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Posted in: Afghanistan

Published on Aug 18, 2021 by AP Staff

Published by The Jewish Voice

Biden To Afghanistan; “Drop Dead”–Taiwan, Ukraine & Israel are Watching

The U.S. military is coordinating with the Taliban while accelerating the airlift of Americans and Afghan allies from the Kabul airport, and also bringing in additional U.S. troops in a scramble to complete the evacuation in two weeks, Pentagon officials said Tuesday.

The disclosure by Pentagon spokesman John Kirby that U.S. commanders are speaking with Taliban commanders is an indication that the new rulers of Afghanistan, who swept to power after 20 years of war against the U.S.-supported Kabul government, will not interfere with the evacuation. Kirby would not discuss details of the Taliban arrangement.

“There are interactions multiple times a day” between U.S. and Taliban commanders, he said.

Overnight at the airport, nine Air Force C-17 transport planes arrived with equipment and about 1,000 troops, and seven C-17s took off with 700-800 civilian evacuees, including 165 Americans, Army Maj. Gen. William Taylor told a Pentagon news conference. The total included Afghans who have applied for Special Immigrant Visas and third-country nationals, he said.

The goal is to ramp up to one evacuation flight per hour by Wednesday, with potentially a total of 5,000 to 9,000 evacuees leaving per day, Taylor and Kirby said. Taylor said that more than 4,000 U.S. troops are now at the airport. That number is expected to top 6,000 in coming days, with airport security to be headed by an 82nd Airborne commander.

On Monday the airlift had been temporarily suspended when Afghans desperate to escape the country breeched security and rushed onto the tarmac. Seven people died in several incidents.

Kirby, said U.S. commanders at the airport are in direct communication with Taliban commanders outside the airport to avoid security incidents. He indicated this communication was in line with an arrangement made on Sunday by the head of U.S. Central Command, Gen. Frank McKenzie, when he met with Taliban leaders in Qatar and won agreement to “deconflict” forces and allow a safe U.S. evacuation.

Kirby said there have been no hostile actions by the Taliban, and that several hundred members of the now-defeated Afghan army are at the airport assisting in the evacuation.

He said U.S. forces plan to wrap up their oversight of the evacuation by Aug. 31, also the date President Joe Biden has set for officially ending the U.S. combat role in Afghanistan.

On Monday, a defiant Biden rejected blame for chaotic scenes of Afghans clinging to U.S. military planes in Kabul in a desperate bid to flee their home country after the Taliban’s easy victory over an Afghan military that America and NATO allies had spent two decades trying to build.

Biden called the anguish of trapped Afghan civilians “gut-wrenching” and conceded the Taliban had achieved a much faster takeover of the country than his administration had expected. The U.S. rushed in troops to protect its own evacuating diplomats and others at the Kabul airport.

But the president expressed no second thoughts about his decision to stick by the U.S. commitment, formulated during the Trump administration, to end America’s longest war, no matter what.

“I stand squarely behind my decision” to finally withdraw U.S. combat forces, Biden said, while acknowledging the Afghan collapse played out far more quickly than the most pessimistic public forecasts of his administration. “This did unfold more quickly than we anticipated,” he said.

Despite declaring “the buck stops with me,” Biden placed almost all blame on Afghans for the shockingly rapid Taliban conquest.

His grim comments were his first in person to the world since the biggest foreign policy crisis of his still-young presidency. Emboldened by the U.S. withdrawal, Taliban fighters swept across the country last week and captured the capital, Kabul, on Sunday, sending U.S.-backed Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fleeing the country.

Biden said he had warned Ghani — who was appointed Afghanistan’s president in a U.S.-negotiated agreement — to be prepared to fight a civil war with the Taliban after U.S. forces left. “They failed to do any of that,” he said.

At home, it all sparked sharp criticism, even from members of Biden’s own political party, who implored the White House to do more to rescue fleeing Afghans, especially those who had aided the two-decade American military effort.

“We didn’t need to be seeing the scenes that we’re seeing at Kabul airport with our Afghan friends climbing aboard C-17s,” said Rep. Jason Crow, a Colorado Democrat and Iraq and Afghanistan military veteran.

He said that is why he and others called for the evacuations to start months ago. “It could have been done deliberately and methodically,” Crow said. “And we think that that was a missed opportunity.”

Noted historian, longtime feminist activist and renowned literary figure, Martha Shelley, told the Jewish Voice that she had doubts about the motivation of American involvement in Afghanistan that began decades ago.

