‘Don’t be afraid,’ women chant on Afghanistan’s streets in protest against the Taliban.
The U.S. and its allies are recalibrating what level of cooperation to have with the organization that now controls Afghanistan. Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, called the Taliban “a ruthless group,” but added, “In war, you do what you must.”
Here’s what you need to know:
U.S. leaves the possibility of cooperating with the Taliban open, as Afghans face a growing crisis.
‘Don’t be afraid,’ women chant on Afghanistan’s streets in protest against the Taliban.
As Afghan evacuees are screened for security risks, very few have raised concerns, the military says.
Short on money, legal or otherwise, the Taliban face a crisis.
Western Union resumes remittances, restarting a potential financial lifeline for Afghans.
The White House rejects easing sanctions on the Taliban.
Afghan siblings recount the perils of the first day of Taliban rule.
The last U.S. diplomat to leave Kabul has tested positive for the virus.
Outside a bank branch in Kabul on Monday. Long lines seeking to withdraw money have become a daily norm.Credit…Victor J. Blue for The New York Times
The United States and its allies are working to recalibrate their relationship with the Taliban — a group that remains on terrorist watch lists around the world, even as it prepares to name a new Afghan government — amid a steadily worsening situation for the people of Afghanistan.
In recent weeks, the United States cooperated with the group to ensure the evacuation of tens of thousands of people from the Kabul airport, and defense officials have said there is a possibility the threat posed by the militant group Islamic State Khorasan could require future cooperation.
A growing humanitarian and economic crisis may push even more Afghans to seek a way out. Prices for the most basic foods, like eggs and flour, have surged. The emergency food the United Nations distributes to hundreds of thousands of Afghans in need is expected to run out by the end of the month. Foreign aid has dried up. Long lines at the bank are the new daily norm.
On Wednesday, top U.S. defense officials expressed wariness about continuing to work with Taliban leaders, who had been cooperative during the evacuation.
Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III told reporters that while the United States had worked with the Taliban on a narrow set of priorities, “It’s hard to predict where this will go in the future with respect to the Taliban.”
Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, called the Taliban “a ruthless group,” but added, “In war, you do what you must.”
When asked whether the United States would cooperate with the Taliban against Islamic State Khorasan, also known as ISIS-K, General Milley said that was a possibility. Whether the Taliban can control the group had become a matter of major international concern, after ISIS-K claimed responsibility for an attack on the Kabul airport that left 170 civilians and 13 U.S. military members dead in the final days of the U.S. evacuation.
Other nations are working to map out a way forward for cooperation with either the Taliban or regional partners to get remaining civilians who wish to leave out of the country. On Thursday, Britain’s foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, was in Doha, Qatar, meeting with Qatari leaders to discuss the situation in Afghanistan and how to secure safe passage for those who remain. Qatar previously hosted Taliban leaders, and was the site of peace talks between the Taliban and the United States.
In a news conference after the meeting, Mr. Raab said that Britain “will not be recognizing the Taliban any time in the foreseeable future,” but added: “We do see the need for direct engagement,” according to the BBC.
Mr. Raab spoke with the Qataris on whether they believe a functioning airport would be possible in Kabul in the short term, which would provide a key route for high-risk Afghans still looking to leave, Britain’s foreign ministry said in a statement. The foreign secretary also discussed the feasibility of safe passage for foreign nationals and Afghans across land borders.
Simon Gass, Britain’s special envoy for the Afghan transition, has held talks in recent days with senior Taliban political representatives, the foreign ministry said.
Afghan women protesting in Herat on Thursday.Credit…Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
Dozens of women gathered on the streets of Herat, a city in western Afghanistan, on Thursday, protesting against the Taliban and demanding more rights and inclusion in a new future government that may be announced as soon as tomorrow.
“Don’t be afraid,” the women chanted as they marched toward the governor’s office, holding signs. “We are all together.”
The city of Herat is one of the country’s most liberal, and thousands of young women there attended universities and worked outside their homes before the insurgents’ victory two weeks ago.
While the Taliban have maintained that they support women’s rights, many remain skeptical. The last time the group ran the country, women were banned from education, most work and nearly all aspects of public life.
“We wanted to show our power to the Taliban,” said Maryam, an organizer of the protest. “If we stay in our houses, we can’t show our power but the Taliban can impose more restrictions on us to remove us from society and politics slowly.”
The protest in Herat comes one day after Sher Mohammed Abas Stanekzai, a Taliban leader, told the BBC’s Persian service that women will have no ministerial position in the Taliban government.
