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Blinken in Doha for Afghan crisis talks with Qatar

Shaun Tandon – Agence France-Presse

September 7, 2021 | 8:04am

DOHA, Qatar — US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Qatar’s emir in Doha on Monday for crisis talks on Afghanistan after the Taliban claimed to have full control over the country.

Blinken, accompanied by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, is the most senior US official to visit the region since the Taliban’s lightning takeover of Afghanistan on August 15.

In his meeting with Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, Blinken thanked the Gulf state ruler for “Qatar’s extraordinary support in facilitating the safe transit of US citizens, our partners, and other Afghans at-risk” during the United States’ chaotic military pullout from Afghanistan.

They also “discussed other important bilateral issues”, according to a brief State Department statement.

The top diplomat was not due to meet any of the Taliban’s Doha representatives, but State Department official Dean Thompson said Washington would continue to engage with the Islamist group “to ensure our messaging with them is clear”.

Qatar, which hosts a major US airbase, has been the gateway for 55,000 people airlifted out of Afghanistan, nearly half the total number evacuated by US-led forces after the Taliban’s takeover. 

Before his arrival, Blinken said that in Qatar he would “express our deep gratitude for all that they’re doing to support the evacuation effort,” and meet rescued Afghans.

He will also meet US diplomats, after Washington relocated its embassy in Kabul to Doha, along with a number of allies including Britain and the Netherlands.

The State Department said Blinken would discuss with Qatar its efforts, alongside Turkey, to reopen Kabul’s airport — essential to fly in badly needed humanitarian aid and to evacuate remaining Afghans.

Qatar invited the Taliban to open a political office in Doha in 2013, subsequently hosting talks between Washington and the Taliban that concluded in 2020 with a troop withdrawal agreement. It was followed by direct negotiations between the former insurgents and the Afghan government.

Retribution fears

The Taliban on Monday claimed total control over Afghanistan, saying they had won the key battle for the Panjshir Valley, the last remaining holdout of resistance against their rule.

The group is yet to finalise its new regime after rolling into the capital Kabul three weeks ago at a speed that analysts say likely surprised even the hardline Islamists themselves.

After Doha, Blinken will head Wednesday to the US air base at Ramstein in Germany, a temporary home for thousands of Afghans moving to the United States.

US officials say some Americans may have left Afghanistan since the United States ended its 20-year war at the end of August, but they would have done so by private means. 

Shortly before Blinken landed in Qatar, an official disclosed that four Americans had left Afghanistan with Taliban knowledge, in the first departures arranged by Washington since its withdrawal.

The four US citizens left by land and were greeted by US diplomats, said the senior official, without specifying to which country they crossed, adding that “the Taliban did not impede them”.

Washington is closely watching whether the Taliban makes good on promises to let US citizens and allies depart as it decides how to deal with the Islamists. 

US officials say just over 100 Americans, mostly dual nationals, remain in Afghanistan after the massive airlift of tens of thousands of people in the last days of America’s longest war. 

President Joe Biden’s Republican rivals have been quick to accuse him of abandoning Americans. 

But tens of thousands of interpreters or others who supported the US mission and their family members are believed to remain, with many fearing retribution despite Taliban assurances. 

With the Kabul airport in disarray, land routes are the key way out of Afghanistan, primarily though Pakistan or Iran, which does not have diplomatic relations with Washington.

While at Ramstein, Blinken will hold a virtual 20-nation ministerial meeting on the crisis alongside German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas.

As It Happens

LATEST UPDATE: September 8, 2021 – 2:09pm

Get the latest news as Taliban gains control of Afghanistan. Photo courtesy of Al Jazeera/AFP

September 8, 2021 – 2:09pm

The Taliban show “pragmatism” and should be judged on their actions, a top Qatari official told AFP in an exclusive interview, adding there was “no question” the Islamists were Afghanistan’s de facto rulers.

“They have shown a great deal of pragmatism. Let’s seize the opportunities there… and look at their public actions,” said Assistant Foreign Minister Lolwah al-Khater, who stopped short of announcing formal recognition of Afghanistan’s new rulers.

“They are the de facto rulers, no question about that.” — AFP

September 7, 2021 – 10:59am

The Taliban claims total control over Afghanistan, saying they had won the key battle for the Panjshir Valley, the last remaining holdout of resistance against their rule.

Following their lightning-fast victory in mid-August over the former Afghan government’s security forces and the withdrawal of US troops after 20 years of war, the Taliban turned to fighting the forces defending the mountainous Panjshir Valley.

As the Islamist hardliners claimed victory, their chief spokesman warned against any further attempts to rise up against their rule while urging former members of the security forces to join their regime’s ranks. — AFP

September 6, 2021 – 2:23pm

The Taliban said Monday they had captured the last pocket of resistance in Afghanistan, the Panjshir Valley, even as opposition fighters vowed to keep up their struggle against the hardline Islamists.

Following their lightning-fast rout of Afghanistan’s army last month and celebrations when the last US troops flew out after 20 years of war, the Taliban turned to fight the forces defending the mountainous Panjshir Valley.

“With this victory, our country is completely taken out of the quagmire of war,” chief spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said. — AFP

September 6, 2021 – 10:58am

Resistance forces holed up in Afghanistan’s Panjshir Valley against the Taliban have called for a ceasefire, a statement from their leaders said, after reports they had suffered heavy losses at the weekend.

The National Resistance Front (NRF) said late Sunday it “proposes that the Taliban stop its military operations in Panjshir… and withdraw its forces. In return, we will direct our forces to refrain from military action.”

In a separate tweet late Sunday, the NRF said spokesman Fahim Dashty — a well-known Afghan journalist — and General Abdul Wudod Zara had been killed in the latest fighting. — AFP

September 6, 2021 – 7:31am

The Taliban on Sunday pledges to guarantee the safety of humanitarian workers and aid access in Afghanistan in a meeting with the UN humanitarian chief in Kabul, a UN spokesman said. 

Martin Griffiths was in the Afghan capital on Sunday for several days of meetings with Taliban leadership amid a looming humanitarian disaster in the country newly under the control of the hardline Islamists. 

“The authorities pledged that the safety and security of humanitarian staff, and humanitarian access to people in need, will be guaranteed and that humanitarian workers — both men and women — will be guaranteed freedom of movement,” a statement from UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric says. — AFP

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