MADRID (Sputnik) - Afghan refugees who had cooperated with the US will be delivered to military bases in Spain in order to facilitate their transit, according to an agreement reached by US President Joe Biden and Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez.
"I have just had a meaningful conversation with President Joe Biden, in which we have addressed several topics of common interest, particularly the situation in Afghanistan and the collaboration between our both governments in the evacuation of citizens from that country," Sanchez said on Twitter on Saturday.
According to the Spanish government, Biden and Sanchez agreed that Afghan refugees will be taken to the Moron Air Base and Naval Station Rota where they will be temporarily housed during transit to other destinations.
Earlier on Saturday, Sanchez said that Spain has the capacity to host up to 800 Afghan refugees in a tent camp at the Torrejon de Ardoz military base. According to the Spanish government, a plane carrying 64 Afghan refugees who had cooperated with the US, arrived at the base on Saturday.
Sanchez said on Saturday that some Afghans who arrived in Spain this week have already been flown to other countries.
FORT BLISS (Sputnik) - The US Army's Fort Bliss has put up tent structures in an isolated facility on the base in Texas and is clearing up more land to prepare for the arrival of Afghan refugees, a Sputnik correspondent reports.
The US Defense Department is using three military bases to house more than 22,000 Afghan refugees. Fort Lee in Virginia received some 2,000 refugees earlier this month. Fort Bliss is expected to house up to 10,000 refugees and Fort McCoy in Wisconsin will house about 12,000 refugees.
The scene at the isolated military facility on Fort Bliss was active on Saturday with bulldozer tractors clearing land to potentially erect more tent structures. Trucks were also seen hauling equipment into the installation, including mobile shower units and metal beams that are likely to be used to construct the tent facilities. About three unmarked charter buses were also seen leaving the military facility.
On Saturday morning, US Army Maj. Gen. Hank Taylor, a logistics specialist on the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Afghan refugees were expected to arrive on Fort Bliss later in the day, but he did not disclose any numbers.
US Congresswoman Veronica Escobar, who represents the district where Fort Bliss is located, said via Twitter on Saturday morning that she had been briefed about the status of Afghan refugees who will be housed at Fort Bliss.
"I'm confident that [the] Department of Defense will provide resources and expertise to support their needs," Escobar said. "The refugees will not be housed in El Paso [where the Fort Bliss headquarters are located] but elsewhere on the installation."
There is a strong indication Escobar may be referring to the McGregor Range training facility on Fort Bliss.
Taylor noted that since August 14, the US army has evacuated about 17,000 Afghan refugees who had helped American forces over the last 20 years.
Along with HE @KarzaiH, we welcomed members of the Taliban political office, & negotiation team. We exchanged views on the current security & political developments, & an inclusive political settlement for the future of the country. pic.twitter.com/360CccbBE3— Dr. Abdullah Abdullah (@DrabdullahCE) August 21, 2021
Earlier in the day, Karzai and Abdullah had already met with the acting Taliban governor of Kabul to discuss the safety of residents of the capital.
US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin does not intend to resign amid criticism of Pentagon's handling of the situation in Afghanistan, Defence Department spokesman John Kirby said Saturday.
"No," Kirby firmly answered the question of whether Austin was planning to leave his post.
On 15 August, the Taliban (designated as terrorist by the UN and Russia) seized control of Kabul after overrunning the rest of the country in 11 days as the majority of US forces withdrew and dispirited Afghan military dissipated. Internationally recognised Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled the country for the United Arab Emirates.
The Taliban takeover has forced thousands of Afghans to seek escape from the country for fear of reprisals from the militants.
With the political collapse and the ongoing evacuation of the remaining US personnel, questions are swirling about whether 20 years of war, the deployment of 775,000 troops, 2,300 deaths, 20,589 wounded in action and a $2.4 trillion price tag was worth it.
"It's mathematically impossible" for the US and its allies to evacuate the tens of thousands of Afghan personnel and families by 31 August, EU Foreign Policy Chief Josep Borrell said, as quoted by AFP.
Kabul airport is now secured by 5200 US troops on ground in Afghanistan waiting for evacuation flight ops.— Joséphine (@Jojo99275148) August 21, 2021
Pictures of US Marines comforting Afghan children at the secured zone within #Kabul Airport.
Our soldiers are learning to nurse Afghan babies.
