US vows to ‘use every appropriate tool’ against Taliban if the group prevents evacuations from Afghanistan

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The US government on Wednesday vowed to isolate and “use every appropriate tool” against the Taliban if the group prevents the departure of people Washington is trying to evacuate from Afghanistan.

Speaking in solemn tones, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken also said Taliban cooperation on meeting humanitarian needs, counterterrorism, and the protection of the rights of women would be necessary for Washington to recognise the group as Afghanistan’s official government.

The nature of Washington’s engagement with the group “depends entirely on the actions and conduct of the Taliban”, Blinken said, when asked if his department would give it legal recognition.

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“If a future government upholds the basic rights of the Afghan people, if it makes good on its commitments to ensure that Afghanistan cannot be used as a launching pad for terrorist attacks directed against us and our allies and partners, then we’ll do it.”

“If [the Taliban] makes good on its commitments to allow people who want to leave Afghanistan to leave, that’s a government we can work with,” Blinken added. “If it doesn’t, we will make sure that we use every appropriate tool at our disposal to isolate that government, and … Afghanistan will be a pariah.”

More than 82,000 people have been airlifted from the country via Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul since August 14, according to Blinken.

Speaking in a separate briefing at the Pentagon, Major General Hank Taylor said “approximately 88,000 have safely departed” and that “there are more than 10,000 people the airport awaiting departure”.

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Military drawdowns in Afghanistan have already begun. The US Defence Department announced earlier on Wednesday that of about 5,800 Marines and soldiers at the airport, about 300 deemed not essential to the evacuation operation had left the country.

Blinken said that there were about 6,000 Americans who wanted to leave Afghanistan when the evacuation effort began, and that about 4,500 of them have been flown out so far. About 500 have been contacted with instructions on how to proceed to the Kabul airport, while another 1,000 are being vetted to determine whether they are actually US passport holders and still want to leave.

The US Air Force loads people being evacuated from Afghanistan onto a US Air Force C-17 Globemaster III in Kabul on Tuesday. Photo: US Air Force via AP
The US Air Force loads people being evacuated from Afghanistan onto a US Air Force C-17 Globemaster III in Kabul on Tuesday. Photo: US Air Force via AP

US President Joe Biden said on Tuesday that he will stick to his August 31 deadline for a complete withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Pressed for details on what would happen if more Americans, their family members or others authorised by the US government for evacuation want to leave after that date, Blinken said he expects the Taliban not to intervene.

Security at the airport appeared more uncertain after Turkey’s defence ministry said on Wednesday that it had started pulling troops out of Afghanistan, a 500-strong non-combat contingent that was stationed there as part of a Nato’s efforts to stabilise the country.

“After various contacts and evaluating the current situation and conditions, the evacuation of the elements of the (Turkish Armed Forces) has begun,” the ministry announced. “The Turkish Armed Forces are returning to our homeland with the pride of successfully fulfilling the tasks entrusted to it.”

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Ankara had been negotiating with the Taliban and Washington about playing a role in protecting the Kabul airport after the US troop withdrawal, according to Agence-France Presse and Reuters.

Blinken’s warning about the Taliban’s protection of the rights of women and girls followed comments by the group a day earlier that women in Afghanistan should remain in their homes for their safety.

“We have asked [women] to take time off from work until the situation gets back to a normal order and women-related procedures are in place, then they can return to their jobs once it’s announced,” CNN quoted Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid as saying.

Under their previous reign, from 1996 until US and allied forces drove the Taliban from power in 2001, Afghan women were required to be escorted by their husbands or a male relative whenever in public, and they were all but banned from the workforce.

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