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UN casts doubt on Taliban promises — as it happened

August 18, 2021

The insurgents have vowed to take a more moderate stance as they seize control of Afghanistan but both the UN and Germany have expressed skepticism. EU foreign ministers are holding emergency talks. DW has the latest.

Afghanistan checkpoint in Kabul
The Taliban said they seek no revenge and that "everyone is forgiven"Image: Javed Tanveer/AFP/Getty Images
  • The Taliban have vowed to take a more moderate stance, that women's rights will be honored
  • Western leaders address the situation unfolding in Afghanistan
  • The Indian Embassy is the latest to announce it is closing
  • The EU is holding emergency talks
  • Hundreds of US and German citizens have been evacuated

This live updates article has now closed. This story was last updated at 01:55 UTC/GMT.

Evacuees land in Germany

Around 130 people who had been flown from Kabul to Tashkent on Tuesday arrived in the German city of Frankfurt on a commercial Lufthansa flight early on Wednesday morning.

Further special flights put on to bring people from Afghanistan to Germany will continue to arrive from Tashkent, Doha and other stopover countries during the next few days, the airline company said.

UN refugee agency to stay in Afghanistan

The United Nations' refugee agency, UNHCR, is hoping to continue working in Afghanistan, the organization's German representative Katharina Lumpp told German newspaper Die Welt.

"We want to stay in the country because the people there need help now more than ever," she said, adding that the UNHCR currently has around 200 members of staff in the country.

Lumpp explained that the vast majority of Afghan refugees over the past 40 years have sought refuge in neighboring Iran or Pakistan. But in the past few months, most displaced Afghans have been displaced within their own country. "They now urgently need support and humanitarian aid," the UN representative said.

Austria unwilling to accept refugees

Austria's Interior Minister Karl Nehammer, from the ruling center-right Austrian People's Party (ÖVP) told the German newspaper Die Welt that accepting Afghan refugees following the Taliban's takeover was out of the question.

"There's no reason why an Afghan should come to Austria," he said. He called instead for neighboring countries to take in refugees, saying that "illegal migration" where migrants pass through several safe countries before their final destination "must be stopped."

The conservative lawmaker said that Austria had already taken in 35,000 people from Afghanistan, "the majority of which are young men, who often prove a challenge for the integration and social system due to their low level of education."

UK to accept up to 20,000 refugees

The British Home Office said on Tuesday that it is planning to accept 5,000 refugees from Afghanistan this year, rising to some 20,000 in the long term. Priority will be given to those at high risk, including women and children facing threats of persecution.

"This resettlement scheme will be kept under further review for future years, with up to a total of 20,000 in the long term," the Home Office said in a statement. It follows a similar scheme that saw the UK accept refugees from Syria from 2014.

The announcement comes before British MPs take part in an extraordinary session of parliament on Wednesday after being called back from holiday. They are set to discuss the ongoing situation in Afghanistan.

The UK was one of the biggest supporters of the US invasion of the country, deploying 9,500 troops. Some 900 British troops have now returned to Kabul to help with evacuations.

Taliban leader returns to Afghanistan

Top Taliban leader and co-founder Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar arrived in the city of Kandahar, the group's spiritual home in the south of Afghanistan, on Tuesday evening.

Baradar had been in Doha as part of the Taliban's peace negotiation delegation. He is the highest-ranking official of the Islamist group who is known to have returned to Afghanistan. He is expected to take a key role in any eventual Taliban government.

A video shared on Twitter showed the leader driving through Kandahar in a convoy after arrival.

Biden and Johnson to hold G7 meeting

US President Joe Biden and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson agreed to call a virtual G7 summit to discuss the situation in Afghanistan, the White House said on Tuesday.

The meeting will take place next week and aim to find a common approach between allies. A statement from the White House said that the two leaders "discussed the need for continued close coordination among allies and democratic partners on Afghanistan policy going forward, including ways the global community can provide further humanitarian assistance and support for refugees and other vulnerable Afghans."

Germans show solidarity in Berlin

Crowds of people gathered in several cities across Germany, including in front of the Bundestag in Berlin, in a show of solidarity with those impacted by the takeover by the ultraconservative Taliban. They demanded safe passage and airlifts for those whose lives are at risk in Afghanistan.

Organizers of the Berlin rally had expected around 500 people, but their numbers swelled with police reporting 2,100 people in attendance while the organizers estimated the figure to be closer to 4,000.

