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

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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 US military’s withdrawal by August 31, and pledged that the US would not cease evacuation efforts next week.

Blinken’s comments come in the wake of criticism from America’s allies and US lawmakers from both parties over the US’s 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 US diplomats were “aggressively reaching out” to the remaining 1,500.

“There is no deadline on our work to help any remaining American citizens who decide they want to leave to do so, along with the many Afghans who have stood by us over these many years, and want to leave, and have been unable to do so,” Blinken told reporters at a briefing in Washington on Wednesday.

“[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. And we’re developing detailed plans for how we can continue to provide consular support and facilitate departures for those who wish to leave after August 31,” he added.

US 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.

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby 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 US 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 US troops using helicopter lifts to transport people from Kabul into the airport.

During the briefing, Blinken suggested that America’s future 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 directed against us, and our allies and partners — 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. “And to look to see what we might have done differently. What we might have done sooner. What we might have done more effectively. But I have to tell you that right now, my entire focus is on the mission at hand.”

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