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August 16, 2021, Afghanistan-Taliban news

Clarissa Ward pushes Taliban fighter about Afghan women's rights
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"I thought at one point that this is the end and I will die," student says of her experience at Kabul airport

Like hundreds of other Kabul residents, Aisha Ahmad scurried to the Hamid Karzi International Airport on Monday, hoping to catch a flight out of the country as it became apparent the government would fall to the Taliban.

Ahmad did not make it out. On Twitter, she asked for help from a third country, only to receive death threats, she said.

The 22-year-old university student recounted her experience to CNN and explained why she’s fearful for the future.

Her experience at the airport: Ahmad said she got a call from a friend in the United States and was told that people were being ferried out of Afghanistan on military flights. She didn’t believe it at first, but when a second friend called and said the same thing, she thought they might both be right.

The streets were quiet as she ran to the airport, except for the occasional crackle of gunshots. People were calm and looked curious.

But at the airport, Ahmad said “there were thousands of people, including many without passports and little security. She got stuck.

“The crowds were pushed by police,” she said. “Kids and women were on the ground.”

Ahmad said it felt like “doomsday.”

Though she did not manage to make it out of Kabul, she escaped the airport with only scrapes and bruises.

Will she go back to school: Taliban spokesman and leaders have said that they plan to run an “inclusive Islamic government” and allow women and girls to go to school. Many Afghans are deeply skeptical of those claims because it’s a major departure from the fundamentalist, totalitarian tendencies that marked the group’s time in power in the 1990s.

“Some people say the Taliban have changed, others say that they have not,” Ahmad said. “To be honest now I do not believe the Taliban.”

Taliban leaders have said that people should continue to go about their day-to-day lives for now, including women who go to school. Ahmad said based on what she sees on TV, she thinks she can go back to school but isn’t exactly sure.

She fears that she will not be able to finish her university education and worries that things will start getting harder for women in the days and weeks ahead

“Definitely there will be restrictions for women, but we do not know how much,” Ahmad said.

“People are not much outside, and they do not know how their daily activity will be when life is back to normal. Will they force stores to close during prayer time? Will there be punishment for not going to the mosque, will they force people to go? … No one knows,” she said.

Former US President George W. Bush and first lady Laura Bush say their "hearts are heavy" after watching "tragic events unfolding in Afghanistan"

Former US President George W. Bush, the first American President to preside over the war in Afghanistan, and first lady Laura Bush said their “hearts are heavy” after watching fall of the Afghan government and the Taliban’s resurgence.

The couple said they and their team at the George W. Bush Presidential Center “stand ready as Americans to lend our support and assistance in this time of need.”

Operation Enduring Freedom, the official name of the campaign targeting those responsible for the 9/11 attacks, began on October 7, 2001, when US and British forces began striking al Qaeda and Taliban targets in Afghanistan. Though the Taliban regime fell quickly, the war continued for the next 20 years, becoming the longest war in US history.

Read the Bush’s statement here:

Laura and I have been watching the tragic events unfolding in Afghanistan with deep sadness. Our hearts are heavy for both the Afghan people who have suffered so much and for the Americans and NATO allies who have sacrificed so much.
The Afghans now at the greatest risk are the same ones who have been on the forefront of progress inside their nation. President Biden has promised to evacuate these Afghans, along with American citizens and our allies. The United States government has the legal authority to cut the red tape for refugees during urgent humanitarian crises. And we have the responsibility and the resources to secure safe passage for them now, without bureaucratic delay. Our most stalwart allies, along with private NGOs, are ready to help.
Laura and I are confident that the evacuation efforts will be effective because they are being carried out by the remarkable men and women of the United States Armed Forces, diplomatic corps, and intelligence community. And we want to speak to them directly, along with the veterans who have served in Afghanistan.
Many of you deal with wounds of war, both visible and invisible. And some of your brothers and sisters in arms made the ultimate sacrifice in the war on terror. Each day, we have been humbled by your commitment and your courage. You took out a brutal enemy and denied Al Qaeda a safe haven while building schools, sending supplies, and providing medical care. You kept America safe from further terror attacks, provided two decades of security and opportunity for millions, and made America proud. We thank you from the bottom of our hearts and will always honor your contributions.  
In times like these, it can be hard to remain optimistic. Laura and I will steadfastly remain so. Like our country, Afghanistan is also made up of resilient, vibrant people. Nearly 65 percent of the population is under twenty-five years old. The choices they will make for opportunity, education, and liberty will also determine Afghanistan’s future. As Dr. Sakena Yacoobi of the Afghan Institute of Learning, which has opened schools for girls and women around the nation, wrote this week: “While we are afraid, we are not defeated.” She added, “Ideas do not disappear so easily. One cannot kill whispers on the wind. The Taliban cannot crush a dream. We will prevail, even if it takes longer than we wanted it to.”  
Laura and I, along with the team at the Bush Center, stand ready as Americans to lend our support and assistance in this time of need. Let us all resolve to be united in saving lives and praying for the people of Afghanistan.

Former George W. Bush strategist says Biden will likely survive the crisis in Afghanistan politically

Matthew Dowd

Matthew Dowd, a former strategist for President George W. Bush, said that though the Taliban’s takeover is tragic, the American public is “exhausted” after 20 years of war in Afghanistan.

A poll from ABC News and Ipsos conducted on July 23 and 24 found that 55% of Americans approved of President Joe Biden’s handling of the troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, while 41% disapproved.

Dowd told CNN’s Don Lemon he believes the American public still wants to see the military out of Afghanistan. Though the horrific pictures coming out of the country may open Biden up to scrutiny and criticism in the short-term, he does not think it will be an issue “in a potential reelection for him, or even in the midterms.”

“The American public wanted us out of there, and we’re getting out of there, actually way later than the American public wanted us (to).”

China says it is willing to work with the US on Afghanistan

China is willing to work with the US for a “soft landing of the Afghan issue” to prevent the country from becoming a humanitarian disaster and breeding ground for terrorism, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Beijing said in a statement.

The statement from China’s Foreign Affairs Ministry said the two countries should find places to cooperate but warned that the United States could not count on China’s support and cooperation while impeding China’s “legitimate rights and interest.”

The State Department said the two diplomats discussed “the security situation and our respective efforts to bring US and PRC citizens to safety.”

Pompeo criticizes Biden administration's Afghanistan policy

Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo addressed the situation in an Afghanistan in an interview with CNN affiliate KWCH, saying that the “deterrence model” under former President Donald Trump’s administration worked.

Here’s what Pompeo said:

“We were working hard to put an orderly transition in place, to have the Afghans have peace and reconciliation. I met with the Taliban to deliver that. We made clear to the Taliban if they didn’t honor their commitments, we would rain holy heck on them. And they knew that, and that deterrence model helped. We went from over 10,000 down to 2,500 (troops). We didn’t have a single American killed for over a year and a half. That was the fact – that we had real American leadership, and I regret we’re not in that place today.”

Inside Biden's defiant Afghanistan response

By the time images of desperate Afghans clinging to American warplanes began emerging from Kabul on Monday morning, President Joe Biden had conceded to aides he had little choice but to interrupt his stay at Camp David to return to the White House.

He had been facing calls, even from his political allies, to speak out on the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban. His top aides had begun publicly admitting they were caught off guard by the speed with which the Afghan military would collapse but wanted the situation in Kabul to stabilize before Biden addressed the nation. And his own words from earlier this summer describing a Taliban takeover as “unlikely” were aggravating the sense of a commander-in-chief caught badly off guard.

During briefings, the President quizzed his team about how they could have misjudged the time it would take for the Afghan army to collapse, according to people familiar with the matter. He has also voiced dismay at the failure of Ashraf Ghani, the ousted Afghan president who fled the country on Sunday, to adhere to a plan he laid out in the Oval Office in June to prevent the Taliban from taking over major cities.