“Americans have no sense of history beyond the 24-hour news cycle,“ Ms. Shelley lamented. “The truth is that U.S. involvement in Afghanistan was never about installing democracy, nation building, or caring about the rights of women in that country. It was and is about empire. The truth is that we are largely responsible for creating the Taliban. Six months before the Soviet invasion, the CIA funded mujaheddin to overthrow a weak Marxist government in Kabul and, in the words of former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, the US government, we drew “the Russians into the Afghan trap…We now [had] the opportunity of giving to the USSR its Vietnam War.”

Ms. Shelley added that, “We continued to fund the mujaheddin once the Soviets invaded, allying ourselves with such stellar democracies as Saudi Arabia and Pakistan to fund the mujaheddin and supply jihadis (holy warriors). This covert aid was kept secret from the American public. During the 10 years of the Soviet-Afghan War, cost to the U.S. taxpayers was $2.4 billion in cash and military equipment, including Stinger missiles. One of the jihadis we supported was Osama bin Laden.”

Besides the life-and-death situation in Kabul, the timing of the crisis was unfortunate for Biden’s domestic efforts at home. It could well weaken his political standing as he works to combat the COVID-19 pandemic and build congressional support for a $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill and an even larger expansion of the social safety net.

Still, the focus at home and abroad was on Kabul’s airport, where thousands of Afghans trapped by the sudden Taliban takeover rushed the tarmac and clung to U.S. military planes deployed to fly out staffers of the U.S. Embassy, which shut down Sunday, and others.

At least seven people died in the chaos, including two who clung to the wheels of a C-17 and plunged to the tarmac as it flew away, and two others shot by U.S. forces. Americans said the men were armed but there was no evidence that they were Taliban.

Kirby said Tuesday during television interviews that plans were being made to house up to 22,000 evacuated Afghans and their families at three U.S. Army installations in the continental United States. Those locations are Camp McCoy, Wisconsin; Fort Bliss, Texas, and Fort Lee, Virginia.

Also on Tuesday, the Taliban vowed to respect women’s rights, forgive those who resisted them and ensure a secure Afghanistan as part of a publicity blitz aimed at convincing world powers and a fearful population that they have changed.

Following a lightning offensive across Afghanistan that saw many cities fall to the insurgents without a fight, the Taliban have sought to portray themselves as more moderate than when they imposed a brutal rule in the late 1990s. But many Afghans remain skeptical — and thousands raced to the airport on Monday, desperate to flee the country.

Older generations remember the Taliban’s ultraconservative Islamic views, which included severe restrictions on women as well as public stonings and amputations before they were ousted by the U.S-led invasion following the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.

As others have in recent days, spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid addressed these concerns head on in his first news conference Tuesday.

Mujahid, who had been a shadowy figure for years, promised the Taliban would honor women’s rights, but within the norms of Islamic law, though he gave few details. He said the group wanted private media to “remain independent,” but stressed journalists “should not work against national values.”

And he promised the insurgents would secure Afghanistan — but seek no revenge against those who worked with the former government or with foreign governments or forces.

“We assure you that nobody will go to their doors to ask why they helped,” he said.

Middle East expert, veteran second wave feminist activist, prolific author and lecturer, Dr. Phyllis Chesler told the Jewish Voice from her New York offices that she was more than a bit skeptical about the Taliban’s pronouncement of granting women the right to serve in the government. “For the Taliban, their interpretation of Sharia law could very well be way more extreme than we imagine. When they speak of affording women the right to serve in the newly formed government, we must hearken back to the ways that women played major roles in violently oppressing other women when ISIS was building their caliphate.”

Chesler added that. “One could realistically speculate that just like ISIS, women who are fundamentalists may be the ones selected by the Taliban to become symbolic governmental female role models. During the ISIS era, women holding fundamentalist views were charged with meting out exceptionally harsh punishments to other women who may not have been dressing or behaving according to Islamic law. Any woman who was not wearing a burqa, not wearing a “body bag”, not strictly complying with the draconian nature of all aspects of Sharia was brutally beaten and punished in the most humiliating manner. In some ways, these women that will be chosen by the Taliban to be token members of the government may be way worse than men as it pertains to the treatment of other women.”

Earlier, Enamullah Samangani, a member of the Taliban’s cultural commission, made similar promises, saying the Taliban would extend an “amnesty” without giving details and encouraging women to join the government.

The capital of Kabul remained quiet for another day as the Taliban patrolled its streets and many residents stayed home, fearful after the insurgents’ takeover saw prisons emptied and armories looted. Many women have expressed dread that the two-decade Western experiment to expand their rights and remake Afghanistan would not survive the resurgent Taliban.

