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Home World U.S. Forces Go Into Kabul to Extract Stranded Americans and Allies

U.S. Forces Go Into Kabul to Extract Stranded Americans and Allies

Helicopters flying over a crowd of Afghans gathered outside the airport in Kabul on Monday.
Credit…Victor J. Blue for The New York Times

WASHINGTON — With just eight days left before an Aug. 31 withdrawal deadline, the Pentagon is ramping up evacuations from Kabul’s airport by deploying American helicopters and troops into select spots in Kabul to extract stranded American citizens and Afghan allies.

Defense officials said that as of Monday, the military has helped to evacuate 37,000 people since Aug. 14, when Kabul fell to the Taliban. The pace of flights has picked up in the last few days, allowing for 11,000 people to be evacuated in one day. But that number is still just a fraction of the American citizens, foreign nationals, and Afghan allies who are seeking to leave the country.

President Biden has left the door open to maintaining the American troop presence — now at 5,800 Marines and soldiers — at the airport beyond the Aug. 31 deadline. But on Monday a Taliban spokesman warned of “consequences” if the United States sticks around beyond Aug. 31.

John F. Kirby, Pentagon press secretary, declined to offer details about how American troops will deploy into Kabul itself, or other parts of the country, to extract Americans, citing delicate ongoing negotiations between American and Taliban commanders. But he acknowledged two specific incidents in which American helicopters and troops have gone into Kabul to extract some 350 Americans, and said other cases may occur if Americans and allies are “in extremis.”

That is a change in the Pentagon’s position from last week, when officials said U.S. forces did not have the capacity to operate beyond the airport, and that people seeking evacuation had to make their way to the airport on their own.

In a 24-hour period from Sunday to Monday, “the U.S. military transported just under 11,000 personnel,” from the airport to other countries, Gen. Hank Taylor said at the Pentagon briefing — by far the highest one-day figure so far. “Since the beginning of evacuation operations on Aug. 14, we have evacuated approximately 37,000.”

He said Afghan allies are still being processed at the Kabul airport, although several times over the past week the gates of the airport have been shuttered because of the surge of people.

The Pentagon added a fourth American military base — Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, in New Jersey — to the list of temporary places where Afghan refugees will be taken upon arrival in the United States. Mr. Kirby said that the addition of the base will bring the housing capacity to 25,000 in the next weeks.

President Biden said on Sunday that his administration might extend his Aug. 31 deadline for withdrawing from Afghanistan.
Credit…Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times

Even as the evacuation from Afghanistan accelerates, President Biden is considering extending the deadline for U.S. troops to withdraw, amid a groundswell of pressure from global leaders and veterans concerned that a security vacuum could risk lethal consequences.

Violent clashes at Kabul’s airport on Monday reinforced fears that the American withdrawal would aggravate the already precarious security situation.

The German military wrote on Twitter that a member of the Afghan security forces had died in a firefight with unidentified attackers in the early hours. It did not specify which group the Afghans were affiliated with.

Three other members of the Afghan forces were wounded in the skirmish outside the airport’s North Gate, it said. U.S. and German soldiers were also drawn into the fight but were not harmed.

In recent days, the United States has scrambled to control the mayhem at the airport as thousands of Afghans try desperately to flee the Taliban, with surging crowds turning deadly. Britain’s Defense Ministry, which has troops at the airport, said on Sunday that seven Afghan civilians had died in the crowds, where people — including a toddler — have been trampled to death.

Mr. Biden said on Sunday that his administration might extend his Aug. 31 deadline, and he pledged that all evacuated Afghan allies would be settled in the United States after they were screened and vetted at bases in other countries.

“We will welcome these Afghans who have helped us in the war effort over the last 20 years to their new home in the United States of America,” he said in remarks from White House. “Because that’s who we are. That’s what America is.”

But the Taliban have made it clear that an extension of the U.S. deadline for troop withdrawal would be unwelcome. “They should finish the evacuation by Aug. 31 as they have promised,” Mohammad Naem, a Taliban spokesman in Qatar, said on Monday.

Leaders of the Group of 7 nations will hold a virtual meeting on Tuesday to discuss the increasingly dangerous situation. Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain, which holds the group presidency this year, is expected to broach the issue of the retrenchment as some inside Britain call for sanctions against the Taliban.

