Blinken urges Taliban to ensure ‘safe passage’ out of Afghanistan


US foreign policy updates

Antony Blinken, the US secretary of state, urged the Taliban to ensure “safe passage” for people seeking to flee Afghanistan even after the military’s withdrawal by August 31, and pledged that Washington would not cease evacuation efforts next week.

Blinken’s comments at a briefing on Wednesday come after criticism from America’s allies and US lawmakers from both parties over the chaotic exit from Afghanistan ahead of the White House’s self-imposed deadline, which they say risks leaving too many vulnerable people stuck in the country.

The secretary of state said 4,500 US citizens out of an estimated 6,000 Americans in Afghanistan had been evacuated during this month’s airlift, and diplomats were “aggressively reaching out” to the remaining 1,500.

“[The Taliban] have a responsibility to . . . provide safe passage for anyone who wishes to leave the country, not just for the duration of our evacuation and relocation mission, but for every day thereafter.”

There is “no deadline” to help remaining US citizens and Afghans who had assisted Americans leave the country, Blinken said, and the US is developing “detailed plans” for continuing to provide consular support and assisting departures after August 31.

Officials on Wednesday said American troops remained on track to leave Afghanistan by August 31, but acknowledged that the fate of anyone left behind after that date would be in the Taliban’s hands.

John Kirby, Pentagon press secretary, said: “When the mission is over and we are leaving [Kabul] airport, the airport will not be the United States’ responsibility any more.

“How it gets managed going forward will be something the Taliban will have to manage on their own, I assume with the international community, but that won’t be an American responsibility.”

Kirby confirmed that there had been another operation by US forces in Kabul on Tuesday night to rescue citizens trapped in the Afghan capital by helicopter and bring them inside Hamid Karzai airport. To date the Pentagon has confirmed two similar instances of troops using helicopter lifts to transport people from Kabul into the airport.

During the briefing, Blinken suggested that America’s relationship with the new Taliban-controlled government in Afghanistan, including whether its legitimacy might be recognised, would depend on its conduct.

“If a future government upholds the basic rights of the Afghan people, if it makes good on its commitments to ensure that Afghanistan cannot be used as a launching pad for terrorist attacks . . . and in the first instance, if it makes good on its commitments to allow people who want to leave Afghanistan to leave — that’s a government we can work with,” Blinken said.

Although US president Joe Biden had been clear that he wanted to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, Blinken hinted that the administration might examine whether it should have taken a different approach to the pullout.

“I can tell you that there will be plenty of time to look back at the last six or seven months, to look back at the last 20 years,” he said. “But I have to tell you that right now, my entire focus is on the mission at hand.”