DW political correspondent Emmanuelle Chaze was on the scene and shared a video of the demonstration over Twitter.

Third German plane leaves Kabul

A third German military transport plane has left Kabul airport with 139 people on board, Germany's Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told public broadcaster ZDF.

The aircraft headed to Tashkent in Uzbekistan. From there the passengers will be taken to Germany.

Another German plane was also ready and waiting at Kabul airport, according to Maas. "At the moment the gates at the airport are closed, as soon as they're open again, we will continue the operation," he said.

A tweet from the German defense ministry confirmed that so far, more than 260 people have been flown out of the country. "And we will evacuate as long as we can," it added. 

Human remains found in plane's wheel

The US Air Force said on Tuesday that it had found human remains in the wheel well of one of its C-17s that flew out of Kabul amid the chaos of the Taliban takeover.

In a statement, the Air Force said that the plane landed at Kabul's airport on Sunday and was soon surrounded by desperate civilians.

"Faced with a rapidly deteriorating security situation around the aircraft, the C-17 crew decided to depart the airfield as quickly as possible," the statement said.

Nobel Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai's 'fears'

Nobel Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai has written an op-ed in The New York Times saying she "fears" for her "Afghan sisters" after the Taliban's stunning takeover.

"We will have time to debate what went wrong in the war in Afghanistan, but in this critical moment, we must listen to the voices of Afghan women and girls. They are asking for protection, for education, for the freedom and the future they were promised," the 24-year-old wrote.

"We cannot continue to fail them. We have no time to spare."

Yousafzai, an advocate for girls' education, survived a Pakistani Taliban assassination attempt when she was just 15 years old.

Mixed reports over Taliban compliance with departures

The Taliban have agreed to allow the "safe passage" of civilians hoping to join a US-directed airlift from Afghanistan, President Joe Biden's national security adviser said Tuesday.

Jake Sullivan did acknowledge reports that some civilians were "being turned away or pushed back or even beaten," as they tried to reach the Kabul international airport.

Nevertheless, he said "very large numbers" were reaching the airport and the problem of others was being taken up with the Taliban, whose swift takeover of the country on Sunday plunged the US evacuation effort into chaos.

A timetable for completing the evacuation of Americans, Afghan allies and possibly other civilians has yet to be established with the Taliban.

German government criticized

Angela Merkel and the German government have received a stinging rebuke from the country's Green Party over its handling of the crisis in Afghanistan.

Germany flew around 125 people out of Kabul on Tuesday afternoon but an earlier mission had just seven people on board. 

And the Greens' expert for foreign affairs, Omid Nouripour, told DW that the "huge failure" to carry out an orderly evacuation showed that the German government was not as prepared for the situation in Afghanistan as it had previously assured

The MP said the government had ignored warnings since June about the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan. "They did not adapt to the situation. They had a lot of time," Nouripour said.

"This is a pity that they just took seven people with them, because we know that it's a question of hours until the airport maybe could be closed by the Taliban," he said. 

Amid rising concern from certain sides that the Taliban takeover would trigger a migrant influx in Europe, Nouripour dismissed German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer's remarks about expecting to receive some 300,000 to 5 million asylum applications. 

"This is ridiculous," Nouripour said. "We get seven people out of Kabul in just days... and he's talking about five million people."

Russia has 'constructive' Taliban meeting

The Russian ambassador to Afghanistan said he had a "constructive" and "positive" meeting with Taliban representatives in Kabul on Tuesday.

Ambassador Dmitry Zhirnov told Russian state television: "The Taliban representatives said the Taliban has the friendliest approach to Russia. They confirmed guarantees of security for the embassy."

Moscow's Afghanistan envoy, Zamir Kabulov, also said the Taliban has already started guarding the outside perimeter of the Russian embassy.

The Kremlin designated the Taliban a terrorist group in 2003, but has since hosted several rounds of talks in Afghanistan, most recently in March, that involved the militant organization.

Moscow, which fought a 10-year war in Afghanistan that ended with the withdrawal of Soviet troops in 1989, has made a diplomatic comeback as a mediator, reaching out to feuding Afghan factions, as it jockeyed for position with the United States to gain leverage in the country.

EU seeks Taliban talks, suspends development aid

The European Union's foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said on Tuesday the bloc "will have to talk" to the Taliban as they "have won the war."

Nevertheless, Borrell was keen to stress this does not mean Brussels will officially recognize the Taliban as rulers of Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, Borrell also said the EU would suspend payments of development assistance to the conflict-ravaged country, but Brussels is weighing up whether to boost humanitarian aid.

