SINGAPORE (AP) — Vice President Kamala Harris asserted Monday that the U.S. must maintain its focus on evacuating Americans and vulnerable Afghans and shouldn’t get distracted by questions over what went wrong in the chaotic U.S. exit from Afghanistan.
Speaking at a news conference in Singapore, Harris repeatedly declined to engage when asked what she felt should have been done differently in the withdrawal.
“There’s no question there will be and should be a robust analysis of what has happened, but right now there’s no question that our focus has to be on evacuating American citizens, Afghans who worked with us and vulnerable Afghans, including women and children,” she said.
Harris took questions alongside Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong after the two met for about two hours to discuss issues ranging from the COVID-19 response to cybersecurity and supply chain cooperation. The news conference was dominated by Afghanistan, after the messy U.S. withdrawal sparked concerns about America’s commitments to its allies globally.
Harris’ visit to Singapore and Vietnam this week is seen as the first real test of the Biden administration’s ability to reassure key allies of its resolve.
Prime Minister Lee offered his country’s support for the U.S. decision to withdraw, however, and said Singapore was “grateful” for the U.S. efforts to combat terrorism in Afghanistan. He also offered the U.S. the use of the Singapore Air Force’s transport aircraft to help with the evacuation, and said the country is now watching what the U.S. does next.
“What matters is how the U.S. repositions itself in the Asia Pacific, engages the broader region and continues to fight against terrorism, because that will determine the perceptions of the countries of the U.S.′ global priorities and of its strategic intentions,” he said.
Harris’ Southeast Asian trip, which brings her to Singapore and then later to Vietnam this week, is aimed at broadening cooperation with both nations to offer a counterweight to China’s growing influence in the region.
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ISLMAMABAD — Pakistan‘s foreign minister has urged the Taliban and other leaders in neighboring Afghanistan to try to reach an inclusive political settlement as soon as possible.
Shah Mahmood Qureshi issued the appeal Monday at a news conference ahead of his upcoming visit to several regional countries.
Qureshi will leave for Uzbekistan on Tuesday on a trip that will also include stops in Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Iran to discuss the situation in Afghanistan. He said he had already spoken with officials in China by phone.
Qureshi said it was a good sign that the Taliban were already talking to some other Afghan leaders, including former president Hamid Karzai. Qureshi said Pakistan will continue to play its role for a peaceful and politically negotiated solution of the Afghan issue.
BERLIN — German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas says the majority of local staff who worked for his country in Afghanistan haven’t yet been evacuated.
The German government has granted about 10,000 local staff and family members in Afghanistan the right to come to Germany, but so far only about 1,800 have made it out.
“We don’t currently know how many days we can keep flying (people) out, so we want to use those days effectively,” he said Monday.
Maas called Tuesday’s G-7 meeting on Afghanistan “very important” for discussing international access to the Kabul airport beyond Aug. 31, the day when the U.S. plans to pull its last troops out of Afghanistan.
Coordinating aid for migrants from Afghanistan would be another key issue at the meeting, he said.
Maas said the firefight overnight at Kabul airport showed “once more under what dangerous conditions our soldiers and the embassy’s core staff on the ground are working.”
The situation around the airport had become more chaotic in recent hours and he said Germany doesn’t currently recommend that anyone make their own way to the site, he said.
Germany will continue to fly out as many people as it can, said Maas, but added that “we know the current evacuation operation isn’t open forever.”
Among the measures being pursued and discussed with the Taliban is the possibility of enabling civilian flights from Kabul once the last U.S. troops leave the country, he said.
MADRID — Spain’s defense minister says there is “a real risk” of a terror attack against Western troops helping to evacuate people at Kabul’s international airport.
Defense Minister Margarita Robles said Monday the “hasty withdrawal” of military forces from Afghanistan has been “an unmitigated failure.”
“Both the U.S. troops and our soldiers are reckoning on that (threat of attack), because it exists,” she said.
Robles said in an interview with Spain’s La Sexta television channel that both NATO and the European Union should learn lessons from their 20-year presence in Afghanistan.
