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Blinken denies Taliban holding Americans ‘hostage’ as US struggles to help those left behind
September 7, 2021
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Afghanistan updates: Taliban name caretaker government

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(KABUL, Afghanistan) — With the U.S. military and diplomatic withdrawal now complete after 20 years in Afghanistan, the Taliban has taken over the country, including the Kabul airport, the site of an often-desperate evacuation effort the past two weeks.

But even as the last American troops were flown out to meet President Joe Biden’s Aug. 31 deadline, other Americans who wanted to flee the country were left behind and the Biden administration is now focused on a “diplomatic mission” to help them leave.

When President Joe Biden sat down with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos for an exclusive one-on-one interview at the White House on Aug. 18, he said he was committed to keeping the U.S. military in Afghanistan as long as needed. “If there are American citizens left, we’re going to stay until we get them all out,” he said.

Here are the latest developments. All times Eastern:

Sep 07, 6:16 pm
Taliban leaders release 1st official statement

In its first official statement since announcing a new caretaker government, the Taliban said their previous 20 years of “struggle and Jihad” had two major goals: to end foreign occupation and aggression and to establish “a complete, independent, stable, and central Islamic system in the country.”

“Based on this principle, in the future, all matters of governance and life in Afghanistan will be regulated by the laws of the Holy Sharia,” according to the statement.

The statement said the Taliban wants strong and healthy relations with all other countries and “We are committed to all international laws and treaties, resolutions and commitments that are not in conflict with Islamic law and the country’s national values. We also call on the countries of the world to value building strong and cordial political, diplomatic and good relations with us and to also cooperate with us.”

“The Islamic Emirate will take serious and effective steps towards protecting human rights, the rights of minorities as well as the rights of the underprivileged groups within the framework of the demands of the sacred relation of Islam,” the statement continued.

Despite suggestions the new regime would be more inclusive, the Taliban appointed no women to any of the interim positions, and even disbanded Afghanistan’s Ministry of Women’s Affairs.

The statement went on to say that media is an important element of the country and the Taliban said it “will work for the freedom, functioning and improvement of the media quality. We consider it our duty to take into account the sacred precepts of Islam, the national interests of the country and impartiality in our broadcasts.”

-ABC News’ Christine Theodorou

Sep 07, 12:19 pm
Biden admin pushes back on reports Taliban blocking US citizens from leaving

The Biden administration has pushed back on reports that the Taliban is stopping American citizens with proper documentation from flying out of Mazar-e-Sharif, a northern city where chartered planes have sat on the tarmac for a week.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken, speaking in Qatar, confirmed for the first time on Tuesday that there are “a small number of Americans” in Mazar-e-Sharif trying to depart, but he told reporters it was his “understanding that the Taliban has not denied access to anyone holding a valid document … but because all of these people are grouped together, that’s meant that flights had not been allowed to go.”

In other words, in his view, the Taliban is blocking the larger group, and the Americans were unfortunately stopped because they’re alongside others who don’t have valid documents.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki, was also asked about Americans stuck in Mazar-e-Sharif on Tuesday and whether the administration views it as a “hostage situation.”

“No, that is not what we would characterize it as,” she told reporters on Air Force One.

“Our secretary of state is in Qatar right now working on a range of options, including getting flights up and operational and going. And what we have seen is that individuals who have documentation are able to depart,” Psaki added.

Sep 07, 11:47 am
Taliban announce new caretaker government

The Taliban have announced a new caretaker government for Afghanistan on Tuesday, naming Mullah Mohammad Hassan Akhund, who is on the United Nations sanctions list and described as “one of the most effective Taliban commanders,” as the interim prime minister, and Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar as deputy prime minister.

The militant group appointed former Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp detainee Mullah Abdul Haq Waseeq as Afghan Intelligence Chief. The new government also includes two Haqqani leaders with $5 million in U.S. bounties on their heads as ministers.

Along with several other ministers, none of which was a woman, the Taliban announced the disbandment of the Ministry of Women’s Affairs from its new caretaker government.

Sep 07, 4:55 am
Around 100 Americans remain in Afghanistan, Blinken says

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters Tuesday that “somewhere around 100” Americans remain in Afghanistan.

“We believe the number of those who have American citizenship — many of them dual nationals — who remain in Afghanistan is somewhere around 100,” Blinken said during a press conference in Qatar’s capital. “We’re in direct contact with virtually all of them.”