He said there can be "no payments of development assistance until we clarify the situation" with the Taliban.

UN casts doubt on Taliban stance

In the wake of the Taliban's first news conference since seizing control, global skepticism has emerged over the group's new-found levels of tolerance.

The United Nations said it will need to see action, before it can believe the Taliban's words.

"We will need to see what actually happens and I think we will need to see acts on the ground in terms of promises kept," UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters.

Germany also said the Taliban will be judged "by their actions" rather than pledges.

And the US said it hoped the Taliban would follow through on its promises.

"If the Taliban says they are going to respect the rights of their citizens, we will be looking for them to uphold that statement and make good on that statement," State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters.

Taliban windfall

Afghanistan is home to nearly $1 trillion (€850 billion) in mineral wealth, thanks to huge iron, copper, lithium, cobalt and rare-earth deposits. For more on this and how the Taliban can reap the early rewards of its takeover, click here.

ICC: Possible 'violations of international humanitarian law'

The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) says some of the recent developments in Afghanistan "may amount to violations of international humanitarian law."

Prosecutor Karim Khan's concerns echo those of the UN Security Council.

The Hague's chief prosecutor says the potential violations include "extrajudicial executions in the form of revenge killings of detainees and individuals who surrendered, persecution of women and girls, crimes against children and other crimes affecting the civilian population at large."

Khan says he calls on all parties in Afghanistan "to fully respect their obligations under international humanitarian law, including by ensuring the protection of civilians. I remain available and willing to engage with all parties to this end."

Maas on EU talks and evacuations

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas has been speaking about the agenda for today's emergency EU meeting on Afghanistan.

"The security and safety of EU citizens and former local employees will play an important role at today's ad hoc meeting of EU Foreign Ministers. We have already evacuated other EU citizens & will further continue our mutual support."

He continued: "We are working very hard to shuttle more people out of Kabul. Under the most difficult conditions on the ground, our staff, soldiers & security forces are doing a great job and demonstrate a huge amount of pragmatism & dedication."

Taliban spokesman says group will not seek revenge

At the militant group's first press conference since seizing control of Afghanistan, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the insurgents "will not seek revenge" and that "everyone is forgiven."

"We don't want any internal or external enemies," the spokesman told reporters in Kabul.

Mujahid said the Taliban would soon be establishing a government, but gave little detail of its make-up, apart from saying they would seek to "connect with all sides."

"All those in the opposite side are pardoned from A to Z," he said.

The spokesman also asserted that women's rights will be honored. He said women would be allowed to work and study and "will be very active in society but within the framework of Islam."

NATO chief: Afghan leaders 'failed to stand up'

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Afghan political leaders were at fault for the rapid collapse of the government.

"What we have seen in the last few weeks was a military and political collapse at a speed which had not been anticipated,'' Stoltenberg told a press conference.

He added that while some in the Afghan military fought against the Taliban advance, "ultimately, the Afghan political leadership failed to stand up to the Taliban and to achieve the peaceful solution that Afghans desperately wanted."

"This failure of Afghan leadership led to the tragedy we are witnessing today,'' Stoltenberg added.

A map showing territories under control by the Taliban

Saleh declares he is the 'caretaker president'

Afghan vice president Amrullah Saleh said on Twitter he is the "legitimate caretaker president" of Afghanistan.

Saleh said he had a security meeting last week with then-President Ashraf Ghani. Saleh said that he was proud of the armed forces, and the government would do all it could to strengthen its resistance to the Taliban.

UK: Taliban compliant with evacuations

A British officer in charge of the UK's evacuation program, which is helping between 6,000 and 7,000 people leave Afghanistan, says Taliban commanders around Kabul airport have not sought to disrupt proceedings.

Royal Navy Vice Admiral Ben Key told the BBC that "pragmatic, tactical, low level" discussions have had to take place with the Taliban as they control entry points into the airport.

While conceding that it has only been a day and a half since the process got underway, Key told BBC Radio that the Taliban have been "acquiescent and understanding of what we're trying to achieve."

Taliban set to have first news conference

The Taliban said it will hold its first news conference since seizing Kabul. It will take place later on Tuesday.

A spokesperson for the militants confirmed the briefing will take place in the Afghan capital.

Germany will continue to evacuate while 'security situation allows'

A German evacuation plane with "more than 120 people" on board left Kabul airport on Tuesday.