Throughout the weekend, Biden had remained at the presidential retreat, receiving briefings on screens or over the phone while sitting alone at conference table. Advisers huddled separately to discuss when and how he should address the situation. When he returned to the White House midday Monday, many of his aides assumed he would at least spend the night.

Yet almost as soon as Biden touched down in Washington, word went out that his stay at the executive mansion would be brief. After his 18-minute speech, Biden quickly decamped again for the mountains.

As advisers worked feverishly on Monday to calibrate the President’s speech, there was far less worry about the predictable criticism from Republicans than about how Biden’s own words and calculations over the last several months had been so wrong. The episode puts into sharp relief two of Biden’s most marked political traits: A stubborn defensive streak and a fierce certainty in his decision-making that allows little room for second-guessing.

Those traits led to an air of defiance hanging over the White House on Monday, but remarkable images of the chaos in Kabul – which the President called “gut wrenching” – stood as irrefutable evidence of failure. The task of what to do next will be left to Biden.

Read more:

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks in the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Monday, Aug. 16, 2021.

Inside Biden's defiant Afghanistan response | CNN Politics

How US veterans and their families are reacting to the events unfolding in Afghanistan 

There’s a wide range of opinions among Afghanistan war veterans about the US withdrawal, said Tom Porter, an Afghanistan veteran and the executive vice president for government relations at Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA). Stressing he doesn’t speak for everyone, Porter said some veterans feel the withdrawal was overdue while others believe the United States should have stayed to prevent any violence.

“But the vast majority of veterans I’m hearing from have great concern for the veterans that have sacrificed so much and the families that are Gold Star families that lost their sons and their husbands and their fathers and mothers and other family members over the last 20 years,” Porter said.

“They are wondering, was their loved ones’ service worth it?”

The images coming out of Afghanistan are quickly building a narrative, he said, that is going to shape veterans’ views about the past 20 years.

“That’s going to color the way veterans and service members think about the end of their service, the result of their service,” Porter said. “Everybody in the community’s going to be looking to see, how is history going to remember what we did over there?”

Gerald Keen, who served in Afghanistan, told CNN’s Pamela Brown he knew this time would come. But he disagrees with the way the withdrawal has unfolded, believing American soldiers should not be sent back to do a job he feels should have been done prior to the closure of Bagram Airfield.

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin approved the deployment of 1,000 more US troops to Afghanistan, a defense official told CNN on Sunday, for a total of 6,000 US troops expected to be in country.

“Now we’ve got to send soldiers back in harm’s way to help evacuate the embassies and these interpreters who fought side by side with us every day,” Keen said.

Much of veterans’ anxiety is tied to the effort of getting out those who helped the United States at risk to their families’ lives, said Jeremy Butler, IAVA’s chief executive.

The US State Department has said there are some 20,000 Afghans who have applied for a Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) to be able to come to the United States. As of Friday, 1,200 Afghans and their families had been evacuated to America as part of the administration’s “Operation Allies Refuge,” and administration officials said they would accelerate efforts to get the applicants and their families out of Afghanistan and to the United States or a third country.

Even with the accelerated pace of SIV relocation, there are tens of thousands of other Afghans who worked alongside the United States who either are stuck in the pipeline or do not qualify for the program and will need to pursue other ways out, such as the administration’s new Afghan refugee designation.

Read the full story here.

Pentagon says they did plan for "the possibility that the Taliban would make significant gains"

The Pentagon said they “absolutely” did plan for “the possibility that the Taliban would make significant gains throughout the country,” but press secretary John Kirby declined to say whether President Biden was briefed. 

“We won’t speak to advice and counsel that our leaders give to the President. What I can tell you is that in the planning that we’ve done and in the exercises and drills we ran, we certainly ran them against the possibility that the Taliban would make significant gains throughout the country, yes, absolutely,” Kirby told reporters.

“One of the things that we couldn’t anticipate and didn’t anticipate was the degree to which Afghan forces capitulated sometimes without a fight,” he continued.