“The goal of the protest was to tell the Taliban to include women in the government and that no government can last without their presence,” said Basira, a human-rights activist and principal who helped organize the protest. “We won’t be silent anymore.”
She said that the group of women would continue to fight and hoped the protests would force the Taliban to accept their demands.
“We will stand for our rights to the death,” she said.
The protesters walked in the streets, chanting slogans and holding signs.
“Education, work and security are our — inalienable rights,” a sign held by a protester read.
Speaking from Herat, the organizers said they were planning to expand the protests into all 34 provinces across the country.
Small groups of young women and men have protested against the Taliban across Afghanistan, including in the capital Kabul, since the group seized control of the country. But the protest in Herat seemed different, because larger numbers of women took part in it and the message it delivered was more clear: The Taliban should allow all working women to return to work.
The Taliban have so far asked only female health workers to return to work. Zabihullah Mujahid, the Taliban’s top spokesman, said the decision not to allow other women to start working is “temporary.” He promised that all women would be able to return to their offices once the Taliban trains its fighters to respect women.
The protesters called on the Taliban to allow all women to return to work “immediately.”
Wali Arian contributed reporting.
Afghan evacuees at the Ramstein Air Base in Germany this week.Credit…Gordon Welters for The New York Times
WASHINGTON — More than 38,000 Afghans have undergone background security checks since arriving at American military bases in Europe after the evacuation from Kabul. Only one has raised serious enough concerns to warrant being turned over to the authorities for further investigation, the top American commander in Europe said on Thursday.
Gen. Tod D. Wolters, the head of the military’s European Command, told reporters that 58 other Afghans were now undergoing additional screening but that he expected them all to be cleared.
General Wolters said one Afghan, whom he did not identify, had been placed in the custody of the authorities for further investigation but did not represent “a high threat.”
The paucity of potential security risks found among the tens of thousands of Afghans evacuated on military and other aircraft has come as a surprise to some American officials. It also appears to undercut the arguments of some conservative lawmakers and immigration opponents who say that bringing large numbers of Afghans to the United States in such a frenetic evacuation could pose a security risk if some turn out to be terrorists.
General Wolters said the Afghans arriving from intermediate staging bases in the Middle East, such as Qatar, twice undergo background checks: once upon arrival at bases in Germany, Italy and Spain, and again a few days later before they board flights to the United States.
These checks include fingerprinting and retina scans, which are matched against immigration, law enforcement and counterterrorism databases, he said.
With the American military ending its deployment to Afghanistan late Monday night after 20 years, the flow of Afghans evacuated from Kabul is making its way first to bases in the Middle East, then to Europe, and finally the United States.
General Wolters said he expected about 500 to 600 Afghans to arrive in Europe each day for the next few days. The number of Afghans leaving for the United States, after a stay at bases in Europe of up to 10 days, will grow to 2,500 to 3,000 people per day, he said.
Money changers working with customers at their stalls in Kabul in August. Halawa, the informal banking network, is crucial to many Afghans.Credit…Victor J. Blue for The New York Times
As Afghans pay surging prices for eggs and flour and stand in long lines at the bank, money changers like Enayatullah and his underground financial lifeline have found themselves in desperate demand.
Enayatullah — his family name withheld — holds down a tiny point in a sprawling global network of informal lenders and back-room bankers called hawala. The Taliban used hawala to help fund their ultimately successful insurgency. Many households use it to get help from relatives in Istanbul, London and Doha. Without cash from hawala, economic life in whole swaths of Afghanistan would come to a crashing halt.
And hawala won’t be enough, said Enayatullah, who says people’s need for money has become so desperate in the last week that he has raised his commission to 4 percent per transaction, about eight times his usual rate. The system is now struggling with a lack of money, leading the Taliban and dealers themselves to rein in activity to preserve cash.
“The demand,” Enayatullah said, “is too much.”
The Taliban won the war in Afghanistan, and an economic crisis may be their prize. They have been cut off from the international banking system and from the country’s previous funding sources, like the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the United States government. Foreign aid makes up nearly half of economic output.
Without other sources of money, millions of Afghan people could lose the gains they made, in fits and starts, over the past two decades. Already, drought conditions have created a real risk of hunger.
“We have conflict. We have war. This is another misery,” said Shah Mehrabi, a board member of Afghanistan’s central bank. “You will have a financial crisis and it will push families further into poverty.”
Shoppers making their way through a market in Kabul last week.Credit…Victor J. Blue for The New York Times
In Afghanistan, as in other economically struggling countries, many Afghans have long depended on friends and family who go abroad to find jobs to send money back home. But two weeks ago, just as the country’s financial struggles were growing ever more dire, the flow of money suddenly dried up.
