CIA Head Secretly Met With Taliban Leader in Kabul, Media Says
10:24 GMT 24.08.2021 (Updated: 15:08 GMT 24.08.2021)
The news comes amid desperate efforts by the United States and its allies in NATO to evacuate Afghans who have worked for foreign forces. The leaders of the G7 have pressed US President Joe Biden to delay the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan beyond the 31 August deadline agreed upon with the militant group.
CIA Director William J. Burns held a secret meeting with the Taliban's* de facto leader Abdul Ghani Baradar in the capital Kabul on Monday, The Washington Post has reported, citing US officials familiar with the matter. According to the newspaper, this is the highest-level face-to-face negotiations between the Taliban and the Biden administration.
It writes that the CIA declined to comment on the matter, but notes that the meeting was likely focused on the impending deadline for the US military to evacuate American citizens and Afghans, who worked with the US and NATO forces.
Zabihullah Mujahid, the Taliban’s official spokesperson, has dismissed The Washington Post’s report, according to Shamshad News.
"We are not aware of a meeting between the CIA Director and Abdul Ghani Baradar", the spokesman said, as per Shamshad News.
Who is Abdul Ghani Baradar?
A close friend of the Taliban's late leader Muhammad Omar, Abdul Ghani Baradar, has served as the group's chief negotiator in peace talks with the United States since his release from prison in Pakistan in 2018.
Those peace talks resulted in an agreement with the Trump administration on the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan. Baradar is believed to have significant influence over the Taliban. He fought against the Soviet Army in the 1980s and was governor of several provinces in the 1990s when the militant group ruled Afghanistan.
As mentioned earlier, the Biden administration is under pressure from its allies, who asked the White House to keep US forces in Afghanistan beyond 31 August in order to assist in evacuating the tens of thousands of people who want to flee the country after Taliban militants came to power. The leaders of the G7 countries have said they will not be able to evacuate everyone by the deadline.
Taliban Red Line
The Taliban earlier issued a strong warning against delaying the withdrawal of US forces, promising "consequences" for a violation of the agreement.
Despite the group's staunch opposition, US President Joe Biden said that American troops might stay in Afghanistan beyond the deadline in order to assist in evacuating Afghan allies and US citizens. However, he warned that the process is going to be "hard and painful" and not "without risk of loss".
"Make no mistake: this evacuation mission is dangerous. It involves risks to our armed forces and it's being conducted under difficult circumstances. I cannot promise what the final outcome will be", the Democrat said last weekend.
President Biden has faced harsh criticism over the decision to move forward with the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan, which led to the Taliban takeover in the war-stricken country. Former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair dubbed the move "imbecilic", "dangerous, and unnecessary". Biden also faced criticism from his fellow party members, with several Democrats calling for an investigation into what they describe as the "flawed execution of the US withdrawal".
The US invaded Afghanistan on 7 October 2001. The move came amid the September 11th attacks (commonly known as 9/11), the deadliest terrorist attack on American soil. The administration of then-US President George W. Bush demanded the Taliban hand over Osama Bin Laden to Washington and expel al-Qaeda* militants from Afghanistan. The White House accused Bin Laden of masterminding the 9/11 attacks. The Taliban refused to extradite him unless Washington provides evidence of his involvement. In response, the US launched Operation Enduring Freedom.
According to Brown University's Cost of War project, the US campaign in Afghanistan cost the country over $2 trillion and claimed the lives of more than 2,400 servicemen. Some 66,000 Afghan nationals and military and police and more than 47,000 civilians died over the course of the war. The Taliban lost more than 51,000 fighters.
*The Taliban and al-Qaeda are terrorist organisations banned in Russia and many other nations.