Kirby would not say if the Department of Defense informed Biden, who said he did not see that happening, of the possibility of a swift Taliban takeover.

He further said that the Pentagon had anticipated possibly needing a surge of troops to protect the airport in Kabul, which is what let to them being able to deploy forces more quickly.

“I think when you look at the images out of Kabul that would have been difficult for anybody to predict,” said Kirby “Now, could we have predicted every single scenario and every single breach around the perimeter of the airport with only a couple of thousand troops on the ground? Absolutely you know there are changes that happen.”

"There has not been a formal transfer of power" in Afghanistan, State Department spokesperson says

State Department spokesperson Ned Price on Monday said “there has not been a formal transfer of power” from the Afghan government to the Taliban following the capitulation of former President Ashraf Ghani, and said the US was working with the international community as to who the US recognizes as the leader of Afghanistan.

Price did not rule out US recognition of a Taliban government, saying that it would be dependent upon their actions.

“Ultimately when it comes to our posture towards any future government in Afghanistan, it will depend upon the actions of that government, it will depend upon the actions of the Taliban. We are watching closely,” he said at a department briefing.

“The fact is that a future Afghan government that upholds the basic rights of its people, that doesn’t harbor terrorists and that protects the basic rights of its people, including the basic fundamental rights of half of its population, its women and girls, that is a government that we would be able to work with,” he said.

“The converse is also true. We’re not going to support a government that does not do that, a government that disregards, the guarantees enshrined in basic documents like the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, that is not a government that the United States would be able to work with. That itself is important,” Price said, also noting a UN Security Council statement calling for “the establishment, through inclusive negotiations, of a new government that is united, inclusive and representative – including with the full, equal and meaningful participation of women.”

Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen claimed in a CNN interview Monday that the Taliban would allow the education of women and girls, but the militant group has a history of sharp repression of the rights of women and minorities.

State Department officials had previously said the US would not recognize a government that came to power by force.

How Democrats are grappling with the fallout from Afghanistan 

As horrific images pour out of Kabul with residents desperately trying to flee, Democrats on Capitol Hill are grappling with the political fallout in Washington of a crisis they warned the Biden administration months ago could become a fiasco on the world stage. 

Democrats are now in the midst of a political firestorm and struggling to find a way to both back President Biden on an exit from Afghanistan many thought was long overdue while acknowledging the administration made major tactical mistakes that may have been avoided. 

Congressional Democrats nearly all backed Biden when he announced plans to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan in April, but many have been infuriated by the administration’s slow response to evacuating Afghans who worked alongside the US military and are now at risk. The images of a hasty withdrawal of Americans and the chaos at the Kabul airport now conflicting with the administration’s claims that they were carrying out an orderly withdrawal.

“These past few days have been difficult to process, and not because the Taliban’s progress was surprising. In fact, the opposite. We sounded the alarm, and our dire warnings fell on deaf ears,” said Rep. Chrissy Houlahan, a Pennsylvania Democrat and Air Force veteran.

For some Democrats silence has been the best course of action. Many have not issued statements since the Taliban raced into Kabul over the weekend and seized power as former Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled the country.

Republicans, meanwhile, have launched a barrage of criticism at Biden over the collapse in Afghanistan, charging that the Taliban takeover is a stain on his presidency – and one that will have political consequences that bleed into the midterm elections next year. While many of the Republicans have ignored Trump’s push for an even quicker withdrawal when he was president, they’ve argued that Biden deserves the blame for the way the drawdown of US forces has been carried out.

Democrats have defended Biden’s underlying decision, arguing that the rapid fall of the Afghan military underscored the fact that the government was likely to fall no matter when the US military pulled out.

Several Democrats and senior Biden officials have blamed the Trump administration for negotiating the drawdown with the Taliban that preceded Biden’s decision to complete the withdrawal. During a briefing call with both Republicans and Democrats Sunday, top US security officials also pointed out the failure of the Afghan army, which surrendered in many places far before the US anticipated they would. 

