The Taliban has said it would not allow Afghans to evacuate from the airport and warned the US against extending its deadline next week.
Qatar has reportedly helped arrange a meeting between William Burns, the head of the US intelligence agency (CIA), and the leader of the Taliban Abdul Ghani Baradar in the Afghan capital on Monday, according to CNN Arabic.
The meeting was first reported on US media including including the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Associated Press and broadcaster NPR, however neither side has confirmed it took place.
The sources provided little details on discussions held between the two. If confirmed, the meeting would mark the highest-level meeting between the US and the Taliban since the capture of Kabul earlier this month.
Qatar has not commented on the issue, however the Gulf state has been actively engaging in evacuation efforts on the ground in Kabul to ensure a safe passage for Afghans and foreign nationals leaving the country.
The reports come as the Taliban on Wednesday said it would no longer be “allowing the evacuation of Afghans,” sending a cautionary note to the US to stick to a August 31 deadline to pull out all foreign troops from the country.
“We are not allowing the evacuation of Afghans anymore and we are not happy with it either,” said Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid in a press conference on Tuesday. He added that the huge crowds of Afghans that have gathered around the airport in Kabul should return home.
On Tuesday, Special Envoy for Counter-Terrorism and Conflict Resolution of the Qatari Ministry of Foreign Affairs Mutlaq bin Majid Al-Qahtani held a meeting with former Afghan President Hamid Karzai and President of the Supreme National Council Abdullah Abdullah.
The office of the former Afghan president said that both Karzai and Abdullah expressed thanks to Qatar for its efforts in the Afghan reconciliation as well as its willingness to solve the Afghan crisis via dialogue.
In Doha, Qatar’s Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani held a phone call with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, during which they discussed the escalating situation in Afghanistan.
The German Foreign Ministry also highlighted that Qatar had played a crucial role in securing safe passage for German citizens and foreigners from the Afghan nation Kabul.
Qatar’s evacuation efforts
Qatar has managed to evacuate thousands of Afghans and foreign nationals since the Taliban took over the country last week.
In a Fox News interview earlier this week, Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani said his country had taken “full responsibility” for evacuating Afghan civilians and foreigners from Afghanistan amid a Taliban takeover of the country.
“We are taking the full responsibility for them [evacuees], taking them to the airport and ensuring their safety throughout. We are trying to facilitate for other countries who don’t have access to reach people who are there on the ground,” said the foreign minister in a televised interview with the American outlet.
He added that Qatar is trying to facilitate the movement of civilians to the airport through the Gulf state’s embassy in Kabul. Earlier reports confirmed Doha’s ambassador to Kabul himself was personally accompanying convoys to the airport to ensure safe passage.
So far, Qatar has evacuated at least 7,000 people from Afghanistan with the number expected to increase over the next few days and weeks. In a separate interview with CNN, the foreign minister said evacuations are expected to take place for another week or two.
Qatar is currently working with the UN, the US and other international partners to ensure Afghans and foreigners are safely evacuated from Kabul following a US and NATO troop withdrawal and the subsequent Taliban takeover.
Among those were images of a C-17 military plane that departed from Afghanistan and landed in Qatar carrying more than 800 civilians. The aircraft was built to carry just 134 passengers.
US troop withdrawal
The latest escalations in Afghanistan took place after the US Joe Biden administration announced its decision to withdraw American and NATO forces from Afghanistan after 20 years. The lack of a peace plan paved the way for the Taliban to act with impunity.
Biden is already in the process of requesting contingency plans in case the US troop withdrawal does not meet the deadline. The US leader pressed that staying on schedule will need the Taliban’s cooperation.
“The sooner we can finish the better. Each day of the operations brings added risk to our troops, but the completion by August 31 depends upon the Taliban continuing to cooperate and allow access to the airport for those we’re transporting out, and no disruptions to our operations,” the US President said at a press briefing Tuesday.
“In addition, I’ve asked the Pentagon and the State Department for contingency plans to adjust the timetable should that become necessary,” he added.
The US president has been facing growing pressure from US allies, including the UK and France, to extend the deadline of the foreign troop withdrawal from Afghanistan.
However, the Taliban has already warned of “consequences” if the deadline is not met.
“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,” Suhail Shaheen told Sky News on Monday.