The Taliban (a terrorist group, banned in Russia) said on Saturday that they are setting up a committee that will deal with the media.
The trilateral committee will include a Taliban representative from the culture commission, a deputy head of the association on media protection and an officer from the Kabul police, according to Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid.
The deputy general secretary of the International Federation of Journalists, Jeremy Dear, said on Friday that media workers are going through an "incredibly challenging time" after the Taliban had seized power in Afghanistan. Journalists are receiving threats, and female reporters are being prevented from working, he added. Many media outlets have been closed.
Potential Daesh* threat against Americans in Afghanistan is forcing the US military to look for new ways to get evacuees to the Kabul airport, AP reported, citing a senior US official.
*Daesh (IS/ISIL/ISIS) is a terrorist group banned in Russia.
The chief of the political office of the Taliban (a terrorist group, banned in Russia), Abdul Ghani Baradar, intends to decide on the structure of the future Afghan government over the next two weeks, a source in the Taliban said.
Another source in the office of former President Hamid Karzai confirmed to Sputnik that high-ranking members of the Taliban were discussing the formation of an inclusive government in Kabul, and the negotiations were still ongoing.
Earlier in the day, Baradar and several other members of the Taliban's political office were reported to have arrived in Kabul to negotiate the formation of the government with the country's political parties.
A Romanian military airplane has evacuated 14 Romanian nationals and four Bulgarians from the Afghan capital of Kabul, the Romanian Foreign Ministry reported.
"This flight succeeded to evacuate the 14 Romanian citizens transferred to the airport in the morning and four Bulgarian citizens," the press release read.
A mobile consular team was also aboard ready to assist anyone in case they needed help.
This was the third flight sent to Kabul by the country.
One person, a UN employee, who also wanted to be evacuated from Afghanistan was unable to reach the airport in time due to the security situation. The inter-departmental task force continues to look for ways for their evacuation.
The foreign ministry has contacted a number of Afghans who took part in Romanian military missions, students who received scholarships to study or are studying in Romania and journalists who want to be evacuated. The ministry said that it will continue to work with other countries to ensure the safe evacuation of those who wish it.
In addition, the Ukrainian Air Force reported on Saturday morning that their military plane had taken off from Afghanistan with evacuated Ukrainian citizens.
Spain has the capacity to host up to 800 Afghan refugees in a tent camp at a military airfield in the city of Torrejon de Ardoz near Madrid, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said on Saturday.
The major air force base, which is also a secondary civilian airport in the Spanish capital, was visited by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, High Representative for Foreign Policy Josep Borrell and EU Council chief Charles Michel earlier on Saturday.
"We now have the opportunity to host 800 people at this military base," Sanchez told a joint press conference with the top EU officials.
Afghans who collaborated with European organisations continue to arrive in Spain from where they will relocate to other EU countries. Madrid is also airlifting Afghans who worked with the Spaniards, including interpreters and their families.
Sanchez added that some Afghans who arrived in Spain this week have already been flown to other countries.
"The Afghans have already been relocated to Denmark, some Baltic countries. Redistribution of people is taking place. I cannot say exactly how long the refugees and employees stay here on average, but around one to two days," the prime minister said.
On Friday, Spanish Foreign Minister Torrejon de Ardoz said that the camp set up for Afghan refugees at the Torrejon Air Base has the capacity to take in 1,000 people.
Many countries have started evacuating their citizens and diplomatic personnel from Afghanistan after the Taliban (designated terrorist by the UN and Russia) takeover and some pledged to take in their Afghan staff as well. On Thursday, all Spanish citizens, except for diplomats and the embassy’s security staff, were evacuated from the South Asian nation.
The United States has evacuated some 17,000 people from Kabul airport since August 14, Pentagon spokesman Maj. Gen. Hank Taylor told a briefing on Saturday.
"Since the beginning of this evacuation operation on August 14, we have evacuated approximately 17,000," Taylor said.
Since the Taliban (designated as terrorist and banned in Russia) takeover, the US has also airlifted about 2,500 of its citizens from Afghanistan, the Pentagon spokesman noted.
The Indonesian embassy in Afghanistan has been completely evacuated, and several diplomats at the Indonesian mission in Pakistan have been designated to take over its duties, Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said on Saturday.
