Kabul on four Australian flights and one New Zealand flight, Prime Minister Scott Morrison of Australia said on Tuesday.
The athletes’ escape came after members of an Afghan girls’ robotics team that captured international attention fled to Qatar.
U.N. Warns of Reports of Human Rights Abuses by the Taliban
Michelle Bachelet, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, cited reports that the Taliban were executing civilians and noncombatant soldiers, violating the rights of women, recruiting child soldiers and repressing peaceful protests in Afghanistan.
The United Nations is committed to stay and deliver aid to those in greatest need, support efforts to restore peace and stability, and to promote the rights and dignity of all Afghans. With fundamental human rights in the balance, my office will be working urgently to reinstate arrangements for monitoring human rights violations. We have also received credible reports of serious violations of international humanitarian law and human rights abuses taking place in many areas under effective Taliban control. They include, among others, summary executions of civilians and hors de combat members of the Afghan national security forces; restrictions on the rights of women, including the right to move around freely and girls’ right to attend school; recruitment of child soldiers; and repression of peaceful protest and expression of dissent.
Michelle Bachelet, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, cited reports that the Taliban were executing civilians and noncombatant soldiers, violating the rights of women, recruiting child soldiers and repressing peaceful protests in Afghanistan.CreditCredit…Salvatore Di Nolfi/EPA, via Shutterstock
The United Nations’ top human rights official on Tuesday cited “harrowing and credible” reports the Taliban are carrying out summary executions of civilians and noncombatant soldiers, as well as violating the rights of women.
The official, Michelle Bachelet, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, speaking at the start of an emergency session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva, called for the creation of a panel to monitor the Taliban’s conduct.
She urged bold action by states to strongly signal to Taliban leaders that a return to their brutal past practices would be unacceptable, and the proposal had support from some Western states and rights groups.
But a resolution submitted by Pakistan on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Countries, despite calling for the prompt and transparent investigation of rights violations, failed to lay the groundwork for any way to do so.
Instead, it called for Ms. Bachelet to report on developments to the council next March.
Shahrazad Akbar, the chairwoman of Afghanistan’s independent Human Rights Commission, called the resolution “a travesty.”
“Afghan activists on the ground, my colleagues on the ground who face direct threats to their lives and the lives of their families, demand better,” Ms. Akbar told the council by video link. “To be frank with you, you are failing them.”
‘Unlawful Claims’: Harris Rebukes China’s Diplomacy
Vice President Kamala Harris criticized China during an address in Southeast Asia, and sought to assure nations in the region that the U.S. was a reliable partner.
Our vision includes freedom of navigation, which is vital to us all. The livelihood of millions of people depend on the billions of dollars in trade that flow through these sea lanes each day, and yet in the South China Sea, we know that Beijing continues to coerce, to intimidate and to make claims to the vast majority of the South China Sea. These unlawful claims have been rejected by the 2016 arbitral tribunal decision. And Beijing’s actions continue to undermine the rules-based order, and threaten the sovereignty of nations. The United States stands with our allies and partners in the face of these threats. And I must be clear. Our engagement in Southeast Asia and the Indo-Pacific is not against any one country, nor is it designed to make anyone choose between countries. Instead, our engagement, it’s about advancing an optimistic vision that we have for our participation and partnership in this region.
Vice President Kamala Harris criticized China during an address in Southeast Asia, and sought to assure nations in the region that the U.S. was a reliable partner.CreditCredit…Evelyn Hockstein/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
Vice President Kamala Harris sought to fortify the United States’ image as a credible ally on Tuesday by offering a rebuke of China during an address in Southeast Asia, an effort that comes as the White House faces growing questions about its reliability amid continuing violence in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.
“We know that Beijing continues to coerce, to intimidate and to make claims to the vast majority of the South China Sea,” Ms. Harris said in Singapore, adding that what she described as China’s “unlawful claims” continued “to undermine the rules-based order and threaten the sovereignty of nations.”
The White House is aiming to refocus its foreign policy strategy on competing with China’s rising economic influence rather than on continuing to fight “forever wars,” such as the two-decade long conflict in Afghanistan. The chaotic effort to evacuate Americans and Afghan allies from Kabul has overshadowed the vice president’s trip, which began on Sunday in Singapore and will also take her to Vietnam.
Ms. Harris’s overseas trip, her second as vice president, gained heightened urgency in the days before she boarded Air Force Two. The journey had been seen as a chance to bolster economic and security ties with key partners in Singapore and Vietnam, a crucial piece of President Biden’s strategy in the South China Sea. But in the wake of the haphazard withdrawal from Afghanistan, her trip became the administration’s first test of the White House efforts to reassure the world that it can still be a trusted international partner.
