The director of the CIA met with Taliban leader Abdul Ghani Baradar in Kabul on Monday amid a rising tide of panic at the Kabul airport.
President Joe Biden initially declared an Aug. 31 deadline for U.S. troops to leave Afghanistan, but that was before the Afghan government evaporated and the Taliban seized power.
The rapid collapse of Afghanistan has left thousands of Americans, Western diplomats and aid workers, and Afghans who collaborated with the U.S.-led coalition desperate to leave the country.
Biden has since said he might want to reconsider the deadline, as suggested by NATO allies, but the Taliban has said it plans to hold Biden to his word and threatened unspecified “consequences” if the deadline is breached.
The deadline was likely a top item for discussion during the meeting between CIA Director William Burns and Baradar, according to The Washington Post.
The Post said U.S. sources would not comment on what transpired.
The meeting between Burns and Baradar was the highest-level discussion between the Biden administration and the Taliban since the insurgents seized Afghanistan.
The Biden administration has insisted that the Taliban wants to preserve good relations with the international community and that maintaining a good image is something the U.S. can use as leverage in negotiations.
Biden has noted that the U.S. would be willing to collaborate with the Taliban if it showed a commitment to providing good government.
“The Taliban has to make a fundamental decision: Is the Taliban going to attempt to be able to unite and provide for the wellbeing of the people of Afghanistan?” he said Sunday.
Biden indicated that if that happens, U.S. assistance might be forthcoming.
“And if it does, it’s going to need everything from additional help, in terms of economic assistance, trades and a whole range of things,” he said.
In a Monday Op-Ed for National Review, Andy McCarthy wrote that “Biden perseveres in the illusion that the Taliban crave international ‘legitimacy,’ and that they will need it to ‘maintain’ [Afghanistan].”
Noting that the Taliban has tremendous leverage, McCarthy added that “I have no doubt that the president is fearful of offending the Taliban, which is in a position to take American hostages (if they have not already done so). That would make the ongoing debacle an even worse crisis.”
As Biden pursued diplomacy, reports from Kabul indicated some Afghan civilians were being turned away at the airport, according to The New York Times.
The report, citing an unnamed State Department official, said some interpreters and others who are supposedly a priority for evacuation are being sent away from the Kabul airport by American officials in favor of American citizens and green card holders.
“We’re telling people to be prepared to survive up to a day in the scrum” around the airport, said Matt Zeller, a former CIA official trying to help evacuate those with whom he worked. “They make it inside only to be turned back.”
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