Beyond fears that the Taliban are regressing to their past behavior of violent repression, there are also worries among national security officials that the American withdrawal could create a new and ongoing threat, including ISIS terrorists regaining a foothold in the country.

“It is vital that the international community works together to ensure safe evacuations, prevent a humanitarian crisis and support the Afghan people to secure the gains of the last 20 years,” Mr. Johnson wrote on Twitter on Sunday.

U.S. military veterans have also pressed the White House not to abandon its resolve to provide a safe exit for American citizens and Afghan allies. Dozens of organizations representing the military and veterans sent a letter to the White House on Monday requesting a meeting with Mr. Biden to discuss the issue.

With Afghanistan becoming a potent emblem of American retrenchment in the world, Vice President Kamala Harris met on Monday with leaders in Singapore, the first stop in a trip to Southeast Asia that is aimed at bolstering ties in the region.

The Biden administration has made Asia a centerpiece of its foreign policy, hoping to build stronger ties there to counter an increasingly assertive China. But Ms. Harris’s senior aides have faced questions about whether the haphazard withdrawal from Afghanistan could undermine the administration’s diplomatic efforts.

The timing and optics of Ms. Harris’s trip to Vietnam, where she will arrive on Tuesday, are particularly awkward, with scenes of desperate Afghans at Kabul’s airport stirring memories of another war.

Many fear for the safety of those left behind, among them the roughly 3,400 Afghan United Nations staff members in Afghanistan, especially the women. Some have expressed worry that the Taliban and their extremist allies will target them because of their foreign affiliation.

Members of the Taliban’s elite commando unit on the streets of Kabul on Friday.
Credit…Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times

WASHINGTON — On the ground in Kabul, Rear Adm. Peter G. Vasely, a former member of the Navy SEALs who is now the top U.S. military officer in Afghanistan, talks daily or near daily with his Taliban counterparts regarding security measures at the airport, Pentagon officials said on Monday.

As the Pentagon rushes to evacuate tens of thousands of people before President Biden’s Aug. 31 deadline for withdrawing troops from Afghanistan, the discussions between Admiral Vasely and Taliban commanders have helped set the rules of engagement to allow Americans and some Afghan allies to reach Kabul’s airport. At the same time, the U.S. has been sending helicopters and troops beyond the airport to extract people who can’t get there on their own.

Other American officers down the military chain of command in Kabul have also engaged with Taliban commanders on specific security and threat reduction issues, the officials said — a partnership of necessity between parties that spent 20 years on opposite sides of a war.

The regular discussions between American and Taliban commanders yielded an agreement in which Taliban fighters expanded the security perimeter outside the airport, pushing back the massive crowds of Afghans and others seeking access to flights out.

Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., the head of the military’s Central Command, first spoke to senior Taliban commanders on Aug. 15 when he was in Doha, Qatar, to help get the evacuation effort off the ground.

Al Udeid Air Base, a sprawling airfield outside Doha, has become the main receiving station for thousands of Afghans arriving on American military flights from Kabul.

A crowd waiting by an entrance to the international airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Sunday.
Credit…Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times

Desperate people fleeing Afghanistan face dangerous crowds, vanishingly rare plane seats and Taliban fighters issuing beatings. But those lucky enough to leave can be consumed by feelings of despair for the country they left behind.

As thousands of Afghans scramble to leave, Samiullah Mahdi, a lecturer at Kabul University, said the attempted exodus was spurring a sense of shock, fear and alienation for people who had fled the Taliban takeover.

“Afghanistan is not the same anymore,” said Mr. Mahdi, who worked as a journalist for Tolo News, a popular Afghan news outlet. “We are not the same anymore.”

He managed to flee a few days before the collapse of Kabul and asked that his location not be revealed because he feared for his safety. Now, he said, he was overcome by the sense of becoming a permanent refugee.

“We have no home to return to,” he said.

In recent days, the situation at Kabul’s airport has grown increasingly dangerous for people trying to flee the Taliban. The large crowds have become unruly and in some cases deadly. Fears of attacks have grown.

Mr. Mahdi said he had heard harrowing accounts of people trying to escape. He said a colleague who suffered a broken arm after being beaten by Taliban fighters had not been given medical attention until he was evacuated.

