May 19, 2022

A Taliban spokesperson on Tuesday worked to position the group as the legitimate rulers of Afghanistan, pledging that the Islamic militants would not seek revenge against Afghan civil servants or those who worked with the U.S.

Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesperson for the Taliban, said that the group would look to establish ties with other countries and announce the formation of a new government in the near future.

 

“Afghanistan will have an Islamic — and a strong Islamic — government,” Mujahid said, according to a translation of his remarks. “What the name is going to be, what the specifications are going to be, we’re listening to the political leaders. They are now conducting serious consultations in this regard.”

Tuesday's press conference took place amid global concern that the Taliban might seek retribution against civil servants who worked in the U.S.-backed Afghan government or those who worked with U.S. forces, their allies or Western media and non-governmental organizations. The U.S. military is in the midst of an airlift operation at Kabul's international airport, evacuating U.S. citizens, foreign nationals and eligible Afghans who worked as translators and in other roles for the U.S. government.

The Taliban has worked to allay concerns regarding retribution and Mujahid said “no one will go after” those who worked with U.S. forces and other allies.

“We have given amnesty to everybody, there is no revenge,” he said.

The Pentagon on Tuesday said the U.S. military is stepping up the pace of evacuations out of Afghanistan in order to expedite the removal of American citizens and Afghan allies who remain in Kabul since the city has come under Taliban control. Thousands of those Afghans and their families have desperately looked to flee the country as the Taliban swiftly overwhelmed the existing government, culminating in tragic scenes at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul on Monday.

Mujahid also said the Taliban wants to unite the country and urged people to stay in Afghanistan.

“We don’t want anybody to be out of the country,” he said. “This is our common homeland. We have got common values, common religion, common nation. We would like to come under the umbrella of these commonalities.”

Mujahid also claimed that Afghan women will continue to have a role in society, a major concern of international observers and non-governmental organizations fearful of deep repression under Taliban rule, while stating it would be “within the framework of Sharia.”

He said if Afghan women "continue to live according to Sharia, we will be happy, they will be happy,” according to the interpreter.

Mujahid’s rhetoric is unlikely to assuage those widespread concerns about the rights of women and girls in Afghanistan, who faced significant and often brutal repression under the Taliban regime that was toppled by a 2001 U.S. invasion.

Mujahid also lashed out at Facebook and others for censoring information coming from the Taliban.

President Joe Biden on Monday stood firm on his decision to withdraw the United States’ military presence from Afghanistan, even in the face of the collapse of the Afghan government and the security forces America invested heavily in.

Taliban insurgents entered the Afghanistan capital Kabul on Sunday, an interior ministry official said, as the United States evacuated diplomats from its embassy by helicopter, reports Reuters.

The senior official told Reuters the Taliban were coming in "from all sides" but gave no further details.

 

A tweet from the Afghan Presidential palace account said firing had been heard at a number of points around Kabul but that security forces, in coordination with international partners, had control of the city.

US officials said the diplomats were being ferried to the airport from the embassy in the fortified Wazir Akbar Khan district. More American troops were being sent to help in the evacuations after the Taliban's lightning advances brought the Islamist group to Kabul in a matter of days.

Just last week, a US intelligence estimate said Kabul could hold out for at least three months.

 

"Core" US team members were working from the Kabul airport, a US official said, while a NATO official said several EU staff had moved to a safer, undisclosed location in the capital.

 

A Taliban official told Reuters the group did not want any casualties as it took charge but had not declared a ceasefire.

There was no immediate word on the situation from President Ashraf Ghani, who said on Saturday he was in urgent consultations with local leaders and international partners on the situation.

Earlier on Sunday, the insurgents captured the eastern city of Jalalabad without a fight, giving them control of one of the main highways into landlocked Afghanistan. They also took over the nearby Torkham border post with Pakistan, leaving Kabul airport the only way out of Afghanistan that is still in government hands.

The capture of Jalalabad followed the Taliban's seizure of the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif late on Saturday, also with little fighting.

"There are no clashes taking place right now in Jalalabad because the governor has surrendered to the Taliban," a Jalalabad-based Afghan official told Reuters. "Allowing passage to the Taliban was the only way to save civilian lives."

A video clip distributed by the Taliban showed people cheering and shout Allahu Akbar - God is greatest - as a convoy of pick-up trucks entered the city with fighters brandishing machine guns and the white Taliban flag.

