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NATO Allies Call On Taliban To Facilitate Safe Evacuation Of Foreigners, Afghans


A Taliban fighter walks past a beauty salon in Kabul where images of women have been defaced.

NATO has called on the Taliban to facilitate the "safe and orderly" evacuation of foreigners and eligible Afghans from Afghanistan amid reports that some people were having difficulties reaching Kabul's international airport.

"We call on those in positions of authority in Afghanistan to respect and facilitate their safe and orderly departure, including through Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul," NATO's 30 members said in a joint statement on August 20 following an emergency session. "As long as evacuation operations continue, we will maintain our close operational coordination through allied military means" at the airport, the statement said.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told the foreign ministers attending the meeting that ensuring people can reach the airport is the "main challenge" faced by the alliance in the wake of reports that the militants were hunting Afghans who had worked for NATO.

The Western military alliance maintains a civilian presence of some 800, including many Afghans, in the country, but no longer has military personnel on the ground.

However, thousands of U.S. and allied soldiers continue to protect Kabul airport and coordinate evacuation flights, constrained by obstacles ranging from armed Taliban checkpoints to paperwork problems.

Speaking from Washington, D.C. later on August 20, U.S. President Joe Biden pledged that Washington was committed to getting all American and the Afghans who assisted the U.S.-led war effort out of the country.

Biden said U.S. forces have airlifted 13,000 people out of Afghanistan since August 14, and 18,000 since last month, with thousands more evacuated on private charter flights "facilitated by the U.S. government."

Twelve people have been killed in and around the airport since August 15, NATO and Taliban officials have said, amid reports that Taliban fighters are impeding some Afghans from reaching the airfield.

The allies held the extraordinary virtual meeting to discuss the ongoing evacuation efforts and to weigh future relations with the Taliban amid mounting reports of targeted killings in areas overrun by the militants. The reports have fueled concerns that the Taliban will return Afghanistan to the repressive rule they imposed when last in power from 1996-2001.

The NATO foreign ministers, in their joint statement, said that "we are united in our deep concern about the grave events in Afghanistan and call for an immediate end to the violence. We also express deep concerns about reports of serious human rights violations and abuses across Afghanistan."

Stoltenberg said after the meeting that the "Taliban must uphold fundamental rights of all Afghan citizens."

Addressing concerns that Afghanistan could again become a safe haven for extremists under the Taliban's rule, Stoltenberg said that the alliance would "not allow terrorists to threaten us again from Afghanistan."

Removing the terrorist group Al-Qaeda, which orchestrated the September 11 attacks on the United States and had received sanctuary in Afghanistan from the Taliban, was a key reason for the U.S. invasion in 2001 that ousted the Taliban from power.

The militants have tried to reassure Afghans and the international community since seizing Kabul on August 15 that they wanted peace and an inclusive government -- within the values of Islam. They have vowed not to launch revenge attacks on those who worked with foreign forces or the previous Afghan government.

But terrified that the new de facto rulers would commit such abuses, thousands of Afghans have raced to Kabul's airport and to border crossings, desperate to flee following the Taliban's stunning blitz through the country.

Others have taken to the streets to protest the takeover -- acts of defiance that Taliban fighters have violently suppressed.

A report provided by the UN's threat-assessment consultants, revealed on August 19 that the Taliban stepped up its search for individuals who worked with the U.S. and NATO forces or had links to Afghanistan's previous administration. The report said those persons and their families could be now risking torture and execution.

German public broadcaster Deutsche Welle reported militants had shot dead the relative of one of its journalists while searching for the editor, who now lives in Germany. The killing "testifies to the acute danger in which all our employees and their families in Afghanistan find themselves," Director-General Peter Limbourg said.

Human rights group Amnesty International, meanwhile, said it had found that the Taliban massacred nine ethnic Hazara men after taking control of Ghazni Province last month, raising fears that the Sunni militant group will target ethnic and religious minorities.

Independence Day celebrations on August 19 were marred by the deaths of several Afghans as the Taliban resorted to violence against demonstrators, a further indication that the insurgents sought to consolidate their grip on power following a blitz offensive that brought most of Afghanistan under its rule and sent the government fleeing.

Deaths Reported As Afghans Unfurl Flags To Defy Taliban On Independence Day
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Amid concerns that the Taliban may be using social media to track opponents, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter said they had moved to secure the accounts of Afghan citizens to protect them from being targeted.

Facebook "removed the ability to view and search the 'Friends' list for Facebook accounts in Afghanistan" to protect people from being targeted, the U.S. tech giant's security-policy head, Nathaniel Gleicher, tweeted on August 19.

He said users of Facebook-owned Instagram in Afghanistan will also receive "pop-up alerts" explaining how to protect their accounts.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the extraordinary virtual meeting aimed to carry on member countries' "close coordination" of the evacuation of other issues in Afghanistan, and to find a "common approach" moving forward.

The Western military alliance maintains a civilian presence of some 800, including many Afghans, in the country, but no longer has military personnel on the ground.

However, thousands of U.S. and allied soldiers continue to protect Kabul airport and coordinate evacuation flights, constrained by obstacles ranging from armed Taliban checkpoints to paperwork problems.

Gunfire Outside Kabul Airport Amid Evacuation Chaos
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Officials said this week that as many as 10,000 U.S. citizens remained in Kabul, and Biden indicated that U.S. forces could remain in Kabul beyond a August 31 withdrawal deadline if necessary to evacuate all Americans.

The U.S. military has evacuated about 9,000 people, while NATO has said that overall more than 18,000 people have been flown out of Kabul. Some 6,000 more, among them former interpreters for foreign armed forces, are on standby to be flown out.

In Moscow, Russian President Putin said after his talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel that Afghanistan was a main topic of discussion.

"The Taliban movement controls practically the entire territory of the country, including the capital city," Putin said. "This is a reality and we must reckon with it and not let the Afghan state collapse."

The Russian president also said that other countries should not impose their own values on Afghanistan.

Merkel said that Berlin's top priority was "to get people who worked for us to Germany."

The United Nations refugee agency reiterated its call to Afghanistan's neighbors to keep their borders open to allow people to seek asylum, saying that Afghans who may be in danger inside their country "have no clear way out."

"UNHCR remains concerned about the risk of human rights violations against civilians in this evolving context, including women and girls," spokesperson Shabia Mantoo told a Geneva news briefing.

Under the hard-line version of Shari'a law that the Taliban imposed when it ruled Afghanistan between 1996 and 2001, women and girls were mostly denied education and employment. Full face coverings became mandatory in public, and women could not leave home without a male companion.

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan are set to discuss the situation in Afghanistan later on August 20 as both countries raise concerns about a potential major influx of people fleeing the war-torn country.

Athens has said it wouldn’t allow a repetition of the 2015 migration crisis, when nearly 1 million people fleeing conflict in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan landed on its islands, while Ankara has warned that Turkey will not become Europe’s "refugee warehouse."

With reporting by AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters, BBC, and Deutsche Welle
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