That pressure is likely to increase when Ms. Harris arrives in Vietnam. Her senior aides have faced questions about the historical parallel between the U.S. evacuation of American citizens in 1975 from Saigon and the situation in Kabul — replete with scenes of desperate Afghans running behind U.S. military planes, and of American citizens, Afghan allies and their relatives crowded into the Kabul airport and stuck in limbo.
Credit…Jose Luis Magana/Associated Press
Airbnb and its charitable arm, Airbnb.org, said on Tuesday that the company intended to provide free temporary housing globally for 20,000 refugees fleeing the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan.
As American and European governments race to evacuate tens of thousands of people, the property rental company called the displacement and resettlement of refugees a “significant humanitarian crisis.”
The cost of the accommodations will be covered with money from Airbnb and its chief executive, Brian Chesky, as well as contributions from the Airbnb.org Refugee Fund, which was begun in June with the goal of raising $25 million. The organization is working with resettlement agencies and offered to support federal and state governments.
“The displacement and resettlement of Afghan refugees in the U.S. and elsewhere is one of the biggest humanitarian crises of our time. We feel a responsibility to step up,” Mr. Chesky said on Twitter.
“I hope this inspires other business leaders to do the same. There’s no time to waste,” he added.
Airbnb did not specify how long refugees could stay in the apartments or houses, but said its hosts were offering short- and long-term stays. The company said it had begun supporting Afghans fleeing the country last week when it gave funding to the International Rescue Committee and other organizations to provide temporary stays using the Airbnb platform for up to 1,000 refugees.
Over the weekend, Airbnb said, it placed 165 refugees in housing across the United States, including in California, New Jersey, Ohio, Texas, Virginia and Washington State.
Credit…Nicole Tung for The New York Times
VAN, Turkey — In the days before the Taliban took Kabul, an Afghan woman was doubled over sobbing on a bench in a bus station in eastern Turkey, her children wailing at her feet.
Fourteen Turkish security and migration officials swooped down on her and other Afghan asylum seekers as our reporting team was interviewing them, part of an intensive crackdown by Turkey to apprehend Afghans crossing from Iran by the thousands and to prevent journalists from reporting on their plight.
As her husband tried to gather their belongings, the woman clutched her stomach and retched. After prolonged questioning, they were escorted to a police vehicle.
Even before the past week’s harrowing scenes of Afghans thronging the Kabul airport to escape the Taliban, many thousands had been steadily fleeing their country over land, making their way some 1,400 miles across the length of Iran to the Turkish border. Now that the Taliban are in power, there is every indication that their numbers will swell still further.
But for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, the burden of hosting so many refugees — 3.6 million Syrians and more than 300,000 Afghans, among others — has become a burning political issue, especially as the Turkish economy has worsened. And Afghans interviewed in Van said Turkey had tightened border security with an often violent police operation, turning away Afghans regardless of their requests for asylum.
Credit…Victor J. Blue for The New York Times
The Americans are all but gone, the Afghan government has collapsed and the Taliban now rule the streets of Kabul. Overnight, millions of Kabul residents have been left to navigate an uncertain transition after 20 years of U.S.-backed rule.
Government services are largely unavailable. Residents are struggling to lead their daily lives in an ecconomy that, propped up for the past generation by American aid, is now in free fall. Banks are closed, cash is growing scarce, and food prices are rising.
Yet relative calm has reigned over Kabul, the capital, in sharp contrast to the chaos at its airport. Many residents are hiding in their homes or venturing out only cautiously to see what life might be like under their new rulers.
Even residents who said they feared the Taliban were struck by the relative order and quiet, but for some the calm has been ominous.
A resident named Mohib said that streets were deserted in his section of the city, with people hunkering down in their homes, “scared and terrorized.”
“People feel the Taliban may come any moment to take away everything from them,” he said.
Credit…Victor J. Blue for The New York Times
WASHINGTON — The World Bank said on Tuesday that it had halted disbursements of aid money to Afghanistan as it assesses how the Taliban plan to rule the country.
A World Bank spokesperson said that the international development organization is “deeply concerned” about the situation in Afghanistan, particularly the impact that the new leadership will have on women in the country. The bank plans to monitor how the leadership transition proceeds and consult with the international community.
The World Bank has committed more than $5.3 billion for development projects in Afghanistan since 2002 and has raised nearly $13 billion for the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund, which it administers. The bank had committed nearly $800 million to the country in 2021.
The decision follows a move by the International Monetary Fund last week to freeze the distribution of more than $400 million in emergency currency reserves that were allocated to Afghanistan amid a lack of clarity over the legitimacy of a Taliban-led government.
Because of economic sanctions on the Taliban, it will be difficult for aid groups to operate in Afghanistan. Replacing a flood of foreign aid with sanctions threatens to cripple what is already one of the poorest countries in the world.
The World Bank said that it was exploring ways to preserve development gains that were made over the last 20 years and to help support the people of Afghanistan.