Amid the chaos that followed the Taliban takeover, Western Union, which handles more money transfers than any other company in the world, said it was suspending the service for Afghanistan.
“Western Union understands the urgent need people have to receive funds,” the company said in a statement to Reuters on Aug. 19, “and we are committed to resuming operations for our customers in Afghanistan as conditions permit.”
On Thursday, the company said the payments, known as remittances, were being allowed again.
“Western Union is pleased to announce that it is resuming its money transfer services into Afghanistan, enabling our customers from 200 countries and territories to once again send money to their loved ones,” it said.
The announcement followed word from the Treasury Department that it would not oppose remittances to Afghanistan, even as the U.S. government signals that it intends to maintain its economic sanctions against the Taliban.
In 2020, remittances from Afghans living abroad totaled almost $789 million, according to the World Bank.
In suspending the money transfers, Western Union cited bank closures there and challenges for its agents.
Taliban fighters guarding Kabul’s main currency exchange last week.Credit…Victor J. Blue for The New York Times
The Biden administration is not considering reducing sanctions on the ruling Taliban government in Afghanistan or reopening its access to the international financial system, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Thursday.
In recent weeks, the United States has moved to block the Taliban’s access to nearly $10 billion in international reserves, and the International Monetary Fund has stopped plans to distribute $400 million in aid to Afghanistan. Those moves have sent the value of the nation’s currency plunging and drawn warnings that an Afghan economy that has heavily relied on foreign aid could quickly spiral into crisis to go with its political turmoil.
Ms. Psaki said in a news briefing that the administration would not reverse course, even as it evaluates its options in dealing with Taliban leaders at a time when the administration estimates about 100 American citizens who want to leave Afghanistan remain trapped in the country. “That is not actively being discussed or pursued,” she said.
“We are going to judge the Taliban by their actions and will stay in close coordination with the international community,” she said. But, she added, “we also want to assure that there is assistance to the Afghan people, humanitarian assistance, and other assistance to keep them afloat and make sure we provide that from the international community at this time.”
Ms. Psaki said that assistance would be coordinated not with the Taliban but with “outside organizations.”
Taliban forces on a Kabul street on Monday.Credit…Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times
Ahmad, 27, lingered in bed. He did not want to face the day. His sister Haanya, 20, had no appetite for breakfast. She looked out the window, where four Taliban fighters were patrolling the block, AK-47 rifles swung over their shoulders.
It was Tuesday morning in Kabul, a day after the United States completed its military withdrawal, and there was no doubt who was in charge now.
In telephone interviews, the two siblings recounted what their lives looked like on Day 1 of Taliban rule, after two decades of U.S. occupation. Like many ordinary Afghans, they were already trying to learn how to navigate the new Afghanistan.
“Our life just two weeks ago seems 10 years away,” Ahmad said. “For 20 years the U.S. lied to us and said: ‘We are with you. We will not leave the Afghan people.’ Who is with us now? Only the Taliban.”
Just two weeks ago, before the Taliban entered the capital, Ahmad was a government employee. He lost his job and access to his government bank account with his savings. His wife had a miscarriage.
Haanya, a freelance journalist, used to roam cafes freely and talked to strangers for her stories. Now, her story pitches are turned down, and she hasn’t left the house in 10 days. Worried about Taliban harassment, her father will let her go outside only with a male relative.
On Tuesday morning, Ahmad ventured out with two friends. Shops were open and traffic flowed. The crowds that recently mobbed the airport in hopes of leaving the country were gone.
But the Taliban made their presence known with checkpoints at roundabouts. Few women were out alone on the street. A friend drove Ahmad to three bank branches in search of cash, but he gave up after seeing lines that stretched for blocks.
When they headed toward a friend’s house in a neighborhood where a prominent politician has a home, they found that Taliban fighters had blocked access to the road. They parked the car and walked to their friend’s house, where they drank tea and discussed potential exit plans.
Applying for visa to India? Attempting to cross the border into Pakistan? Joining the resistance in Panjshir?
There were no good options.
Later, Ahmad said, the Taliban stopped them at two checkpoints on their way to dinner, and asked them where they were going, where they lived and where they worked.
Stuck at home, Haanya texted Ahmad every hour, pressing him for details about what Kabul looked like now.
Other friends texted him with similar questions: “Who is out? What’s the situation in the city?”
At a nearly empty restaurant, Ahmad took a photograph of his sandwich and his soda and sent it to his friends, asking them to join him. “I didn’t tell them about the waves of emotion hitting me up and down all day,” Ahmad said.
Haanya was restless. She looked out the window. She checked her messages on her phone. She wandered from room to room.
