Middle East/North Africa

Blinken: Taliban must uphold commitments to international community

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Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Friday emphasized the Biden administration’s expectation that any Taliban-led government in Afghanistan will act in accordance with commitments it made to the international community.

The secretary’s remarks come ahead of an expected announcement by the Taliban on the formation of a new government as it seeks to solidify its rule of the country, according to The Washington Post

The group took over Afghanistan last month at lightning speed amid an effort by the U.S. to withdraw its troops from the region. The U.S. withdrew all of its service members and definitively ended military engagement in Afghanistan on Tuesday. 

Blinken emphasized that such commitments by the Taliban include ensuring freedom of travel, counterterrorism, respecting rights of women and minorities and to not engage in reprisals. 

“We’re looking at what actions, what policies, any new Afghan government pursues, that’s what matters the most,” the secretary said in a briefing with reporters from the State Department.

Blinken said that the Biden administration has expectations that any new Taliban-led government shows “real inclusivity” and that it has representation within its structure from outside the insurgent group.

“There is an expectation that any government that emerges now, will have some real inclusivity and that it will have non-Talibs in it, who are representative of different communities and different interests in Afghanistan, so we’ll see what in fact emerges,” the secretary said. 

The secretary said that the main priority for the Biden administration and international community is for the Taliban to ensure follow through on commitments to freedom of movement, terrorism prevention, respect for human rights and amnesty for perceived Taliban enemies. 

“Ultimately, the expectation is to see a government that makes good on commitments that the Taliban have made,” he said. 

The Biden administration has withheld officially recognizing the Taliban as the legitimate government of Afghanistan but has engaged in close consultations with representatives in Doha, Qatar, and on the ground in Kabul amid the chaotic U.S. departure from the country.

The end of America’s 20-year war in Afghanistan was punctuated by grim images of people swarming the tarmac of Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International airport and falling from planes; a terrorist attack outside the airport that killed 13 U.S. service members and more than 100 Afghans; firefights and stampedes; and people wading through sewage in a desperate effort to flee the country. 

Overall, the U.S. government managed to evacuate more than 124,000 people from Afghanistan, the vast majority described as Afghans at risk of Taliban reprisals and about 6,000 American citizens. 

Yet the majority of Afghan allies, those that qualify for Special Immigrant Visas for their work alongside U.S. military, were left in Afghanistan amid the chaos. 

“Helping these Afghans is more than a priority for us, it is a deeply held commitment, and it’s an ongoing one, we’re going to do everything we can to keep it, in the days, weeks and months ahead,” Blinken said.

Also stranded in Afghanistan are a little more than 100 Americans who have asked for help to leave.  

Blinken said State Department officials are in constant contact with these Americans and have assigned a case management team to each individual. 

The secretary said the U.S. is engaged with international partners in an effort to reopen Kabul’s main airport, where Qatar and Turkey have offered assistance in resuming operations. 

Blinken also announced that he would be traveling to Doha, Qatar, on Sunday where the majority of the 124,000 people evacuated by the U.S. from Afghanistan have transited through. 

The secretary will meet with Qatari officials as well as locally employed Afghan staff from the U.S. embassy in Kabul who were evacuated to Qatar, diplomats, U.S. military and others working on the evacuation efforts. 

“I’ll convey our pride and thanks to the diplomats, troops and other U.S. government employees in Doha, who are doing truly heroic work around the clock to keep this process moving forward as quickly and humanely as possible,” he said.

The secretary will also travel to Ramstein Air Base in Germany, another transit point for refugees evacuated from Afghanistan. Blinken will meet with German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas and host a virtual summit of 20 other countries that have offered assistance for Afghan refugees. 

The secretary acknowledged that there needs to be an evaluation of the U.S. exit from Afghanistan and the 20-year conflict there.  

“We are committed to looking at everything we’ve done, from day one, through the present and to draw lessons from it,” he said.

“I think that there also needs to be, including across the State Department, a look back at the entire 20 years to understand the entire course of this … engagement with Afghanistan and to ask the right questions and to learn the right lessons from that,” he added. “So we’ll have more, I’m sure in the days and weeks ahead, about what process we’re going to be engaged in, but we are committed to doing that.”

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