She recalled that 102 Spanish troops had given their lives during NATO’s operation.
MILAN — The Italian charity Pangea says all of its dozens of female activists and over 200 family members have reached safety inside the Kabul airport, and some have boarded planes for Italy.
Pangea says they all were in the airport by dawn Monday.
“The activists of Pangea are strong and resisted. They fought like lionesses to enter in that airport,’’ the charity said in an Instagram post.
Pangea founder Luca Lo Presti has been working for a week to evacuate the activists and their families, saying their work to provide microloans to female-run businesses was a direct threat to the Taliban.
The women identified themselves to Italian military at the Kabul airport by writing a P on the palm of their hands as a password. Video posted by Pangea shows some of the women boarding a military transport filled with men, women and children, some strapped into seats but many more seated on the floor.
Pangea said in all some 30 activists and over 200 family members were being evacuated.
BERLIN — Germany’s top military commander says he believes that about 5,000 people are waiting at the Kabul airport to be flown out.
Gen. Eberhard Zorn said Monday the figure has declined from about 7,000 at the weekend. He says: “We are now trying internationally to reduce this number as far as possible to make room for others … and above all, ultimately to cushion somewhat the precarious accommodation and waiting situation there.”
Zorn said he couldn’t say what proportion of people at the airport are children or families. But he said on Germany’s flights, about 50% of the Afghans evacuated were women.
Germany flew in supplies Sunday in an effort to help improve the situation inside the airport. Zorn said they included diapers, pacifiers and cuddly toys for small children, as well as food for children. More supplies are in the pipeline.
“The situation in front of the gates remains difficult,” Zorn said. “I would also call it dramatic, because the accumulation of people interested in getting into the airport grounds is enormously high (and) additional potential for violence is arising on the ground in this group.”
PARIS — France’s foreign affairs and defense ministers have arrived at a military air base in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates, where French planes are carrying people evacuated from Kabul.
Jean-Yves Le Drian and Florence Parly are to meet with diplomats, soldiers, police officers and other staff involved in evacuation operations, the ministries said in a statement Monday.
More than 1,000 Afghans, almost 100 French and more than 40 people from other nationalities have been evacuated by France over the past week, authorities said.
A seventh plane landed in Paris airport Monday, carrying 246 Afghans and five French.
The ministers’ trip is also aimed at praising the support of the UAE, where France has a permanent military base, the statement said.
Le Drian and Parly are to meet with Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Abu Dhabi’s crown prince, to have talks over the situation in Afghanistan and how to “preserve the regional security and stability.”
KABUL, Afghanistan — The Taliban’s longtime spokesman has urged imams in Afghanistan to give assurances to Afghans about their security and safety.
Zabihullah Mujahid said Monday at a gathering of clerics in the capital Kabul that they are responsible for keeping their constituents calm.
He also urged them to “clear the baseless propaganda” he says is being disseminated by the U.S. about the Taliban.
He says: “Imams, keep your people calm, we should indoctrinate people to support the Islamic government and Islamic Emirates of Afghanistan.”
Mujahid said government employees will soon be able to return to work and Afghans will remain safe under a previously announced amnesty.
The Taliban have pledged amnesty to those who worked with the U.S., NATO and the toppled Afghan government, but many Afghans still fear revenge attacks. There have been reports in recent days of the Taliban hunting down their former enemies.
AMMAN, Jordan — Jordan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs says it will allow 2,500 Afghan nationals fleeing the Taliban takeover of the country to transit through its territory en route to the U.S.
Ministry spokesman Ambassador Daifullah Al-Fayez said Monday the decision was made for purely humanitarian reasons to help with the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan.
He said arrangements for the transit of Afghan citizens who are evacuated through Jordan have been agreed upon with the U.S.
ROME — Some 662 people fleeing Afghanistan have arrived at the U.S. naval air base in Sicily. The U.S. is working to ramp up evacuations following the Taliban takeover of the country by using overseas military bases as temporary transit points.