Earlier in the day, an Indonesian air force Boeing-737 arrived from Kabul at the Halim airbase in the suburbs of Jakarta with evacuated diplomats and their families, as well as other Indonesian citizens aboard, Kompas TV reported. The plane reportedly carried 26 Indonesian citizens, five Filipino and two Afghan nationals. Marsudi attended the welcoming ceremony.
"Initially, the evacuation of Indonesian citizens from Afghanistan was to be carried out by a civilian plane, however, due to the unstable situation at the Kabul airport, it was decided to send an air force transport plane to Kabul," Marsudi said on air of the broadcaster.
The Indonesian Foreign Ministry originally planned to leave a small group of diplomats in Kabul to continue their work, but due to the "rapid development of the situation" decided to evacuate the diplomatic mission completely and temporarily transfer the functions of the Afghan embassy to a group of diplomats in the Indonesian embassy in Pakistan, the minister noted.
The Indonesian embassy was previously moved from Kabul to Islamabad in 1996, after the Taliban (terrorist organization, banned in Russia) came to power in Afghanistan, and stayed in Pakistan until 2004. In 2006, the Indonesian ambassador returned to Kabul.
On August 15, the Taliban entered Kabul, causing the civilian government to collapse. The development has forced thousands of Afghans to seek escape from the country for fear of reprisals from the militants, adding to the hectic situation at the Kabul airport.
Albania is ready to take in thousands of refugees from Afghanistan after the Taliban (designated terrorist by the UN and Russia) takeover, seeing it as an obligation of all NATO nations, Foreign Minister Olta Xhacka said.
On Monday, Xhacka tweeted her country was "ready to host hundreds of Afghans" who are at risk over the worsening situation in the Central Asian country.
The minister stated that the humanitarian mission to host refugees from Afghanistan is Albania's obligation toward the "people who worked and fought with" the country.
The first group of 300 Afghan refugees is expected to arrive in the country soon.
On August 15, the Taliban entered Kabul, which caused the civilian government to collapse. Thousands of Afghans are seeking escape from the country for fear of reprisals from the militants, and many countries chose to reduce or fully evacuate their diplomatic missions in Kabul.
The European Union maintains contacts with the Taliban (designated terrorist by the UN and Russia) on operational issues, such as evacuations from the Kabul airport, but does not engage with the radical group politically and does not recognize it as the legitimate governing power, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said Saturday.
"Of course, we do have operational contacts with the Taliban ... at the moment of crisis, because we need, for example, to discuss in these difficult times how we can facilitate it for people in Kabul to come towards the airport ... In those cases, of course operational contacts are needed and it's always good to speak if you can save lives. But this is completely distinct and separated from political talks. There are no political talks with the Taliban, there is no recognition of the Taliban," von der Leyen told a press conference at Spain's Torrejon air base.
MOSCOW (Sputnik) - Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation, Abdullah Abdullah, met with the acting Taliban governor of Kabul on Saturday to discuss the safety of residents of the capital.
"Today along with HE @KarzaiH, we met with Mr Abdul Rahman Mansour, the acting governor of Taliban for Kabul. We discussed the security of the citizens of Kabul, & reiterated that protecting the life, property & dignity of the citizens of the capital should be prioritised," Abdullah wrote on Twitter.
In a separate tweet, Abdullah added that Mansour had reassured him and Karzai that he would do everything to guarantee the safety of Kabul residents.
The United States advised Americans in Afghanistan to avoid travelling to Kabul airport in an embassy travel advisory on Saturday as thousands try to flee the country.
"Because of potential security threats outside the gates at the Kabul airport, we are advising U.S. citizens to avoid travelling to the airport and to avoid airport gates at this time unless you receive individual instructions from a U.S. government representative to do so," the advisory said.
To those who cannot go back or stay home, we have to offer alternatives.— Ursula von der Leyen (@vonderleyen) August 21, 2021
This means, first, that we must offer legal and safe routes globally, organised by us, to those who need our protection.
The Taliban (terrorist organisation, banned in Russia) has released 340 "political prisoners" in Farah province in western Afghanistan, the Shamshad News broadcaster reported Saturday.
Another 40 inmates were released in central Uruzgan province, the report said, citing the radical group.
On Thursday, Taliban leader Hibatullah Akhundzada ordered the release of political detainees from all Afghan prisons.
On August 15, the Taliban entered Kabul, causing the civilian government to collapse. The development has forced thousands of Afghans to seek escape from the country for fear of reprisals from the militants.