The days since Kabul’s collapse have felt more like centuries, he said. A friend left in Kabul, where many people have remained cloistered inside for fear of Taliban retribution, described it to him as “a city of ghosts.”

“Even during the light of the day, you feel like it’s dark. That kind of depression is governing the city,” Mr. Mahdi said. “People fear that the international community has given up on Afghanistan and they will one day recognize this regime change in the country.”

There was also an overwhelming sense, he said, that the advances of the past two decades, the liberalization of the press and the flourishing of women’s rights, now threatened to unravel. “You have tears in your eyes, and you cannot hold it together,” he said. “It’s grieving, it’s anger, it’s hopelessness.”

When the Taliban ruled Afghanistan in the past, they imposed a harsh version of Shariah law, barring women from working outside the home or leaving the house without a male guardian, eliminating schooling for girls and publicly flogging people who violated the group’s morality code.

Mr. Mahdi said that the Taliban were already displaying their past tendencies and had asked private and public universities to segregate people by gender, using only female lecturers and professors for female students. But he said universities were struggling to find enough instructors, and he feared that they would be asked to abolish classes for women.

“It’s a lot of pain when you feel like everything that you tried and tried to build and love to work on is taken away from you,” he said.

Zabihullah Mujahid, the Taliban’s chief spokesman, spoke at the Loya Jirga Hall on Monday before hundreds of religious leaders.
Credit…Victor J. Blue for The New York Times

The Taliban held their first meeting of religious leaders since retaking Afghanistan’s capital last week, laying out guidelines about religious instructions to hundreds of the nation’s imams and religious school instructors.

Taliban leaders, including their spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, took turns speaking at the Loya Jirga Hall on Monday, from a stage that was still decorated with the tricolor flag of the fallen Afghan government. The conference’s title, which included the “promotion of virtue and prevention of vice,” was reminiscent of language used by Taliban’s religious police when they ruled the country in the late 1990s.

More than a week after the Taliban pushed the U.S.-backed government out of power, the militants are urging Afghans to return to their jobs and daily lives as they try to form a new government. Many of their leaders, including Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, have returned to Kabul and meetings are being held with politicians including former President Ahmed Karzai. The Taliban have pledged to allow women to work and girls to attend schools, and have said they offered a general amnesty to everyone loyal to the former government.

“We invited you here today to talk about your role in this system,” Mawlawi Mohammad Shafiq Khatib, one of the organizers of the conference, said to the participants at the meeting. Whatever religious leaders “say that is compatible with Shariah and the principles of Islam, the people must heed. We are thankful to God that we have an Islamic system now.”

Still, no women appeared to be present at the meeting on Monday.

The Taliban leaders at the conference in Kabul indicated that school curriculum would be changing to fall in line with their teaching and that there would be more information soon about the overall structure of the educational system.

The speakers praised deceased leaders of the Taliban — including Mullah Muhammad Omar and Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour — and urged the attendees to take an active role in promoting the formation of a new government. They also urged a discussion of the ongoing drug problem among Afghanistan’s young people.

Jake Sullivan, President Biden’s national security adviser, said Monday that after discussions, the Taliban had moved their checkpoints farther out from the perimeter of the Kabul airport to allow more room for American citizens and Afghan allies to be processed for evacuation by the United States.

“Through these military channels of communication with the Taliban, they have extended the perimeter from the point of view of their checkpoints to allow Americans through, to allow third-country nationals through,” Mr. Sullivan said.

He declined to provide details, other than to say that the Taliban checkpoints were now a “substantial distance away from the gate” at the airport.

Speaking to reporters at the White House, Mr. Sullivan said this was the perimeter extension that Mr. Biden had been referencing when he said on Sunday: “We have constantly — how can I say it? — increased rational access to the airport, where more folk can get there more safely. It’s still a dangerous operation.”

That had prompted speculation that American troops were engaged in operations outside the perimeter of the airport, in areas of the city now controlled by the Taliban. But Mr. Sullivan said that was not the case.

“American troops are not operating outside the perimeter of the airport,” he said on Monday.