“I am in my house, and I feel like I have no home,” she said. “I miss the little things I used to do that I can never do again: go to a bookstore alone, sit in a cafe and talk to people.”
She posted an essay she wrote in Dari to a private group for friends. “After 20 years of war and bloodshed, the war did not end,” it began. “Everything returned to 20 years ago and we are back at square one.”
By early evening Ahmad was back. A friend called him and said she had lost her job. They cried on the phone together.
They heard President Biden was giving a speech. He was announcing the end of the long war in Afghanistan — or, at least, America’s part in it.
Neither brother nor sister wanted to hear it.
What could he possibly say, wondered Haanya, that would make any difference for Afghans like them now?
Ambassador Ross Wilson at a news conference at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul in late July.Credit…Reuters
Ross Wilson, the charge d’affaires of the U.S. Embassy in Kabul who helped manage the evacuation from the Kabul airport, has tested positive for the coronavirus, according to a person familiar with his condition who was not authorized to speak on the record.
Mr. Wilson was one of a number of officials who continued operating in the country as Taliban fighters swept into the capital, prompting the evacuation of around 123,000 people. The last American diplomat to depart Kabul, he continued working at the airport to process the paperwork of Afghans who wanted to leave for two weeks after the embassy shut down on Aug. 15.
Mr. Wilson’s condition on Thursday was not immediately clear.
In the rush to complete the evacuation, military and diplomatic officials have scrambled to put in place a system for screening those airlifted out of the country for the virus. Many have arrived in the United States.
Pentagon officials have said that they established temperature checks and other Covid protocols at the airfield in Kabul. Last week, the White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, said that all evacuees would also be tested and offered vaccines upon arrival.
“With regards to Covid, the Afghans coming from the Middle East into our locations that we have stood up are all being tested, actually, multiple times,” Gen. Glen D. VanHerck, the commander of the North American Aerospace Defense Command, said last week.
Of those who arrived last week, roughly one out of 1,200 had tested positive, he said.
Addressing the evacuation efforts on Monday, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken thanked Mr. Wilson, whom he credited for “exceptional, courageous work during a highly challenging time.”
Mr. Blinken also acknowledged the heavy toll that the pandemic had taken on Afghanistan, where vaccines have been scarce and a summer surge just months ago badly strained the country’s hospitals.
Lara Jakes contributed reporting.
A vehicle flying a Taliban flag near the runway at the Kabul airport on Tuesday.Credit…Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times
Qatar is in talks with the Taliban and working with Turkey to provide technical support to restart operations in Kabul airport, the Qatari foreign minister said on Thursday.
The foreign minister, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani, said during a news conference with the British foreign secretary that efforts were underway to reopen the airport.
“We are trying our best to support now bringing back the airport to be up and running and this is remaining our focus in the next short term period,” he said in Doha, the Qatari capital.
On Thursday afternoon, the former V.I.P. terminal of Hamid Karzai International Airport was bustling. Under a giant billboard of Ashraf Ghani, until recently Afghanistan’s president, armored Land Cruisers driven by Qatari security personnel ferried their airport technicians back and forth.
Others were loading equipment from a rusty flat bed while Taliban fighters in commando uniforms provided tight security.
“The airport will open very soon,” Daoud Sharifi, the chief operating officer of Kam Air, Afghanistan’s largest privately owned airline, said on Thursday. Employees of the company were also at work at the civilian side of the airport. “We are even flying one of our planes in from Mazar-i-Sharif tomorrow.”
On Monday, ahead of the final stages of the U.S. military withdrawal from the airport, the Qatari Air Force flew in airport technicians as well as equipment and security personnel to Kabul. Another plane landed on Wednesday, and a guard at the airport said a third plane was on the way on Thursday.
Turkey’s foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, said at a news conference on Thursday in Ankara that Turkey may also play a future role at the Kabul airport.
“There are requests from Taliban and some countries to cooperate with us. We are evaluating all of these,” he said. “The most important thing, as we have underlined before, is the security of the airport.”
He noted that while the Taliban said so far that they want to maintain security inside and outside the airport, the security especially inside the airport must be maintained to give confidence to the international community.
As the United States and its allies evacuated tens of thousands of people ahead of an Aug. 31 deadline for their withdrawal, the airport facilities — the site of a major military base and a passenger terminal — were damaged. But since the Taliban took over control, the group has assured the world that operations there would continue.
However, questions have arisen over whether the Taliban has the expertise or capacity to run the complex hub.
