UncategorizedLive Updates: Afghanistan Wakes to New Taliban Era

Live Updates: Afghanistan Wakes to New Taliban Era

Taliban fighters at the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Tuesday. The group now faces the daunting challenge of governing a desperately poor and polarized country.
Credit…Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times

Afghans woke up Tuesday morning to the reality of an Afghanistan firmly under the control of the Taliban amid intensifying fears that their country was being subsumed by a repressive regime as it battles an escalating economic and humanitarian crisis.

As the last hulking American planes receded from view over the capital, Kabul, late Monday, and news of their departure became clear, jubilant Taliban fighters shot their guns in the air, the arc of tracer rounds lighting up the night sky. The American withdrawal marked the end of a 20-year occupation that cost over $2 trillion, claimed more than 170,000 lives and culminated in a takeover by the very insurgents that the United States had sought to remove.

Zabihullah Mujahid, the Taliban’s top spokesman, congratulated Afghans on their victory on Tuesday as he toured the airport. “This victory belongs to us all,” he said.

But celebrations by the Taliban are likely to be short-lived. The group now faces the daunting challenge of governing a desperately poor and polarized country, plagued by food and cash shortages, terrorist threats and an intensifying humanitarian crisis. A third of all Afghans face what the United Nations calls crisis levels of food insecurity.

Saad Mohseni, owner of Tolo, Afghanistan’s largest broadcaster, underlined the huge hurdles facing the Taliban, including winning support from everyday Afghans.

“Peoples’ expectations have grown dramatically after the past 20 years of freedom and liberation, and the pain is yet to come,” he said. “Will the Taliban engage the world with a more inclusive approach? Or will they return to the ways of the past?”

The Taliban now confront the need to form a government that many Afghans and foreign governments may not even recognize.

Basic services like electricity provision are under threat as many state employees have not turned up for work. Washington has frozen Afghan government reserves, and the International Monetary Fund has blocked Afghanistan from accessing emergency reserves.

Conditions will probably soon get much worse, with food stocks likely to run out at the end of September, said Ramiz Alakbarov, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Afghanistan.

In Kabul, “we may be on the brink of an urban humanitarian catastrophe,” he said. “Prices are up. There are no salaries. At some point, millions of people will reach desperation.”

The tens of thousands of Afghans who had been clinging to the hope of escaping the country will now face the reality that their one escape hatch — Kabul’s airport — is now under Taliban control.

Qatar and Turkey are in discussions with the Taliban about whether they will help operate civilian flights from the airport. The Taliban said on Tuesday that the airport would reopen within days, and that those with visas would be allowed to leave.

A U.S. military official said that every American who had wanted to leave and could get to the airport had been taken out. But a number of Americans, thought to be fewer than 300, remain, either by choice or because they were unable to reach the airport.

Some people turned to social media to ask for help getting relatives out of the country. “My family were at the entrance of Kabul airport for 4 days, after that being left behind, please help them from a third country,” one man who identified himself as a former British military interpreter wrote in a publicly visible message on Twitter to a British lawmaker.

Since capturing Kabul, the Taliban have sought to rebrand themselves as more moderate. But many in Afghanistan recall the group’s rule in the 1990s, which deprived women of basic rights like education, and encouraged punishments like floggings, amputations and mass executions.

The early signs that the Taliban have changed their ways do not look encouraging. Since capturing Kabul on Aug. 15, the insurgents have cracked down on protests, violently suppressed members of the news media and rounded up opponents.

And while pledging to respect women’s rights, they warned the women of Afghanistan that it might be safest for them to remain at home. That is, until the rank-and-file Taliban fighters have been trained how not to mistreat them.

Adam Nossiter, Azi Paybarah and Eric Schmitt contributed reporting.

Taliban officials, including Zabihullah Mujahid, third right, announcing victory at the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Tuesday.
Credit…Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times

The Taliban’s spokesman stood at the airport in Afghanistan’s capital on Tuesday, on the tarmac where the last American plane had departed around midnight, and declared victory in their two-decade fight against U.S. occupation.

The spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, made the declaration as he led journalists through an airport littered with the remains of a frantic operation to evacuate tens of thousands of Afghans fleeing the new reality of life under the rule of the militant group.

Mr. Mujahid, flanked by Taliban officials and fighters from the group’s elite unit, said that the airport, still named after the president whom the United States installed years earlier, would reopen for air traffic within a matter of days. He also repeated the Taliban’s previous assurances that Afghans with passports and visas would be allowed to leave the country, regardless of their role during the American occupation.

Despite Mr. Mujahid’s assertions, the domestic terminal was in an evident state of disorder. Shattered glass littered hallways, and destroyed vehicles were jamming the parking lot.

The French foreign minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, said on Tuesday that the Taliban were in discussions with Qatar and Turkey over the administration of the Kabul airport.

“There are talks underway today with the Qataris and the Turks, because today the airport no longer functions,” Mr. Le Drian told the television channel France 2.

He added that the discussions were focusing on the “management” of the airport and on ensuring safe access to the area for those seeking to leave Afghanistan on commercial flights. Mr. Le Drian noted that the U.N. Security Council adopted a resolution on Monday demanding that the Taliban honor their commitment to let people freely leave the country.