It was not clear if he meant only that U.S. forces were not operating in the area around the airport. The Pentagon confirmed on Monday that Special Forces troops and helicopters had gone into Kabul on two occasions to extract people who were unable to reach the airport on their own, and that they might do so again.

But the agreement with the Taliban on moving the checkpoints is one concrete result of what American officials have described as ongoing conversations between military officers and diplomats and their Taliban counterparts during the last week.

“We are in talks with the Taliban on a daily basis through their political and security channels,” Mr. Sullivan said, but added that he was “not going to get into the details of those discussions here to protect those discussions, which are covering a wide range of issues.”

American officials have been cagey on specifics, though Mr. Sullivan said the Biden administration was “consulting with the Taliban on every aspect of what’s happening in Kabul, on what’s happening at the airport, on how we need to ensure that there is facilitated passage to the airport for American citizens” and others.

He stressed, however, that Mr. Biden had made it “very clear” that he did not trust the Taliban to live up to promises that they made.

“Of course he does not — of course none of us do,” Mr. Sullivan said. “Because we’ve seen the horrific images from the last time they were in power, because we’ve seen the way that they’ve conducted this war, because we’ve seen the fact that they have been responsible for the deaths of American men and women through two decades.”

“We have no illusions about the Taliban,” he said.

Vice President Kamala Harris and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong of Singapore held a news conference on Monday.
Credit…Pool photo by Evelyn Hockstein

Facing rising pressure over the United States’ haphazard withdrawal from Afghanistan, Vice President Kamala Harris said on Monday that the Biden administration was “singularly focused” on evacuating American citizens and Afghan allies.

Ms. Harris’s comments, at a news conference in Singapore, came at the start of a weeklong trip to Southeast Asia that is aimed at strengthening economic ties and countering China’s growing sway in the region.

Instead, her joint news conference with Lee Hsien Loong, Singapore’s prime minister, was dominated by questions about the chaotic execution of the withdrawal, which has prompted criticism from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle and leaders from around the world.

“Right now we are singularly focused on evacuating American citizens, Afghans who worked with us and Afghans who are vulnerable, including women and children,” Ms. Harris said. “That is a singular focus at this time.”

The remarks came after the White House detailed a series of new agreements with Singapore to address climate change, cyberthreats and the pandemic. Ms. Harris has also said the administration is focused on working with Southeast Asian nations to address supply-chain issues, including a global shortage of semiconductors that are used to build cars and computers. More broadly, the trip is part of the Biden administration’s goal to refocus its national security strategy on competing with the rising influence of China.

Still, the beginning of Ms. Harris’s trip has been overshadowed by the widely criticized exit of American troops from Afghanistan. The military has evacuated tens of thousands of people from the Afghan capital, Kabul, since Aug. 14, although thousands of Americans and Afghan allies remain in limbo. Thousands of Afghans seeking to escape the Taliban have rushed to the airport there amid violence and several deaths.

Standing alongside Mr. Lee, Ms. Harris said her presence in Singapore, as well as the agreements reached during the visit, should assure allies that the United States remained a credible partner.

“I am standing here because of our commitment to a longstanding relationship, which is an enduring relationship, with the Indo-Pacific region, with Southeast Asian countries and, in particular, with Singapore,” she said.

Afterward, Mr. Lee said he had offered to send one of Singapore’s military planes to assist in the effort to evacuate Afghan interpreters, guides and others who had helped or worked for the United States. Ms. Harris said the United States would follow up on the offer.

“We hope Afghanistan does not become an epicenter for terrorism again,” Mr. Lee said, “and post-Afghanistan in the longer term, what matters is how the U.S. repositions itself in the Asia Pacific, engages the broader region and continues the fight against terrorism.”

Refugees from Afghanistan walked to a bus on Monday after being processed at Dulles International Airport outside Washington.
Credit…Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Commercial airlines have started evacuating Americans and Afghan allies from bases in the Middle East, fulfilling a commitment to aid the military in emergencies.

A United Airlines spokeswoman said the company started providing the assistance on Sunday but declined to give additional details. According to FlightRadar24, a tracking service, a United flight left Frankfurt and landed at a military base in Qatar on Sunday. That same plane was scheduled to return to Ramstein Air Base, a U.S. base in Germany, and then fly on to Washington’s Dulles International Airport.