Still, Biden has not deviated from his decision, saying in a speech on Monday that “I stand squarely behind my decision.”

Read the full story here.

Afghan journalist to Pentagon spokesperson: I left from the Taliban 20 years ago, now we're back to square one 

Afghan journalist Nazira Karimi became emotional when pressing Pentagon press secretary John Kirby about the location of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani during a briefing.

“As you know, I’m from Afghanistan, I’m very upset today, because Afghan women didn’t expect that overnight all the Taliban came. They took off my flag. This is my flag. They put their flag. Everybody’s upset, especially women,” the reporter said to Kirby, pointing to the Afghan flag on her face mask.

The journalist went on to ask Kirby on the status of Ghani, who fled Afghanistan as the Taliban closed in on Kabul on Sunday.

“Where is my president, former President Ghani? People expected that he would be by with the people and immediately he ran away. We don’t know where is he and we don’t have a president. President Biden said that President Ghani knows he has to fight for us people, they have to do everything and we were able to financially help them. But we don’t have any president, we don’t have anything,” the journalist said.

The journalist continued, “The Afghan people don’t know what to do. Women has a lot of achievement in Afghanistan. I had a lot of achievement. I left from the Taliban like 20 years ago. Now we go back to the first step again. Do you have any comment?… Where is our President Ghani? He should answer to the Afghan people.”  

Kirby said he could not speak for Ghani or “where he is or what his views are.”

“But let me say with all respect, that I understand. And we all understand the anxiety and the fear and the pain that you’re feeling. It’s clear and it’s evident, and nobody here at the Pentagon is happy about the images that we’ve seen coming out in the last few days,” Kirby said. “And we’re all mindful of the kind of governance that the Taliban is capable of. So heartfelt respect to what you’re going through, and we understand that.”

The Pentagon spokesperson continued: “We, too, have invested greatly in Afghanistan and in the progress that women and girls have made politically, economically, socially, and we certainly do understand and we do feel the pain that you’re feeling. Probably not to the same extent. We’re focused right now on making sure that we do the best we can for those Afghans who helped us.”

Watch the moment below:

03:20

The chaos in Kabul would have been "difficult for anybody to predict," Pentagon says

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby today defended the US military’s chaotic withdrawal from Kabul, telling CNN he took issue with any characterization of the situation at Hamid Karzai International Airport as a planning failure.

“I would take issue with your designation of this operation at the airport as a failure,” said Kirby, after CNN’s Barbara Starr asked him “what failed in your planning?”

“We do plan for all manner of contingencies, but it’s not a perfect process,” he continued. “Plans are not always perfectly predictive … and as is well known in military maximum, plans don’t often survive first contact, and you have to adjust in real time.”

“When you look at the images out of Kabul, that would have been difficult for anybody to predict,” added Kirby, speaking in a news conference at the Pentagon.

Kirby defended the preparation of the US, saying they did plan “noncombatant evacuation operations as far back as May” and that “there were drills being done here at the Pentagon to walk through what different noncombatant evacuation operations might look like.”

Kirby said one of the exercises was done as recently as two weeks ago to examine what a noncombatant evacuation “would look like out of the Hamid Karzai International Airport.”

“And we think that those exercises did prepare us in terms of having their resources forward, secretary forward deployed troops, including Marines, off of their ship and into Kuwait so that they could be more readily available as well as other forces in the region,” he said.

“A lot of what you’re seeing transpire, the reason we can be so quick with upwards of 6,000 troop, is because we anticipated the possible need to do this,” he said, noting again that they could not have predicted “every single scenario and every single breach around the perimeter of the airport” and there are “changes that happen.”

Some more background: Violence erupted at the Kabul airport on Monday as hundreds of people poured onto the tarmac desperately seeking a route out of Afghanistan after the Taliban’s sudden seizure of power sparked a chaotic Western withdrawal.

US forces shot and killed two armed men who fired on them Monday, according to a US defense official, and the US resumed temporarily suspended operations at the airfield after clearing crowds off the runways.