“Now it has to be implemented,” he said.

On the northern side of the airport, from where the U.S. military had been running a hasty evacuation mission that saw some 123,000 people airlifted out of the country, even more signs of disarray were visible. Dozens of military vehicles and armored S.U.V.s were left behind. Alongside them were piles of wrappers from military food rations and empty plastic bottles of baby milk.

In front of an adjacent hangar sat a number of large vehicles that had, until recently, been used to help keep the Taliban from power: A-29 Super Tucano propeller bombers, MD-530 gunship helicopters and Mi-17 transport helicopters.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said on Monday that American diplomats would remain engaged in Afghanistan, but from outside its borders.
Credit…Pool photo by Jonathan Ernst

WASHINGTON — American diplomats have left Afghanistan, and the U.S. Embassy in Kabul will remain closed, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said on Monday, after the military announced that it had completed its withdrawal from the country.

The disintegration of diplomacy was a stunning turnabout from plans to stay and help Afghanistan transition from 20 years of war and to work toward peace, however tenuous, with a government that would share power with the Taliban. This month, Mr. Blinken had pledged that the United States would remain “deeply engaged” in Afghanistan long after the military left.

But with the Taliban firmly in control, what was one of the largest U.S. diplomatic missions in the world will for now be greatly scaled back, based in Doha, the Qatari capital, and focused largely on processing visas for refugees and other immigrants.

“Given the uncertain security environment and political situation in Afghanistan, it was the prudent step to take,” Mr. Blinken said in remarks at the State Department.

He sought to portray the departure as a “new chapter of America’s engagement with Afghanistan.”

“It’s one in which we will lead with our diplomacy,” Mr. Blinken said, commending the U.S. diplomats, troops and other personnel who had worked at the embassy, which just last month had employed around 4,000 people — including 1,400 Americans.

Left uncertain was whether American efforts to stabilize the Afghan government would continue — the main thrust of years of painstaking work and negotiations with leaders in Kabul that were supported by billions of dollars in American taxpayer funding.

Instead, Mr. Blinken said that any engagement with the Taliban — a longtime U.S. enemy that seized power when President Ashraf Ghani fled Afghanistan on Aug. 15 — “will be driven by one thing only: our vital national interests.”

Exactly four weeks earlier, on Aug. 2, Mr. Blinken had left little doubt that the Biden administration intended to keep the U.S. Embassy in Kabul open.

“Our partnership with the people of Afghanistan will endure long after our service members have departed,” he said then. “We will keep engaging intensely in diplomacy to advance negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban with the goal of a political solution, which we believe is the only path to lasting peace.”

As many as 200 American citizens, and tens of thousands of Afghans, were left behind in a two-week military airlift that Mr. Blinken called one of the largest evacuation efforts in U.S. history. He demanded that the Taliban keep its word and allow them to leave safely once they had exit documents in hand.

More than 123,000 people were evacuated from Kabul in recent weeks, including about 6,000 Americans.

Mr. Blinken also said that the United States would closely watch the Taliban’s efforts to stanch terrorism in Afghanistan, as the group has said it will do, and would continue to work with the international community to provide humanitarian aid to millions of Afghans who need food, medicine and health care after decades of war and political instability.

He struck a resolute tone about the diplomatic retreat, and in reminding Americans about the cost of the conflict.

America’s longest war, with its casualties and the resources that were sunk into it over the past 20 years, “demands reflection,” Mr. Blinken said.

“We must learn its lessons, and allow those lessons to shape how we think about fundamental questions of national security and foreign policy,” he said. “We owe that to future diplomats, policymakers, military leaders, service members. We owe that to the American people.”

A photograph released by U.S. Central Command shows Maj. Gen. Chris Donahue, commander of the U.S. Army 82nd Airborne Division, boarding a C-17 cargo plane at Kabul’s airport on Monday. He was the final American service member to depart Afghanistan.
Credit…U.S. Central Command, via Associated Press

The last moments of the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan were captured in two images that were a reversal of the American invasion nearly 20 years ago: A U.S. soldier leaving as Taliban fighters took control.

U.S. Central Command identified the final soldier to leave as Maj. Gen. Chris Donahue, the commanding general of the 82nd Airborne. He was boarding the last flight out of Kabul’s airport. Shortly after, the Los Angeles Times posted a video of its Middle East bureau chief, Nabih Bulos, entering the airport with Taliban fighters.

The image of Maj. Donahue, a firearm in his right hand, boarding a C-17 plane Monday night, is shrouded in the green tint suggestive of night vision goggles.

Nearby, and shortly after, a handful of Taliban fighters were recorded casually walking into an airport hangar. The moment was captured in a 30-second video, viewed nearly two million times on Twitter, by Mr. Bulos.

The overhang is brightly lit. Fighters walk by an empty swivel chair and toward one side of the hangar, where several helicopters sit unoccupied.

The fighters, according to Mr. Bulos, were entering “what was only minutes ago” an American patrolled portion of the airport. In another video posted by Mr. Bulos, Taliban fighters shoot celebratory gunfire into the air.

The two images capture the unlikely transfer of power between the United States, which invaded the country in 2001, and the Taliban, which has waged a bloody campaign to return to power ever since.

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