A U.S. Air Force KC-10 Extender, followed by two C-17 Globemaster III, arrived Sunday at the Sigonella air base from Qatar, according to a statement from the U.S. base. Located on Sicily’s eastern coast near Catania, Sigonella is home to an Italian and NATO base as well as the U.S. Naval Air Station, the U.S. Navy’s only overseas air station.
The U.S. statement said Sigonella was being used as a “transit location” for evacuees before they are transferred elsewhere and it quoted the base commander, Capt. Kevin Pickard, as saying the Afghans will be “joining our American family.”
The evacuees for now were being housed in two barracks on the base, where anti-COVID-19 measures are being followed, and are being provided with medical care, Halal food, religious and recreation areas, the statement said.
BERLIN — Germany says it has evacuated 2,725 people from Afghanistan as of Monday — 1,787 Afghans, 282 Germans and the rest from elsewhere. The people it has evacuated come from 43 nations in total.
Two more flights, with 198 and 180 evacuees on board respectively, left Kabul on Monday afternoon, the military said.
The government said it can’t say precisely how many Germans are left in Kabul because there is no obligation for Germans abroad to register with their country’s authorities, and also no obligation for people evacuated by other means — or who are also citizens of another country — to inform German authorities.
But Foreign Ministry spokesman Christofer Burger said “we believe at the moment — this is an estimate — that a low three-digit number of German citizens is still in Afghanistan.”
Interior Ministry spokesman Steve Alter said there have been a few cases — fewer than 10 — in which people have turned out on arrival in Germany to have been on police’s radar.
MOSCOW — Russia says it will not interfere in the stand-off between the Taliban and their opponents in Afghanistan.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Monday that leaders of the Collective Security Treaty Organization member states discussed the standoff and its implications of “another civil war in Afghanistan.” He says that, “Of course, no one is going to intervene in these events.”
Taliban spokesman said Monday the group’s forces have surrounded Panjshir, the only one of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces that has not yet fallen to the Taliban. Several Taliban opponents have gathered in Panjshir.
They include Amrullah Saleh, the vice president in the toppled government who claims to be the acting president, and Ahmad Massoud, son of the slain commander of the Northern Alliance militias that partnered with the U.S. to drive the Taliban from power in 2001.
The Collective Security Treaty Organization includes Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Armenia, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.
Moscow fought a 10-year war in Afghanistan that ended with Soviet troops’ withdrawal in 1989 and has made a diplomatic comeback as a mediator, jockeying with the U.S. for influence in the country. It has hosted several rounds of talks on Afghanistan, most recently in March, that involved the Taliban — even though Russia has labeled them a terrorist organization.
COPENHAGEN, Denmark — A 23-year-old man who had been deported from Denmark because of several criminal convictions, managed to sneak back on an evacuation plane from Afghanistan by pretending he was his brother.
Danish broadcaster DR said the man, who was not identified, was recognized by police for being member of an outlawed criminal gang, and arrested on arrival in Denmark. He is faces preliminary charges of violating an entry ban.
The man who was sent back to Afghanistan in July, was among the last people to have been deported from Denmark, DR said.
The BT newspaper said the man arrived in Denmark on an evacuation plane on Sunday and was arrested then. The DR and BT reports said he faced a pre-trial detention hearing on Monday.
Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said Monday that Denmark has evacuated some 650 people from Kabul.
ISLAMABAD — Pakistan’s interior minister says the Taliban have assured his country they will not allow the outlawed Pakistani Taliban — a separate militant group from the one in Afghanistan — to use Afghan soil for attacks against Pakistan.
Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said on Monday that his ministry has information that amid the Taliban sweep across Afghanistan, some of the leaders and members of the Pakistani Taliban, or Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, were freed from Afghan prisons.
Ahmed said Islamabad was in contact with the Taliban over the matter.
The Pakistani Taliban have claimed responsibility for several past attacks, including the 2014 deadly attack on a Peshawar school that killed 154 people, mostly schoolchildren.
Islamabad alleges the Pakistani Taliban have been hiding in Afghanistan for the past several years, after fleeing military operations launched against them inside Pakistan.