American Airlines said it planned to have three wide-body planes available starting Monday to assist in the evacuations. United is contributing four Boeing 777 planes. Delta Air Lines and two charter-flight operators, Atlas Air and Omni Air, are providing three planes each, and Hawaiian Airlines is providing two.

“The images from Afghanistan are heartbreaking,” American Airlines said in a statement. “The airline is proud and grateful of our pilots and flight attendants, who will be operating these trips to be a part of this lifesaving effort.”

A voluntary program known as the Civil Reserve Air Fleet was established in 1951, after the Berlin airlift, during which the United States and Britain combated a Soviet blockade of West Berlin by delivering supplies over the course of 277,569 flights. The program is run by the Defense Department with help from the Transportation Department. Participation in the program gives airlines preference in carrying passengers and cargo for the Defense Department in peacetime — a lucrative business.

In discussions last week, government officials notified airlines that they might activate the fleet to help with evacuations in Afghanistan. Over the weekend, the union that represents flight attendants at United Airlines, the Association of Flight Attendants, allowed its members to sign up to staff the flights through a bidding system.

“As a global airline and flag carrier for our country, we embrace the responsibility to quickly respond to international challenges like this one,” Scott Kirby, the chief executive of United Airlines, said on social media. “It’s a duty we take with the utmost care and coordination.”

The flights are not expected to hurt participating airlines, which are carrying fewer passengers because of the coronavirus pandemic. Demand for tickets is especially weak for the international flights that use the kinds of larger planes that will be involved in the evacuations.

Afghans camping outside the gates of the airport in Kabul on Sunday.
Credit…Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times

At Hamid Karzai International Airport, where thousands of U.S. troops and NATO allies are trying to evacuate citizens and Afghans desperate to flee their country after the Taliban took control of Kabul last week, the coronavirus is an afterthought.

The speed, size and scope of the evacuation operation — which came together rapidly as U.S. officials were caught off guard by the Taliban’s swift offensive — have meant that few measures, if any, are in place to help prevent the spread of the disease and its newer, more aggressive variants.

There is no testing of the thousands of passengers passing through the base, in what has turned into the final operation of the United States’ nearly 20-year-old war in Afghanistan. Social distancing is nonexistent as hundreds of Afghans are ferried in from the airport’s gates, held in crowded parking lots or tents and processed in packed terminals.

The U.S. military cargo aircraft responsible for carrying a large number of Afghan refugees to bases in the Middle East and Europe are packed with 300 to 400 passengers at a time who sit practically knee-to-back on the floor.

Coronavirus testing usually takes place at American bases outside Afghanistan, where passengers are tested and isolated if found to be positive. Before the government of Afghanistan collapsed, its ministry of public health had reported a third wave of coronavirus infections in the country, with a record number of positive cases and deaths.

But coronavirus testing in the country has been unreliable and inconsistent since the start of the pandemic, as testing ability was limited or unavailable in rural areas. The current situation is part of a broader humanitarian and medical issue facing Afghans on top of the security crisis.

Humanitarian and medical aid has been scarce in the past week, with the World Health Organization and other aid agencies unable to fly supplies into the airport while it is overwhelmed by the evacuation effort.

“Conflict, displacement, drought and the Covid-19 pandemic are all contributing to a complex and desperate situation in Afghanistan,” the W.H.O. said in a statement.

According to Dapeng Luo, a W.H.O. representative in Afghanistan, the movement and mixing of the newly displaced in Afghanistan, coupled with many now living in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions, has severely limited infection prevention protocols and increased the risk of transmission of the coronavirus.

Dr. Luo said there were concerns that this, and the nation’s relatively low vaccination rate, could lead to an uptick in the virus.

“This will place an enormous burden on the health system, which is already struggling to cope with escalating trauma and emergency cases and experiencing shortage of supplies due to the current instability, disruptions to governance and shipment of supplies into the country,” Dr. Luo said. “A new wave of Covid-19 could leave some of the most vulnerable without critical health care.”

Former President Hamid Karzai leaving after an interview at his house in Kabul, Afghanistan, in June.
Credit…Rahmat Gul/Associated Press

Last week, former President Hamid Karzai stood outside his home in Kabul to record a video message, surrounded by his daughters, and said that he would stay in the Afghan capital with his family to try to coordinate with the Taliban for a peaceful transition.

