Afghanistan: Biden reasserts support for withdrawal decision as evacuation resumes

Aug 17, 2021: Evacuation flights from Afghanistan have resumed after thousands of people gathered at the city’s airport in a desperate attempt to flee causing panic

A Western security official said on Tuesday that the tarmac and runway at Kabul airport which is controlled by US troops – is now free of crowds. Military flights have begun flying out of Afghanistan to evacuate diplomats and civilians, the official said.

At least seven people were killed in Monday’s chaos, including several who were swept away by the jet.

In Washington DC, US President Joe Biden said he stood “behind” his decision to withdraw troops from Afghanistan and sharply criticized the country’s former Western-backed leadership for failing to resist the Taliban.

“I stand by my decision,” he said in a televised address to the White House. “Twenty years later, I have learned with difficulty that there has never been a better time for the withdrawal of US troops.”

Meanwhile, the Taliban has announced an end to the war in Afghanistan, and a senior leader has said the group will wait until foreign forces leave before a new governance structure can be formed.

China has said it is ready for friendly relations with the Taliban, while Russia and Iran have also held diplomatic talks.

France’s Armed Forces Minister Florence Parley said the first French military plane arrived overnight in Abu Dhabi for the French withdrawal from Afghanistan, adding that France was working to operate more flights from Afghanistan.

Military flights evacuating diplomats and civilians resumed Tuesday morning after the Taliban vacated the runway at Kabul airport after thousands of people were anxious to flee after capturing the capital.

The Taliban announced a general amnesty for all government officials and called for them to return to work two days after taking power in the country.

Meanwhile,US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken spoke separately with his counterparts in Britain, the European Union, Turkey and NATO about the situation in Afghanistan and Washington’s efforts to repatriate its citizens.

The Associated Press reports that senior Taliban leader Amir Khan Mottaki is holding talks in the Afghan capital with Kabul’s political leadership, including former President Hamid Karzai and Abdullah Abdullah, who once headed the country’s negotiating council.

Mottaki was the Minister of Higher Education in Afghanistan when the Taliban last ruled and began contacting Afghan political leaders before Afghan President Ashraf Ghani secretly left the presidential palace over the weekend.

The official said the talks in Afghanistan’s capital were aimed at bringing other non-Taliban leaders into government, which Taliban spokesman Sohail Shaheen said would be a “comprehensive Afghan government”.

Afghans familiar with the talks say some sessions went on late at night and have been going on since Ghani’s departure.

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Taliban’s rapid advances have taken the Biden administration by surprise