Ahmed also said that since last week, Pakistan has helped more than 2,000 foreigners and Pakistanis leave Afghanistan by air and land routes. Pakistan is issuing visas upon arrival to all diplomats, foreigners and journalists seeking to leave Kabul over security concerns.
THE HAGUE, Netherlands — Dutch authorities say that a temporary accommodation center for Afghan evacuees at an army barracks in the northern Netherlands is full and a second location is being opened.
The government agency that houses asylum seekers said on Monday that the camp in the remote village of Zoutcamp reached its capacity on Sunday night, with the arrival of 178 Afghan evacuees.
A new accommodation center is being opened to house more Afghans at another military barracks in the central town of Zeist.
The Dutch defense ministry says it has completed nine flights out of Kabul to airports in the region since the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan. Six flights carrying evacuees from Afghanistan have arrived in the Netherlands carrying a total of more than 800 people. That number includes Dutch nationals, Afghans and citizens of other countries.
BEIJING — China is once again criticizing the United States over Afghanistan, saying America cannot simply abandon the war-torn country.
“The United States is the root cause and the biggest external factor in the Afghan issue,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said on Monday. “It cannot just run away like this.”
He called on the U.S. to help maintain stability, avoid chaos and rebuild Afghanistan.
“I hope the U.S. side can match its acts with words, take on its responsibilities in Afghanistan and put into practice its commitments to Afghanistan in terms of development and reconstruction, and humanitarian assistance,” he told a daily briefing.
China has expressed readiness to work with all parties in Afghanistan, including the Taliban, to rebuild the war-torn nation.
WARSAW, Poland – A deputy foreign minister says Poland has so far evacuated over 400 people from Kabul, including Poles and Afghans who worked for Poland’s diplomatic mission or pro-democracy efforts, with their family members. More flights are planned.
Marcin Przydacz said on Polish Radio 24 Monday that the situation at the Kabul airport was getting ever more tense, adding further pressure on the evacuations.
The International Monetary Fund thanked Poland for a successful evacuation of its staff from Kabul, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said on Twitter, following a phone call with the IMF managing director, Kristalina Georgieva. Poland is also to evacuate some 300 staff working for NATO in Afghanistan.
Seven planes have already brought evacuees to Poland and another one, with some 70 Afghan evacuees, was expected in Warsaw on Monday, according to Morawiecki’s top aide, Michal Dworczyk.
Dwroczyk said the plane was delayed in Uzbekistan for several hours due to “problems at the site,” which he did not describe.
Another passenger plane is on the way to Uzbekistan, a stopover on the evacuation route. Evacuees from Kabul are brought there on military planes and then flown to Warsaw by the national carrier, LOT.
LONDON — Britain is urging the United States to extend its evacuation effort in Kabul beyond the current Aug. 31 deadline, saying without the Americans other countries will have no choice but to stop their own operations to help people fleeing the Taliban takeover.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson plans to press President Joe Biden at an emergency meeting of Group of Seven leaders on Tuesday convened by Britain.
Some U.K. military leaders have said Britain should keep troops at Kabul airport to continue the evacuation effort even if the Americans leave. But Armed Forces Minister James Heappey said Monday that “there is a hard reality that there would be no international airlift without the way that the U.S. are underpinning it.”
He said that “whether or not the U.S. can be persuaded to stay is a matter for the prime minister tomorrow in the G-7 meeting.” He said that an agreement from the Taliban would also be needed for an extension.
Biden has not ruled out extending the airlift beyond the Aug. 31 deadline he set before the Taliban’s swift takeover in Afghanistan, but he said he hoped it would not be necessary.
Britain says its forces have evacuated more than 5,700 people — chiefly U.K. citizens and Afghans — from Kabul in the last 10 days, 1,821 of them in the past 24 hours.
UNITED NATIONS — The U.N. agency for children expects the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan to worsen due to a severe drought, the onset of winter and the coronavirus pandemic.
UNICEF says 10 million children in Afghanistan already survive on humanitarian assistance and around a million are expected to suffer from life-threatening malnutrition this year. It says some 4.2 million children, including 2.2 million girls, are out of school.