But even as he has tried to position himself as a mediator at this crucial moment, his ability to play that role is tenuous. By the time Mr. Karzai appeared in a second video — recorded in the garden of the former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah — he appeared less confident and his speech was stilted. Mr. Abdullah stood beside him in silence.

Mr. Karzai found refuge with Mr. Abdullah, two Afghan officials said on Monday, after the Taliban disarmed his guards and took over security of his compound several days ago.

Mr. Karzai, who since retiring in 2014 has lived in a well-guarded government house beside the presidential palace, remained in Kabul after many officials left. He had said that he was forming a council of Afghan leaders to negotiate an inclusive interim government with the Taliban.

But he and Mr. Abdullah are in an increasingly strained situation, said Muslem Hyatt, a former military attaché for the government of Afghanistan to London. The pressure on Mr. Karzai and Mr. Abdullah raises questions about their ability to work freely to help form a new government despite Taliban suggestions that former officials would be pardoned as the group seized control of the country.

Saad Mohseni, the director general of MOBY Media Group, which owns the independent news channel Tolo TV, said that he had been in touch with Mr. Karzai and Mr. Abdullah and that his impression was that the meetings between the Taliban and the former leaders were little more than show.

“They are consulting them on general things,” he said — “national unity, reassuring the Afghan public, building national consensus, but nothing substantive on the future government.”

An Afghan official who is outside the country said he had been told that Mr. Karzai’s wife and children were also with him at Mr. Abdullah’s house.

Both Mr. Karzai and Mr. Abdullah were on a Taliban list of wanted people, and former government officials said they were concerned for their safety as the Taliban intensify their search for members of the Afghan government security services.

“We are very worried,” Mr. Hyatt said, noting that he had learned the circumstances of the takeover of Mr. Karzai’s home from people still in Kabul. An aide to Mr. Abdullah reached by telephone said that he was not available to speak to the news media.

Hazrat Omar Zakhilwal, a former finance minister who met with Taliban leaders on Sunday in Kabul alongside Mr. Karzai and Mr. Abdullah, said that no official negotiations had begun. The meeting was more about “building trust” and “mutual introduction,” he said, rather than negotiations over the future of the country.

He said he had urged the Taliban to begin the talks sooner rather than later and that a new government should be formed within a month to lessen the uncertainty.

“Security wise, Kabul is safe, but mentally people are worried about the future,” he said, adding that the economy was getting worse by the day. “I walked around the city today, and the image that I have is — disappointment,” he said.

“The Taliban have won militarily — they can announce their government now — but politically they need to include others to form an inclusive government acceptable to the people of Afghanistan and the world,” he added. “They haven’t announced their government yet, which shows they understand the need for a political settlement.”

The U.S. special representative for Afghanistan reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, and the Taliban co-founder Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar shaking hands after signing a peace agreement in Qatar in February 2020.
Credit…Karim Jaafar/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

When American bombs began to fall in Afghanistan after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, many Taliban members fled Kabul within weeks and soon the group was reaching out to Hamid Karzai, who would become the country’s interim president: They wanted to make a deal.

But Washington, confident that the Taliban would be wiped out forever, was in no mood for a deal.

Almost 20 years later, the United States did negotiate a deal to end the Afghan war, but the balance of power was entirely different by then — it favored the Taliban.

For diplomats who had spent years trying to shore up the U.S. and NATO mission in Afghanistan, the deal that President Donald J. Trump struck with the Taliban in February 2020 to withdraw American troops — an agreement that President Biden decided to uphold shortly after taking office this year — felt like a betrayal.

Now, with the Taliban back in power, some of those diplomats are looking back at a missed chance by the United States, all those years ago, to pursue a Taliban surrender that could have halted America’s longest war in its infancy, or shortened it considerably.

A family, among more than 90 evacuated Australian citizens and Afghans, stepping off a bus at a hotel to begin a pandemic quarantine in Perth on Friday.
Credit…Trevor Collens/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

As Australia scrambles to evacuate citizens and visa holders from Kabul, it has also started an advertising campaign to deter Afghan refugees from trying to reach Australia by boat, promising that they will have “zero chance of success.”