Germany, meanwhile, halted development aid to Afghanistan over the Taliban takeover. Such aid is a crucial source of funding for the country — and the Taliban’s efforts to project a milder version of themselves may be aimed at ensuring that money continues to flow.

While the Taliban pledged not to go after their enemies, some in Kabul allege the fighters have lists of people who cooperated with the government and are seeking them out. A broadcaster in Afghanistan said she was hiding at a relative’s house, too frightened to return home much less return to work following reports that the insurgents are also looking for journalists. She said she and other women didn’t believe the Taliban had changed their ways. She spoke on condition of anonymity because she feared for her safety.

Samangani addressed the concerns of women, saying a Taliban were ready to “provide women with environment to work and study, and the presence of women in different (government) structures according to Islamic law and in accordance with our cultural values.”

That would be a marked departure from the last time the Taliban were in power, when women were largely confined to their homes.

In another sign of the Taliban’s efforts to portray a new image, a female television anchor on the private broadcaster Tolo interviewed a Taliban official on camera Tuesday in a studio — an interaction that once would have been unthinkable. Meanwhile, women in hijabs demonstrated briefly in Kabul, holding signs demanding the Taliban not “eliminate women” from public life.

Rupert Colville, a spokesman for the United Nations’ high commissioner for human rights, noted both the Taliban’s vows and the fears of everyday Afghans.

“Such promises will need to be honored, and for the time being — again understandably, given past history — these declarations have been greeted with some skepticism,” he said in a statement. “There have been many hard-won advances in human rights over the past two decades. The rights of all Afghans must be defended.”

Germany, meanwhile, suspended development aid to Afghanistan, estimated at 250 million euros ($294 million) for 2021. Other funding separately goes to security services and humanitarian aid. Sweden indicated it would slow aid to the country, but Britain committed to an increase.

British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said humanitarian aid could rise by 10%. He said the aid budget would be reconfigured for development and humanitarian purposes and that the Taliban would not get any money previously earmarked for security.

Meanwhile, Kabul’s international airport, the only way out for many, reopened to military evacuation flights under the watch of American troops.

All flights were suspended on Monday when thousands of people rushed the airport. In shocking scenes captured on video, some clung to a plane as it took off and then fell to their deaths. At least seven people died in chaos at the airport, U.S. officials said.

By late Tuesday, the Taliban entered the civilian half of the airport, firing into the air to drive out around 500 people there, said an Afghan official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to brief journalists.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said U.S. commanders at the airport are communicating with Taliban leaders to keep the airlift going, adding that there have been no hostile actions by the Taliban.

Still, there were indications that the situation remained tenuous. The U.S. Embassy in Kabul, now operating from the airport, urged Americans to register online for evacuations but not come to the airport before being contacted.

The German Foreign Ministry said a first German military transport plane landed in Kabul, but it took off with only seven people on board due to continued chaos. Another left later with 125 people.

Across Afghanistan, the International Committee of the Red Cross said thousands had been wounded in fighting as the Taliban swept across the country in recent days, ahead of the planned withdrawal of the last American troops at the end of the month.

As President Biden did, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg blamed the swift collapse of the country on a failure of Afghan leadership. But he added that the alliance must also uncover flaws in its effort to train the Afghan military.

Talks continued Tuesday between the Taliban and several Afghan government officials, including former President Hamid Karzai and Abdullah Abdullah, who once headed the country’s negotiating council.

Discussions focused on how a Taliban-dominated government would operate given the changes in Afghanistan over the last 20 years, rather than just dividing up who controlled what ministries, officials with knowledge of the negotiations said. They spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss confidential details of the talks.

A top Taliban leader, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, arrived in Kandahar on Tuesday night from Qatar. His arrival may signal a deal is close at hand.

But in a possible complication, the vice president of the ousted government claimed on Twitter Tuesday that he was the country’s “legitimate” caretaker president. Amrullah Saleh said, under the constitution, he should be in charge because President Ashraf Ghani has fled the country.

Also on Tuesday, the AP reported that the European Union is suspending payments of development assistance to Afghanistan now that it has fallen to the Taliban but is weighing whether to boost humanitarian aid to the conflict-ravaged country.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell says there can be “no payments of development assistance until we clarify the situation” with Taliban leaders.

Speaking after chairing a meeting of EU foreign ministers Tuesday, Borrell said the Taliban must respect U.N. Security Council resolutions and human rights to earn access to the funds.

Borrell says that “humanitarian help will continue, and maybe we will have an increase,” given the number of displaced Afghans, the ongoing drought, and the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

The 27-nation bloc has pledged about 1.2 billion euros ($1.4 billion) in development assistance for Afghanistan for the period 2021-2024.

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