Germany's Foreign Minister Heiko Maas (SPD) said on Twitter that "Germans, Afghans and members of other nations" had been "airlifted" to safety. The process will continue as long as "the security situation allows," he added.

Later on Tuesday, Maas said humanitarian aid to Afghanistan had been frozen.

EU ministers discuss possible asylum influx

Foreign ministers across the EU are in emergency talks over the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan amid concern that hardline Islamist rule will spark an exodus of people from the conflict-ravaged country.

Afghans are among the biggest group of migrants seeking sanctuary in Europe, after Syrians. According to EU estimates, around 570,000 Afghans have applied for asylum in Europe since 2015.

On Monday, French President Emmanuel Macron aired his concerns over an influx of refugees coming to the EU. Macron focused his comments on warning against "Islamist terrorism" and "irregular migratory flows" in the wake of the unfolding crisis, while UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was keen for a softer, more welcoming stance, as he called on all countries to accept refugees fleeing from the dangers of Taliban rule.

Czech Republic continues evacuation process

A second Czech plane left Kabul on Tuesday, evacuating Czechs and local staff, Foreign Minister Jakub Kulhanek confirmed.

The process of evacuating diplomats and civilians resumed earlier on Tuesday after the runway at Kabul airport was cleared of thousands of people desperate to flee.

The Czech Republic's first mission on Sunday evacuated 46 citizens and local workers, including family members. Tuesday's flight included the Czech ambassador to Afghanistan.

Uzbekistan issues border warning

Uzbekistan said it was in contact with the Taliban on Tuesday and warned it would "strictly suppress" any attempts to violate its borders after chaos from Afghanistan spilled over into Central Asia.

One of three Central Asian countries that share a border with Afghanistan, Uzbekistan released a statement after days of mayhem that saw Afghan troops illegally cross over into the republic while fleeing the Taliban.   

The country's government said it was in talks with the Taliban "on issues of ensuring the protection of borders and maintaining calm in the border zone."

Germany halts development aid to Afghanistan

Gerd Müller, Germany's development minister, said Berlin has suspended development aid to Afghanistan.

In an interview with Rheinische Post, Müller said: "We are working at pace to evacuate from Afghanistan, those local development officials and NGO workers who want to leave."

The €250 million ($296.4 million) earmarked for aid for Afghanistan this year has not been disbursed.

German President Steinmeier: 'We share responsibility'

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier criticized the chaos at the Kabul airport, calling the scenes "a cause for shame" for Western governments and a "human tragedy for which we share responsibility."

He added Germany must "do everything it can to bring our people, and all Afghans who stood for years by their side, to safety," including "many courageous women."

"The failure of our efforts of many years to build up a stable and viable society in Afghanistan raises fundamental questions about the past and the future of our foreign policy and military engagement — bitter questions, where the primary need is not for swift answers, but rather for thorough and honest ones," Steinmeier said.

Central Bank governor flees

Ajmal Ahmady, Afghanistan's central bank governor, announced on Twitter that he fled Afghanistan for an unknown location. Ahmady is a former US Treasury and World Bank employee who had worked in private equity.

He detailed his escape from the country aboard a military aircraft and his final days on the job.

On Saturday, the day before the collapse of the central government, he said there was currency volatility and he held meetings "to reassure banks and money exchangers." He added, "I can't believe that was one day before Kabul fell."

By Sunday night, he was at the airport where he saw other senior government officials preparing to leave the country. He booked a last-minute commercial flight for that night, which was canceled, but was pushed onto a military aircraft by close colleagues. 

Ahmady said: "It did not have to end this way." He added he was "disgusted by the lack of any planning" and that once Ghani's departure was announced, "I knew within minutes chaos would follow."

Taliban declare 'amnesty'

The Taliban declared an "amnesty" across Afghanistan Tuesday in an attempt to restart the country.

Without specifying who the amnesty applied to, the Taliban said: "You should start your routine life with full confidence," after many people, especially in the public sector, had stayed home on Monday. 

Members of the Taliban, brandishing weapons, inside the presidential palace in Kabul Sunday
The Taliban entered the presidential palace in Kabul SundayImage: dpa/AP/picture alliance

The Taliban also encouraged women to join its government which is being formed "according to Shariah law," though a member of the Taliban's cultural commission, Enamullah Samangani, conceded, "the structure of government is not fully clear."