“Australia’s strong border protection policies have not and will not change,” Karen Andrews, Australia’s minister for home affairs, said in a 30-second video uploaded to a government YouTube channel on Monday. “No one who arrives in Australia illegally will ever settle here. Do not attempt an illegal boat journey to Australia. You have zero chance of success.”

The notice is a reminder of the nation’s strict stance on asylum seekers and an offshore detention policy that has been widely criticized by rights groups in recent years. The video message is the latest in a series created by the government since 2013 to discourage attempts to reach Australia by sea.

In an emailed statement, Ms. Andrews reiterated that people who arrive by boat will not be resettled in Australia.

“The Australian government has granted more than 8,500 visas to Afghans under Australia’s humanitarian program since 2013,” she said. “These people arrived legally, on a valid visa issued by the Australian government.”

Australia has pledged to take in 3,000 Afghan refugees within its existing annual allocation of humanitarian visas, not including Afghans employed by the Australian government who are eligible for other visas. Prime Minister Scott Morrison suggested last week that this number could be increased, calling it “a floor, not a ceiling.”

The government has said it will not ask Afghans already in Australia on visas to return to their native country while the situation there remains fraught.

The video follows controversy last weekend when Australian news outlets reported that over 100 Afghans who worked as guards at Australia’s embassy in Kabul had been rejected for a specialty visa and told to “contact a migration agent” because they were contractors and not directly employed by the embassy.

Hours after that was reported, the government said the workers had been approved for humanitarian visas.

On Monday, Mr. Morrison said that 470 Australians, Afghan visa holders and citizens of allied countries had been evacuated from Kabul to Australia’s military base in the United Arab Emirates on Australian flights overnight. He said this took the total number of people evacuated from Kabul by Australian forces, with the help of the forces from the United States and Britain, to over 1,000.

A repatriation flight from the U.A.E. also landed in Melbourne, carrying 175 people who had been evacuated from Afghanistan. That followed another flight that landed in Perth on Friday, carrying 94 people.

A U.S. Army crew chief aboard a military helicopter over Kabul in May.
Credit…Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times

The chaotic and abrupt end to the United States’ longest war is looming large in the world. But at some American army bases, civilian neighborhoods and rural crossroads across the United States, the subject of Afghanistan is eerily absent.

At the main gate of a busy Army post in Fort Carson, Colo., stands a sandstone slab etched with the names of soldiers from there killed in Afghanistan and Iraq. It ran out of room for names in 2005, so the Army added another. And another. And another. Nine slabs now stand by the gate with the names of 407 dead.

But despite so many slabs put up over so many years, there was no ceremony at Fort Carson to recognize that the war in Afghanistan had ended. There were no civilians waving homemade signs as there were at the war’s start, no pause for a moment of silence.

The same absence of acknowledgment could be found across the United States, where people who once flew American flags and stuck yellow ribbons on their cars, this month watched the fall of Kabul on television and often struggled to weave coherent responses from conflicting threads of 20 years of emotion, memory and, at times, apathy.

The fall of Afghanistan has left people in the United States both fearful of attacks and wary that the kind of military response seen in Iraq and Afghanistan may not offer any remedy.

Some watching the Taliban ride through Kabul in celebration worry that the end of the war isn’t an end at all.

“Is it ever going to end?” said Pat Terlingo, 76, a retired school superintendent in Shanksville, Pa. “I don’t think it will.”

In a photograph released by the Taliban, former President Hamid Karzai, center left, met in Kabul last week with Abdullah Abdullah, second from right, and a Taliban delegation including Anas Haqqani, center right.
Credit…Taliban, via Associated Press

The Taliban have reached out to former President Hamid Karzai and to Russia in an attempt to fulfill their pledge to form an “inclusive” government and defeat holdouts against their rule, amid deadly mayhem outside Kabul’s airport, with thousands of terrified Afghans trying to flee.

Little in the Taliban’s history suggests any readiness to compromise on their harsh Islamist principles or to share power, but the United States has warned the militant group that going it alone will result in continuous conflict and isolation. In this context, Mr. Karzai, who led the country from 2001 to 2014, has tried to put himself forward as a mediator, albeit one under increasingly strained circumstances.