“For weeks now, we’ve been working very closely with Qatar, with Turkey to see to it that the Kabul airport could get up and running again to civilian air travel as soon as possible,” he continued. “We’re also working to facilitate overland passage for those who wish to depart when it comes to charters.”

Blinken admitted it’s a challenge without personnel on the ground in Afghanistan but one that “we’re determined to work through.”

“Many thousands of U.S. citizens or permanent residents or at-risk Afghans, who successfully evacuated and relocated from Kabul, have left aboard charter flights. Now, others are working to arrange more such flights,” he said. “We are working around-the-clock with NGOs, with members of congress and advocacy groups, providing any and all information and doing all we can to clear any roadblocks that they’ve identified to make sure that charter flights carrying Americans or others to whom we have a special responsibility can depart Afghanistan safely.”

U.S. officials have been engaging with the Taliban on departing flights, according to Blinken.

“They said that they will let people with travel documents freely depart,” he noted. “We will hold them to that, so will dozens of countries. The international community is watching to see if the Taliban will live up to their commitments.”

“It’s my understanding that the Taliban has not denied access to anyone holding a valid document, but they have said that those without valid documents at this point can’t leave,” he added. “Because all of these people are grouped together, that’s meant that flights had not been allowed to go. We’ve been able to identify a small number of Americans who we believe are seeking to depart from Mazar-e-Sharif with their families.”

Sep 06, 3:07 pm
4 US citizens evacuated over land border

The State Department has facilitated the evacuation of four U.S. citizens across one of Afghanistan’s land borders — the first Americans to leave the country with U.S. government help since President Joe Biden ended the massive, chaotic evacuation efforts that closed the country’s longest war.

Four Americans made their way across land with Taliban knowledge, according to a senior State Department official, who told ABC News they evacuated without Taliban interference.

The official declined to say which country they arrived in but added they were in “good condition” and met by U.S. embassy staff from the local embassy.

While the State Department helped these four evacuate, White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain said Sunday there were approximately 100 U.S. citizens still trying to escape the country, nearly a week after the last U.S. forces departed.

Among those left behind, there are several Americans in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif ready to board charter flights out that are being blocked by the Taliban, according to several sources. The Taliban has not give permission to the airlines, leaving the potential passengers stuck in the city now for days.

A State Department spokesperson told ABC News Sunday that they could not confirm the manifests of these flights because there were no U.S. personnel or assets in Afghanistan anymore, but added, “We will hold the Taliban to its pledge to let people freely depart Afghanistan.”

Sep 06, 4:53 am
Taliban claims victory over Panjshir, last pocket of resistance

The Taliban claimed victory Monday over Afghan opposition forces in Panjshir province, the last pocket of resistance in Afghanistan and the only province that the Taliban had not seized last month.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid issued a statement saying Panjshir was under full control of Taliban fighters.

“We tried our best to solve the problem through negotiations, and they rejected talks and then we had to send our forces to fight,” Mujahid later told a press conference in Kabul on Monday.

The Taliban posted photos and videos on social media apparently showing fighters standing at the gate of the Panjshir provincial governor’s office and raising the group’s flag in the provincial capital.

A spokesperson for the resistance group, the National Resistance Front of Afghanistan (NRF), took to Twitter to deny that Panjshir had fallen.

“Taliban’s claim of occupying Panjshir is false,” the spokesperson tweeted. “The NRF forces are present in all strategic positions across the valley to continue the fight. We assure the ppl of Afghanistan that the struggle against the Taliban & their partners will continue until justice & freedom prevails.”

Sep 05, 6:31 pm
Some US citizens unable to fly out of Afghanistan due to Taliban interference

The Taliban is blocking efforts to get U.S. citizens out of Afghanistan on flights, according to a non-governmental organization arranging travel for some passengers.

Marina LeGree, the CEO of Ascend, told ABC News that the Taliban has prevented 600 people from leaving Mazar-e-Sharif by charter plane for six days.

The NGO is helping 100 of those passengers, none of whom are American, to try to fly out. LeGree said she is aware of 19 U.S. citizens who are trying to leave but Ascend is not overseeing their departure.

“Ascend, an organization dedicated to empowering young women through athletics, has members trying to leave Afghanistan,” LeGree told ABC News in a statement Sunday. “We call on the Taliban to honor their commitments and allow these charters to depart immediately.”

The affected passengers are either staying at the airport or at nearby hotels, according to LeGree.

The U.S. Department of State did not confirm whether there are Americans on those flights, but said it “will hold the Taliban to its pledge to let people freely depart Afghanistan.”

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