A Taliban leader also gave an interview to a female journalist on Afghan television in an effort to calm nerves across the capital just one day after thousands attempted to flee by storming the tarmac of the airport, even grabbing on to military jets taxiing for take-off.

Taliban fighters drive an Afghan National Army vehicle through the streets as villagers look on
Taliban fighters drive an Afghan National Army vehicle through the streets of Laghman province on SundayImage: AFP/Getty Images

Professor: Many in Afghan army kept close Taliban ties

Amalendu Misra, an international politics professor at Lancaster University in the UK, told DW, "the nation-building exercise of the international community was only skin deep" because the Taliban controlled rural areas.

Misra said the Afghan National Army failed to defend the country because "many of them were from the Taliban." 

While security forces personnel took money from the central government, they remained sympathetic to the Taliban and were on "many occasions" working "in cahoots with the Taliban."  Many felt that foreigners would leave eventually whereas they would remain in Afghanistan along with the Taliban.

Misra noted, "there are two Talibans here, the Taliban that emerged in the 1990s, most of them came from refugee camps in Pakistan who are sort of educated in a very fundamentalist style education" and "the new ones we have are born and brought up in Afghanistan. So they're more committed to their own country."

Indian Embassy in Kabul to close

India is closing its embassy and recalling its ambassador.

The Foreign Ministry spokesman, Arindam Bagchi, wrote on Twitter, "In view of the prevailing circumstances, it has been decided that our ambassador in Kabul and his Indian staff will move to India immediately." 

Evacuation flights out of Kabul resume

Military evacuation flights for diplomats and civilians out of Afghanistan resumed on Tuesday after chaos enveloped Kabul's Hamid Karzai International Airport as thousands of Afghans desperate to flee flooded onto the tarmac.

A Western security official told Reuters, "Many people who were here yesterday have gone home."

Afghan people climb atop a plane in the hopes of fleeing Taliban rule
Thousands of Afghans crowded the runway on Monday in a desperate bid to get out of Afghanistan after the capital fell to the Taliban Image: Wakil Kohsar/AFP/Getty Images

Late Monday, the German Defense Ministry said an air force A400M transport aircraft was able to leave Kabul with German citizens and local Afghan employees on board. The Uzbek capital Tashkent is serving as Germany's evacuation hub with people being ferried there by military transport before catching commercial flights to Germany.

General Hank Taylor, a logistics specialist on the Pentagon's joint chiefs of staff told news agency AFP that US forces were running military and civilian air traffic control at the Kabul airport. He said 3,000 to 3,500 US troops were on the ground by the end of the day Monday Washington time to secure the airport.

General Taylor said flights out of Kabul resumed at 2:35 a.m. local time.

Malala Yousafzai calls on leaders to take urgent action

Malala Yousafzai, the 23-year-old Nobel Peace Prize winner who survived a gunshot to the head after the Pakistani Taliban targeted her in 2012 for outspokenness on women's education, called on the international community to take action regarding the "urgent humanitarian crisis right now" in Afghanistan. 

Yousafzai said US President Joe Biden "has a lot to do."

She added, "I am deeply concerned about the situation in Afghanistan right now, especially about the safety of women and girls there."

Yousafzai said she had sent a letter to Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan calling on him to admit refugees from Afghanistan and ensure that refugee children "have access to education, have access to safety and protection, that their futures are not lost."

Monday's developments: airport chaos, Western leaders speak up

Chaotic scenes unfolded Monday at Kabul's airport as thousands of desperate Afghans struggled to board flights out of their country after the collapse of the central government in recent days. Some were so desperate they clung to a departing US air force C-17, with two falling from the sky and landing on homes near the airport, a US official and cell phone footage shared on social media showed. 

For the first time since the fall of Kabul Sunday, Western leaders including US President Joe Biden, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron addressed the rapid fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban.

Merkel said it was the "wrong assessment" that the Afghan army would fight to defend the country. Macron called for "a robust, coordinated and united response" for handling the anticipated migrant outflows from Afghanistan now that the Taliban is in charge.

For his part, Biden said it was "the right decision" to withdraw from Afghanistan, noting "there was never a good time to withdraw forces."

He also delivered a sharp rebuke of the surge in 2009 under then President Barack Obama when he was vice-president and his immediate predecessor then Donald Trump's negotiations with the Taliban that reduced US forces to a skeletal 2,500 in Afghanistan and hemmed him in considerably. He also said US forces could not stand in forever for Afghan security forces who were unwilling to fight.

ab, jsi, ar/msh (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters, IFAX)