Representative Kevin McCarthy, the House minority leader, asserted last week that the United States should not keep any troops in Afghanistan but then suggested that it should have held onto Bagram Air Base. Credit…Sarahbeth Maney/The New York Times
WASHINGTON — Early last year, Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the House minority leader, praised former President Donald J. Trump’s deal to pull American troops out of Afghanistan as “a positive step.” As secretary of state, Mike Pompeo helped negotiate that agreement with the Taliban. Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri pressed last November for a withdrawal as soon as possible.
Now, the three are among dozens of prominent Republicans who, with President Biden seeing the pullout through, have sharply reversed themselves — assailing Mr. Biden even as he keeps a promise that Mr. Trump had made, and carries out a policy to which they had given their full-throated support.
The collective U-turn reflects Republicans’ eagerness to attack Mr. Biden and ensure that he pays a political price for the way he ended the war. With Mr. Trump reversing himself as the withdrawal grew chaotic and, in its endgame, deadly, it also offers new evidence of how allegiance to the former president has come to override compunctions about policy flip-flops or political hypocrisy.
“You can’t be going out there and saying, ‘This war was worthless and we need to bring the troops home’ in May, and now hitting Biden for doing just that,” said Representative Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, a Republican who broke with Mr. Trump after the Jan. 6 Capitol riot and has long favored maintaining a military presence in Afghanistan. “There’s no shame anymore.”
Zakia Khudadadi of Afghanistan, in blue, during her bout with Viktoriia Marchuk of Ukraine on Thursday.Credit…Chang W. Lee/The New York Times
After an arduous escape from Afghanistan involving multiple governments and organizations and a secret stay in Paris, Zakia Khudadadi competed in taekwondo at the Tokyo Paralympic Games on Thursday.
Ms. Khudadadi, 22, appeared in the very first match of the day as taekwondo also made its Paralympic debut. She lost to Ziyodakhon Isakova, 23, of Uzbekistan, in the women’s under-49 kilogram category at the Makuhari Messe Hall in Chiba. Ms. Khudadadi returned for a repechage round in the quarterfinals Thursday afternoon against Viktoriia Marchuk of Ukraine, who won the match 48-34.
Ms. Khudadadi is one of two Afghan athletes who were evacuated from Kabul after the country’s government fell to the Taliban. On Tuesday, Hossain Rasouli, 26, competed in the long jump in Tokyo. He had originally been scheduled to run a 100 meter event but missed his race.
The chaos in Afghanistan initially imperiled the athletes’ participation in the Paralympics as they could not secure a safe flight out of Kabul. Ms. Khudadadi had traveled from Herat, her home province, and was staying with extended family in the capital. In a video requesting assistance before she was evacuated, she pleaded: “Please hold my hand and help me.”
Chungwon Choue, president of World Taekwondo, said the sports federation’s vice chairman, Usman Dildar, was originally from Afghanistan and had helped coordinate with other organizations in Australia, France and Britain that had worked to evacuate dozens of Afghan athletes, including the Paralympians.
Mr. Choue said that he suspected that jet lag and the pressure of international media attention may have affected Ms. Khudadadi’s performance but that he was proud of her. “We are really, really happy to see her participate in the Paralympic Games,” he said.
After her final competition on Thursday, Mr. Choue met with the Afghan athlete and presented her with a black belt imprinted with her name. “She looked very tired,” he said. But when he told her to “aim for the Paris Paralympic Games” in 2024, “Finally she was smiling and saying ‘Yes, president, I will do it.'”
“I think she has a great chance after she settles down in a certain country,” said Mr. Choue, who said that several countries had offered her asylum. “If she practices, she has talent and she will do it.”
In interviews before the games, Ms. Khudadadi has said she was inspired to begin practicing taekwondo by Rohullah Nikpai, the only Afghan to win a medal in an Olympic competition, with a bronze in taekwondo in Beijing in 2008 and again in London in 2012.
In an interview posted on the I.P.C.’s website, Ms. Khudadadi said she only had two months to train for the Paralympics in Tokyo. After being evacuated from Kabul to Paris earlier this month, she and Mr. Hossain trained at the National Institute of Sport, Expertise and Performance for a week before flying to Tokyo.
Ms. Khudadadi is only the second woman to represent Afghanistan at the Paralympic Games. Mareena Karim competed at the Paralympic Games in Athens in 2004, running a 100-meter event.
Ms. Khudadadi came out strong and won her first bout against Ms. Marchuk, but ultimately the Ukrainian prevailed. After the match, Ms. Marchuk said that the intense attention on the Afghan athletes had not been a distraction.
“Of course I worry and I have concerns regarding the situation in Afghanistan right now,” she said. “And I am very glad my opponent managed to come and to compete with me.”