Washington:The United States and the Taliban could cooperate on priorities that are in America’s “vital national interest,” the administration’s top diplomat said Monday, hours after the military mission formally ended.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that the State Department could work with the Taliban on areas of mutual interest, such as securing the release of American hostages, making the region more stable, and conducting counterterrorism operations against ISIS-K, a branch of the Islamic State terrorist group that attacked and killed American troops at the Kabul airport last week.
But Blinken said that for that partnership to work, the Taliban will need to stand by promises it has made to govern the country differently than during its brutal reign in the 1990s when women and girls especially suffered.
“If we can work with the new Afghan government in a way that helps secure those interests...and protects the gains of the past two decades, we will do it,” he said. “But we will not do it on the basis of trust or faith. Every step we take will be based not on what a Taliban-led government says, but what it does to live up to its commitments.”
The Biden administration will base any partnership with the terrorist group on the group’s actions on priorities such as whether the Taliban allows people to leave the country freely, respects basic human rights, establishes an inclusive government, ensures the country does not become a safe haven for terrorists and does not attack those who worked with the United States, Blinken said.
The U.S. government has been communicating with the Taliban for the past several weeks to ensure Americans and Afghan partners could leave the country safely. Gen. Frank McKenzie, the commander of U.S. Central Command, said in a briefing Monday that the terrorist group has been “pragmatic and businesslike” in those discussions.
One area for potential cooperation is getting the remaining American citizens and Afghan partners out of the country. The United States has evacuated more than 120,000 people, including 6,000 Americans.
But between 100 and 200 Americans who want to leave remain in the country and, without a military footprint to evacuate them or help them reach the airport, the United States will have to rely on the Taliban to allow them out safely.
“We will continue our relentless efforts to help Americans, foreign nationals and Afghans leave Afghanistan if they choose,” Blinken said.
Some on Capitol Hill are urging the administration to act to help those Americans, as well as Afghans who worked with the U.S. military, escape as soon as possible. Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wisc., on Monday night asked House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to call lawmakers back to Washington during their summer recess to “hold this administration accountable and save lives.”
“Our fellow citizens are stranded and subject to the Goodwill of the Taliban,” Gallagher said in a statement. “Shame on us if we do nothing.”
The operations to help those Americans, and all future diplomatic communications with Afghanistan, will be coordinated in Doha, Qatar, where the United States has moved its embassy after formally suspending its diplomatic presence in Kabul on Monday, Blinken said, though diplomats closed the outpost in Kabul weeks ago when the Taliban took control of the capital.
The operation in Doha, about which Congress will be notified “soon,” will lead the diplomatic mission in Afghanistan and work with the international community to “coordinate engagement and messaging to the Taliban,” Blinken said.
The embassy will also coordinate sending humanitarian aid to Afghanistan, though Blinken stressed the United States will not send any money to the Taliban. Instead, that money will flow through third-party groups like the United Nations or non-governmental organizations still working in the country.
Senior National Security Correspondent