Amrullah Saleh, the first vice president from Ashraf Ghani's government, and the National Resistance Front of Afghanistan are leading the resistance to the Taliban.
The Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) leaders will meet on Monday online to discuss the developments in Afghanistan, Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Saturday.
"Security is one of the most pressing issues now, especially in light of the development that are unfolding in Afghanistan. I hope, we will meet on Monday via a video link within the framework of the CSTO," Putin said at a meeting with Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev in Moscow.
"The army collapsed at a breathtaking pace. We had expected the resistance to be stronger," German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Saturday.
Now, she stressed, the focus should be on rescuing people from Afghanistan, but added that a discusson on what had or had not been achieved would be necessary in the future.
The outgoing chancellor said that Afghanistan did not pose an immediate terrorist threat to the international community.
"Of course, after the completion of the evacuation mission, it will be necessary to say what has been achieved in Afghanistan and what has not. Currently, there is no acute terrorist threat from Al-Qaeda [designated terrorist by the UN and Russia] or Islamist forces to other countries," Merkel told an election campaign event in Berlin.
A British man and his wife were brutally beaten by Taliban guards at the first checkpoint on their way to Baron Hotel in Kabul, where Brits are being processed and being taken to evacuating flights, according to The Independent.
He said: “People from the Foreign Office were instructing us to go to the Baron Hotel – but before you get to the Baron there are three Taliban checkpoints. When we went to the first one last night, there were about four to five Taliban there and they would not let us get through. We showed them our documents, emails, and our Foreign Office details, but the Taliban attacked us because they knew we were fleeing the country. They said there’s no way we could go to the hotel and that we should go back or they would shoot.”
According to the man, who chose not to identify, he then started pleading with the insurgents to let him and his spouse go.
“I spoke to them and started arguing with them, saying: ‘Please let us go. We don’t want to stay here in Afghanistan. We are going back to the UK.’ But they said no and started to fire on our car. My wife escaped from the car and another guy, who had a Kalashnikov, started to beat my wife. I tried to save her from the beating and then he started to beat me as well. We were in so much pain so we told them we would leave.”
Ashraf Ghani’s brother Hashmat Ghani joined the Taliban. Hashmat Ghani has built a business empire in UAE with all the aid money that he stole. pic.twitter.com/GaaJrd5f3t— Khayyam Salik (@KhayyamSalik) August 21, 2021
The Taliban have not kidnapped any foreigner, although some of them are being questioned before being allowed to leave Afghanistan, an official of the Islamist militant group told Reuters on Saturday.
"We are questioning some of them before they exit the country."
The statement was issued shortly after reports emerged suggesting that 150 people, mostly Indians and Afghans, had been "taken" by the Taliban as they were on their way to Kabul airport. It was later clarified in local media that Indian citizens waiting outside Kabul airport for evacuation flights were taken to a nearby police station for questioning and checking of travel documents.
An Indian Air Force C-130J special aircraft took off on Saturday morning with 85 Indian nationals on board, NDTV reported, citing sources.
The plane landed safely in Dushanbe in Tajikistan for refueling and as there is chaos outside the airport in Kabul at this time, the government is focused on bringing as many Indians as possible inside the airport to keep them safe.
Abdul Ghani Baradar, the chief of the Taliban's political office, arrived in Kabul on Saturday to negotiate the formation of a new Afghan government, the Agence France-Presse news agency reported, citing the movement's senior official.
The source told AFP that Baradar was expected to hold meetings to discuss the creation of an inclusive government.
Afghan politicians unaffiliated with the Taliban will also reportedly take part in the negotiations.
The Airbus A400M military transport aircraft of the German Air Force delivered another 172 evacuees from the Afghan capital to Uzbekistan, an employee of the Tashkent International Airport told Sputnik on Saturday.
"Last night, an Airbus A-400M of the German Air Force delivered another group of evacuees from Kabul, with 172 passengers on board," an airport official said, adding that they would then fly to Frankfurt.
After the security situation in Afghanistan worsened, Uzbekistan served as an intermediate evacuation point for Afghan nationals seeking escape to foreign countries. On Thursday, the Uzbek transport ministry told Sputnik that Tashkent loaned its aircraft to Germany for evacuation at the request of the German embassy in Uzbekistan.
Berlin continues to evacuate its citizens and Afghan nationals from the Central Asian country, with over 1,000 people already transported to Tashkent since the operation began.