Taliban Reject Extending Aug. 31 Withdrawal: Afghanistan Update

The Taliban warned of “consequences” if the U.S. delays withdrawing all troops from Afghanistan past an end of month deadline.

U.S. soldiers stand guard behind barbed wire as Afghans sit on a roadside near the military part of the airport in Kabul on Aug. 20.
By Bloomberg News
August 23, 2021 | 09:28 AM

(Bloomberg) — The Taliban warned of “consequences” if the U.S. delays withdrawing all troops from Afghanistan past an end of month deadline.

“It’s a red line,” Qatar-based Taliban spokesman and negotiator Suhail Shaheen said in an interview with Sky News. If the U.S. or U.K. were to seek additional time to continue evacuations “the answer is no. Or there would be consequences,” he added.

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson will push U.S. President Joe Biden to delay the departure of U.S. troops beyond the deadline to allow for more and safer evacuations of foreign nationals and their Afghan staff, a person familiar with the matter said.

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Taliban Name Obscure Official Central Bank Chief as Crisis Looms

Johnson has called for a virtual meeting of Group of Seven leaders on Tuesday to discuss the crisis. Biden has hinted the U.S. may extend the deadline as Americans struggle to reach Kabul’s airport.

On the ground, some militants wanted by Islamabad have been freed from jail in Afghanistan, Pakistan’s interior minister said. The militants are from Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), a group that has previously carried out attacks in Pakistan. And an Iranian official said Afghan local officials have asked traders to increase supplies of fuel as they grapple with a spike in gasoline prices triggered by the Taliban’s seizure of power.

Key stories and developments:

Iran Restarts Afganistan Fuel Exports on Taliban Tax Cut: Iran resumed exports of gasoline and gasoil to neighboring Afghanistan “a few days ago” after a request from the Taliban, Reuters reported, citing an interview with Hamid Hosseini, spokesman for the Iranian Oil, Gas and Petrochemical Products Exporters’ Union.

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The Taliban contacted Iran after gasoline prices spiked, and cut tariffs on imports of Iranian fuel by up to 70%, Reuters said.

Taliban Appoint Central Bank Governor: The Taliban appointed Mohammad Idris as acting governor of Da Afghanistan Bank, the country’s central bank, the group’s spokesman Zabihullah Mujahed said on Twitter. He’ll “address the looming banking issues and the problems of people,” he said. Idris’s appointment comes as the country’s banks are shut and ATM machines have dried up since the group’s takeover of the capital, Kabul, on Aug. 15.

U.S. Evacuates 10,400 People in 24 Hours: U.S. military flights have evacuated approximately 10,400 people from Kabul in the past 24 hours, a White House official said. In addition, 61 coalition aircraft evacuated approximately 5,900 people.

Demonstrators protest against Taliban rule in Afghanistan and the treatment of Afghan asylum seekers in India outside the office of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees in New Delhi, India, on Monday, Aug. 23, 2021. The chaos in Afghanistan and around the Kabul airport is fueling widespread criticism of U.S President Joe Biden's handling of the withdrawal of thousands of Americans and of Afghans who helped U.S. forces over the past two decades and now face the risk of Taliban reprisals.dfd

Russia Says Afghanistan Developments Raise Risk for Terror and Drugs: Developments in Afghanistan present “real risks for the entire Eurasian region and the world in general” from terrorism and drug trafficking, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on a conference call.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and other leaders in the region expressed concern that Islamic State retains a “strong position” in Afghanistan, at a summit Monday of the Collective Security Treaty Organization of former Soviet republics. They’ll resume talks on Afghanistan at a Sept. 16 summit, Peskov said.

U.K. evacuates 1,800 in 24 Hours:

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The U.K. has evacuated 1,821 people in eight flights from Kabul over the past 24 hours, with nine more flights planned over the next day, Armed Forces Minister James Heappey told ITV’s Good Morning Britain show. The total evacuated over the past week is 6,631 people, including both British nationals and Afghans, he said.

U.K. Minister Warns of Suicide Bombers: U.K. Armed Forces Minister James Heappey told BBC Radio there’s a “very real threat” posed by Islamic State in Kabul, and that there’s “absolutely” the risk of a suicide bombing in the vicinity of the airport.

“One of the most remarkable things about what our troops are doing is they know that there is the real threat of a suicide bomber or some other sort of threat or attack,” Heappey said. “That means that with one hand they have to have their finger on the trigger, and in the other hand they’re holding people’s babies.”

Heappey also said that people in Kabul who are on the U.K.’s no-fly list have tried to get on British evacuation flights, highlighting the need to thoroughly check credentials, “because there are people trying to take advantage of this process to get into the U.K. to cause us harm.”

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Harris Looks to Assure Allies on Afghan Exit: Vice President Kamala Harris sought to reassure U.S. allies in Asia over America’s commitment to the region, as she faced a volley of questions on Afghanistan during a visit to Singapore.

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The vice president mentioned that the U.S. was focused on successfully completing the evacuation in Afghanistan. Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong offered to help the U.S. with the evacuation effort.

Johnson wants Biden to Delay U.S. Troop Exit: U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson will push President Joe Biden to delay the departure of U.S. troops from Afghanistan beyond the end of August in order to allow for the evacuation of more foreign nationals and their Afghan staff, a person familiar with the matter said.

Johnson will use a virtual meeting of G-7 leaders on Tuesday to make the request, as the U.K. seeks to pull thousands more people out after Kabul’s fall to the Taliban, the official said.

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Foreign Office Minister James Cleverly appeared to confirm the U.K. approach, telling BBC radio late on Sunday “the more time that we’ve got, the more people we can evacuate and that’s what we’re pushing for.”

Taliban Fighters Gather Near Northern Area of Resistance: Taliban are massing hundreds of fighters around the last pocket of resistance to their rule, even as they negotiate with the leaders holding out, Zabihullah Mujahed, the militant group’s spokesman, said in a phone interview Monday.

The northern Panjshir Valley is currently being held by Ahmad Massoud, son of assassinated warlord Ahmad Shah Massoud, who battled the Taliban during their five-year rule from 1996 to 2001. Massoud is backed by Amrullah Saleh, the former vice president, who fled when the militants took over Kabul.

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“The Islamic Emirate makes its best effort to peacefully resolve the issue through negotiation. Those efforts are underway,” Mujahed said, adding that representatives of Massoud and Saleh had also met top Taliban leaders in Kabul.

In an op-ed in the Washington Post last week, Massoud had written that his fighters were “prepared to once again take on the Taliban” but added that their stores of weapons and ammunition would run out “unless our friends in the West can find a way to supply us without delay.”

Taliban Seeks Cooperation With South Korea: The Taliban wants to meet with South Korean leaders and business people and strengthen economic cooperation, Yonhap News Agency said Monday, citing its interview with Abdul Kahar Balchi, a member of the militant group’s cultural commission.

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Afghanistan has abundant underground resources including lithium, and South Korea, a leading electronics manufacturer, can benefit from cooperating with Afghanistan, Balchi said in the interview, which was conducted via text messages.

American, German Soldiers Drawn Into Firefight: American and German soldiers were drawn into a firefight between Afghan security forces and unknown assailants at the northern end of Kabul airport, Germany’s armed forces said on Twitter Monday. Some troops of the U.S.-trained Afghan military are present at the airport alongside Taliban fighters.

One Afghan security force member was killed and three others were wounded in the skirmish, which occurred at 6:13 a.m. local time. None of the German soldiers deployed at the airport was harmed.