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FILE - In this file photo taken on Thursday, March 18, 2021, Taliban co-founder Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, center, arrives with other members of the Taliban delegation for an international peace conference in Moscow, Russia. A delegation of the Taliban visited Moscow on Thursday, July 8, 2021 to offer assurances that their quick gains in Afghanistan don't threaten Russia or its allies in Central Asia. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, Pool, File)

International

CIA chief meets Taliban chief clandestinely in Kabul for extension in evacuation

Taliban have warned the US of consequences for delaying evacuation from Kabul

US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) chief William Burns held a secret meeting in Kabul with Taliban co-founder Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Washington Post reported on Tuesday.

The Monday meeting, which if confirmed will have been the highest-level encounter between the Taliban and the Biden administration since the group’s return to power, came as efforts to evacuate thousands of people from Taliban-controlled Afghanistan became increasingly urgent.

Burns is one of US President Joe Biden’s most experienced diplomats while Baradar, who headed the Taliban’s political office in Qatar, is one of the top leaders in the regime that has taken power in Kabul.

The Washington Post, which cited anonymous US sources for the meeting, did not describe the content of the discussions between the Taliban co-founder and the CIA boss. But it said it was likely they revolved around any delay in the deadline for the United States to finish evacuations at the airport of the Afghan capital, where thousands of Afghans, terrified by the return of the Taliban, are still massed with the hope of fleeing the country.

Taliban fighters take control of Afghan presidential palace after the Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled the country, in Kabul, Afghanistan, Sunday, Aug. 15, 2021. (AP Photo/Zabi Karimi)

Chaotic evacuation efforts

According to a report published in the New York Times earlier this week, although Biden White House officials held more than 50 meetings on embassy security and evacuations, “all the planning failed to prevent the mayhem when the Taliban took over Kabul in a matter of days.”

The report claimed that President Biden’s top intelligence officers privately offered concerns about the Afghan abilities but “predicted that a complete Taliban takeover was not likely for at least 18 months”.

A few members of the Taliban delegation head to attend the opening session of the peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban in Doha, Qatar, Saturday, Sept. 12, 2020. (AP Photo/Hussein Sayed)

Biden has set an August 31 deadline to finish the chaotic airlift organised by thousands of temporarily deployed US and UK troops, but has left the door open to an extension if needed.

However, a spokesman for the Taliban warned on Monday the group would not agree to any extension, calling the issue a “red line”, with any delay viewed as “extending occupation”.

“If the US or UK were to seek additional time to continue evacuations — the answer is no. Or there would be consequences,” Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen told Sky News.

Taliban warn of consequences

The deadline for troops to withdraw from Afghanistan is just days away and the desperate evacuation of people is running out of time. The Taliban met with Sky News in Doha to discuss what happens next – and issued a stark warning about the withdrawal of troops from the country.

Taliban spokesperson Dr Suhail Shaheen said: “It’s a red line. President Biden announced that on 31 August they would withdraw all their military forces. So if they extend it that means they are extending occupation while there is no need for that.”

He added: “If the US or UK were to seek additional time to continue evacuations – the answer is no. Or there would be consequences. It will create mistrust between us. If they are intent on continuing the occupation it will provoke a reaction.”

Hundreds of people run alongside a U.S. Air Force C-17 transport plane as it moves down a runway of the international airport, in Kabul, Afghanistan, Monday, Aug.16. 2021. Thousands of Afghans have rushed onto the tarmac of Kabul’s international airport, some so desperate to escape the Taliban capture of their country that they held onto an American military jet as it took off and plunged to death. (Verified UGC via AP)

Speaking after the interview, US Department of Defence press secretary John Kirby said: “We have seen the public statements by the Taliban spokesman about their views on 31 August, I think we all understand that view.”

He added: “The goal is to get as many people out as fast as possible, and while we’re glad to see the numbers that we got yesterday, we’re not going to rest on any laurels.

“The focus is on trying to do this as best we can by the end of the month and as the Secretary [of Defence] said, if there needs – if we need, if he needs – to have additional conversations with the Commander in Chief about that timeline, he’ll do that but we’re just not at that point right now.”

It comes as Boris Johnson is set to personally plead with Joe Biden to extend a deadline for US troops leaving Afghanistan to allow more people to flee the reign of terror of the Taliban.

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I am an experienced writer, analyst, and author. My exposure in English journalism spans more than 28 years. In the past, I have been working with daily The Muslim (Lahore Bureau), daily Business Recorder (Lahore/Islamabad Bureaus), Daily Times, Islamabad, daily The Nation (Lahore and Karachi). With daily The Nation, I have served as Resident Editor, Karachi. Since 2009, I have been working as a Freelance Writer/Editor for American organizations.

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