After US-led forces withdrew the bulk of the remaining troops in the last month, the Taliban campaign accelerated as the Afghan military's defences appeared to collapse.

President Joe Biden on Saturday authorised the deployment of 5,000 US troops to help evacuate citizens and ensure an "orderly and safe" drawdown of military personnel. A US defence official said that included 1,000 newly approved troops from the 82nd Airborne Division.

Taliban fighters entered Mazar-i-Sharif virtually unopposed as security forces escaped up the highway to Uzbekistan, about 80 km (50 miles) to the north, provincial officials said. Unverified video on social media showed Afghan army vehicles and men in uniforms crowding the iron bridge between the Afghan town of Hairatan and Uzbekistan.

Two influential militia leaders supporting the government - Atta Mohammad Noor and Abdul Rashid Dostum - also fled. Noor said on social media that the Taliban had been handed control of Balkh province, where Mazar-i-Sharif is located, due to a "conspiracy." read more

POPULARLY ACCEPTED

In a statement late on Saturday, the Taliban said its rapid gains showed it was popularly accepted by the Afghan people and reassured both Afghans and foreigners that they would be safe.

The Islamic Emirate, as the Taliban calls itself, "will, as always, protect their life, property and honour, and create a peaceful and secure environment for its beloved nation," it said, adding that diplomats and aid workers would also face no problems.

Afghans have fled the provinces to enter Kabul in recent days, fearing a return to hardline Islamist rule.

Early on Sunday, refugees from Taliban-controlled provinces were seen unloading belongings from taxis and families stood outside embassy gates, while the city's downtown was packed with people stocking up on supplies.

Hundreds of people slept huddled in tents or in the open in the city, by roadsides or in car parks, a resident said on Saturday night. "You can see the fear in their faces," he said.

Biden said his administration had told Taliban officials in talks in Qatar that any action that put US personnel at risk "will be met with a swift and strong US military response."

He has faced rising domestic criticism as the Taliban have taken city after city far more quickly than predicted. The president has stuck to a plan, initiated by his Republican predecessor, Donald Trump, to end the US military mission in Afghanistan by Aug. 31.

Biden said it is up to the Afghan military to hold its own territory. "An endless American presence in the middle of another country's civil conflict was not acceptable to me," Biden said on Saturday.

Qatar, which has been hosting so-far inconclusive peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban, said it had urged the insurgents to cease fire. Ghani has given no sign of responding to a Taliban demand that he resign as a condition for any ceasefire.

According to latest, acting Interior Minister of Afghanistan Abdul Sattar Mizakwal, on his Facebook, has claimed that "transition" will happen peacefully as Afghan forces, as well as international forces, are looking after the security of Kabul - especially deployed in the outskirts of the city. However, experts are claiming that international forces, albeit implicated, might perform a bigger role in the evacuation of diplomats as opposed to ensuring the security of residents in Kabul.

Spokesperson of the Taliban, speaking to Al Jazeera, has also claimed the Taliban will not enter Kabul "with full force" until a peaceful transition has been decided upon by both parties in Doha. Until then, Taliban soldiers will wait at the gates of Kabul.

According to Associated Press, Russia's state news agency has reported that the Taliban promised safety of the Russian embassy in Kabul. The Kremlin's envoy in Afghanistan said there are no plans to evacuate the Russian embassy in Kabul. According to Interfax news agency, Russia's ambassador and its staff are "calmly carrying out their duties."

Germany is sending military transport planes to Kabul to airlift its embassy staff. Italian embassy staff are also reportedly being transferred to Kabul's airport in preparation of an evacuation.

Further, Afghan forces at Bagram air base -- home to a prison housing 5,000 inmates -- surrendered to the Taliban, according to Bagram district chief Darwaish Raufi. The prison housed both Taliban and Islamic State group fighters.

On the other hand, Uzbekistan Foreign Ministry has reported today that 84 Afghan servicemen have crossed the border and asked for assistance. Currently, the Taliban is controlling all border exits.

The only way out of Kabul is through the airport, which is being used to evacuate US diplomats. In extension, Albania's prime minister has pledged to temporarily shelter hundreds of Afghans who worked with western peacekeeping military forces and are now threatened by the Taliban.

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