Afghanistan was a poor country, reliant on international aid, even before the Taliban took over earlier this month.
UNICEF director Henrietta Fore said in a statement on Monday that “this is the grim reality facing Afghan children and it remains so regardless of ongoing political developments and changes in government.”
She says the agency is committed to remaining in Afghanistan and is scaling up its operations. UNICEF hopes to provide aid in areas that were unreachable because of the ongoing war.
KABUL — France’s envoy to Afghanistan says French special forces backed by the U.S. army have helped 260 Afghans who worked with the European Union delegation to get to Kabul airport.
Ambassador David Martinon said in a tweet early on Monday that “they have been welcomed at the French Embassy’s waiting area prior to boarding. Bravo to the EU.”
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell says around 400 Afghans who worked with the bloc’s delegation are to be granted protection in Europe. They’re being sent to Spain for screening before being shared out among EU countries willing to grant them visas.
BERLIN — The German military says a firefight broke out at the Kabul airport’s north gate early on Monday between Afghan security forces and “unknown attackers.”
The military said in a tweet that one Afghan security officer was killed and another three were wounded in the early morning incident. It said that U.S. and German forces then also got involved, and that there were no injuries to German soldiers.
Later, the German military clarified that the Afghan officer was a member “of the Afghan army” — Afghan troops who are involved in securing the airport as part of the multinational operation.
There was no further information and it wasn’t known who the attackers were. The Taliban, who are manning the outside perimeters of the Kabul airport, have until now not opened fire on NATO or Afghan troops within.
Monday’s incident took place after at least seven Afghans died in a panicked crush of people trying to enter Kabul’s international airport on Sunday, the British military said. Thousands were still trying to flee the country in a chaotic exodus a week after the Taliban takeover.
The German Defense Ministry said Monday that the country’s military has evacuated more than 2,700 people from Kabul since the evacuations started, with people of 38 nationalities among those taken out. German A400M transport aircraft are shuttling between Kabul and Tashkent, Uzbekistan.
COPENHAGEN, Denmark — A plane with Norwegian citizens from Afghanistan, others with links to Norway and also other foreign nationals landed in Oslo on Monday, the fourth flight in the past days to have landed in Norway.
The Scandinavian country’s foreign ministry declined to say how many were on the plane or give details for safety reasons, the Norwegian news agency NTB said.
In neighboring Sweden, Foreign Minister Ann Linde said Monday that more than 170 people have been evacuated from Afghanistan. “I am pleased that we can now welcome local employees, at the same time as we continue to work to evacuate more local employees,” she said.
Denmark too has been active in evacuating people from Afghanistan. Finland said that so far the total number of its evacuees was at 110. They include citizens from Finland and people with permanent Finnish residence, “along with other persons who have been working for Finland, the EU and NATO, together with their families.”
WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden is raising concerns that the Islamic State poses a threat as American troops seek to evacuate thousands of U.S. citizens and Afghan allies from Afghanistan.
Biden in remarks at the White House on Sunday noted that the terror group is a “sworn enemy of the Taliban” and said that the longer U.S. troops are on the ground increases the chance that the group will attempt to strike innocent civilians and American personnel near the Hamid Karzai International Airport.
The U.S. Embassy in Kabul has been warning Americans to avoid traveling to the airport in part because of concerns about Islamic State fighters.
The extremist group has long declared a desire to attack America and U.S. interests abroad and it has been active in Afghanistan for a number of years, carrying out waves of horrific attacks, mostly on the Shiite minority.
The group has been repeatedly targeted by U.S. airstrikes in recent years, and faced Taliban attacks.
WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden says 11,000 individuals were evacuated from Kabul over the weekend and he remains committed to assisting all Americans who want to leave Afghanistan get out.
Biden added Sunday that his first priority is getting American citizens out of Afghanistan “as quickly and safely as possible.”
In the president’s words: “We’re working hard and as fast as we can to get people out. That’s our mission. That’s our goal.”
Biden also says he is also activating the civilian reserve air fleet provided by commercial airlines to help move evacuees from third country waystations on to the United States.