Mr. Karzai, 63, who as president fell out with the United States over American drone attacks, corruption accusations and other issues, has met with Taliban leaders, including Khalil Haqqani, whom the United States has designated as a terrorist. Mr. Karzai is also working closely with Abdullah Abdullah, the head of the former Afghan’s government’s peace delegation.

A Taliban leader described as the acting governor of Kabul talked over the weekend with Mr. Karzai and Mr. Abdullah. A growing number of senior Taliban have been seen in Kabul in recent days to discuss the shape of the next government, among them Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban’s chief diplomat, who was a senior official in the group’s government in the 1990s.

A delegation of Taliban leaders also visited the Russian Embassy in Kabul, asking officials there to pass along an offer of negotiations to a group of Afghan leaders holding out in northern Afghanistan, the Russian ambassador, Dmitri Zhirnov, told Russian television on Saturday.

Mr. Karzai’s position is tenuous. Both he and Mr. Abdullah were on a Taliban list of wanted people, and former government officials said they were concerned for their safety.

How the United States will view Mr. Karzai’s re-emergence is unclear. So, too, is whether Afghans will be convinced by the sudden professed moderation of the Taliban, whose oppression of women and brutality have been hallmarks of their rule.

A week after the Taliban overran the country and the two-decade long American attempt to shape a democratic Afghanistan collapsed, there was no sign of any cabinet taking form.

Nepalis arriving at the international airport in Kathmandu last week after being evacuated from Afghanistan.
Credit…Narendra Shrestha/EPA, via Shutterstock

Security personnel from Nepal, a landlocked country in the Himalayas that is one of the poorest in Asia, have played a little-known but crucial role in protecting officials, diplomats and companies in Afghanistan.

Hired by private contractors, the security workers — many of whom are ethnic Gurkhas who have served in the Nepali, Indian or British military — often work under conditions that have drawn protests from labor activists.

Now, Nepal is trying to get thousands of its people out of Afghanistan, and the task is daunting.

The exact number of Nepali nationals in the country is unclear, and the country does not have an embassy in Afghanistan. So the government of Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba is urging Western nations to help rescue Nepali security guards as they evacuate their own citizens from Kabul.

“Our fellow guards should be evacuated out of Afghanistan as soon as possible,” said Amrit Rokaya Chhetri, who survived a 2016 Taliban suicide bombing in Kabul that killed 13 Nepalis. “What happens if someone is killed there in a blast or shooting because of a delayed evacuation?”

A C-17 military transport plane landing at the international airport in Kabul on Sunday.
Credit…Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times

At the center of the scramble to airlift American citizens out of Afghanistan after its fall to the Taliban is a basic question: How many Americans are waiting to be evacuated?

It is a question the Biden administration has been unable to answer.

“We cannot give you a precise number,” Jake Sullivan, President Biden’s national security adviser, said on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday.

Mr. Sullivan said the United States had been in touch with “a few thousand Americans” and was working on making arrangements to get them out of the country. In another interview, on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” he estimated that “roughly a few thousand” Americans were trying to leave Afghanistan.

American officials had estimated on Tuesday that 10,000 to 15,000 U.S. citizens were in Afghanistan. Maj. Gen. William Taylor of the Pentagon’s Joint Staff said on Saturday that about 2,500 Americans had been evacuated since Aug. 14, the day before the Taliban took Kabul, the Afghan capital.

The evacuation of U.S. citizens is one piece of the broader airlift effort that is underway in Kabul, with thousands of Afghans also being flown out of the country. Mr. Biden said on Sunday that nearly 28,000 people, in total, had been evacuated on military and other flights since Aug. 14.

Complicating matters for the Biden administration is a lack of clarity about how many Americans were in Afghanistan when the Taliban seized control of the country.

When American citizens come to Afghanistan, they are asked to register with the U.S. Embassy, Mr. Sullivan said. Some register but then leave the country without notifying the embassy. Others never register to begin with.

“We have been working for the past few days to get fidelity on as precise a count as possible,” Mr. Sullivan said in the NBC interview. “We have reached out to thousands of Americans by phone, email, text. And we are working on plans to, as we get in touch with people, give them direction for the best and most safe and most effective way for them to get into the airport.”


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