October 24, 2021

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Afghanistan: US drone strike targets suicide bomber on way to Kabul airport

Afghanistan: US drone strike targets suicide bomber on way to Kabul airport
US President Joe Biden pays his respect to fallen service members who died in the Kabul blast  Credit: SAUL LOEB  Afghan commandos could fight for British Army like Gurkhas US drone strike kills more Islamic State suicide bombers heading to Kabul airport Biden ‘holds grudges and will punish UK for Afghan criticism' Ninja bomb used in…

US President Joe Biden receives the remains of fallen service members who died in Kabul air blast 
US President Joe Biden pays his respect to fallen service members who died in the Kabul blast 

Credit:
SAUL LOEB 

An American drone strike hit a car packed with explosives as it was heading towards Kabul airport, US officials say, as the country’s airlift from Afghanistan enters its final days.

The vehicle was suspected to be carrying Isis-K suicide bombers just days after another cell killed 180 people in a blast on Thursday.

Captain Bill Urban, of the US Central Command, said: “We are confident we successfully hit the target. Significant secondary explosions from the vehicle indicated the presence of a substantial amount of explosive material.

“We are assessing the possibilities of civilian casualties, though we have no indications at this time. We remain vigilant for potential future threats.”

The strike came after US President Joe Biden warned that a second terror attack at the airport was  “highly likely in the next 24-36 hours”. The US Embassy warned all citizens on Sunday to stay away from the airport because of a “specific, credible threat”. 

Follow the latest below

Biden goes to church

The president’s motorcade arrived at Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Georgetown, Washington DC ten minutes ago.

Elsewhere, tomorrow, the United States will host a virtual ministerial meeting  with key partners on Afghanistan,  including Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, Turkey, Qatar, the European Union, and NATO.  

The participants will discuss an aligned approach for the days and weeks ahead.

Later in the afternoon, Secretary of State Antony  Blinken will deliver remarks on the efforts since August 14 and discuss the way forward. 

The president arriving at church

Credit:
REUTERS/Al Drago

Update on US evacuations

The State Department has sent updated figures on US evacuation efforts.

It says: “Nearly 5,500 American citizens and likely more have been safely evacuated from Afghanistan since August 14.

“This includes an additional roughly 50 individuals in the last day.

“There remain up to approximately 250 Americans in Afghanistan who told us they are trying to leave the country.

One young Afghan girl arrived safely at Boryspil International Airport near Kiev, Ukraine

Credit:
PRESIDENTIAL PRESS SERVICE/HANDOUT HANDOUT/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock 

“Our team on the ground continues to coordinate assistance around the clock for this group, while taking the current security situation into account. Some may already be at HKIA or in the process of being guided there, and all have information on how to reach us.

“Additionally, we have been in regular contact with a group of roughly 280 individuals who have self-identified as Americans in Afghanistan but who remain undecided about whether to leave the country or who have told us they do not intend to depart.”

Tomorrow’s Telegraph

The front page (and inside) of tomorrow’s paper has everything you need to know about the latest developments in Afghanistan.

Reports from London, Washington and Kabul as we reveal that Afghan special forces personnel could become a new regiment of the Army akin to the Gurkhas, under proposals put forwards to ministers.

If you are able, please do buy a paper.

Television in Afghanistan

The Taliban promised a free press, but this remarkable video shared by the BBC’s Yalda Hakim shows a rather different reality.

Afghanistan TV – surreal

This is what a political debate now looks like on Afghan TV, Taliban foot soldiers watching over the host. The presenter talks about the collapse of the Ghani govt & says the Islamic Emirate says the Afghan people should not to be afraid #Afghanistan pic.twitter.com/oEverVgLOE

— Yalda Hakim (@BBCYaldaHakim) August 29, 2021

Murdered Marine was about to become a father

A 20-year-old US marine who was killed by a suicide bomber outside Kabul airport was newly married and due to become a father within weeks.

Lance Cpl Rylee McCollum, from Bondurant, Wyoming was one of 13 US service members killed last Thursday as IS-K carried out the deadliest attack on American troops for a decade.

Five of those murdered were just 20 years old and would have been born just before the September 11 attacks which triggered the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.

Today, the bodies of the 11 Marines, one Navy medic and one Army soldier were brought back to Dover Air Base in Delaware, where Joe Biden met families and said a prayer as the flag draped cases unloaded from the military cargo plane.

Read the full story here.

Lance Cpl Rylee McCollum, from Bondurant, Wyoming was one of 13 US service members killed last Thursday as IS-K carried out the deadliest attack on American troops for a decade

Credit:
USA Marine Corps  

British father to travel to Afghanistan to rescue family: ‘If it will save their lives, I will go’ 

A British citizen has told the Telegraph he plans to travel to Afghanistan alone in a desperate bid to rescue his wife, three children and frail mother who are stranded near Kabul airport.

His family has been approved to come to the UK as the two daughters and one boy, all under the age of 15, are British nationals.

But after two bomb explosions killed nearly a hundred Afghan citizens close to Kabul airport and outside the Baron Hotel, the family were forced to take shelter in the basement of a friend’s house, a 10-minute drive away from the blast site.

Bereft of any protection from an adult male and with their situation growing more perilous by the hour, the e-commerce trader from North London fears his family will be abducted by roaming Taliban fighters.

He told the Telegraph he is now determined to fly from London to Uzbekistan and travel 800km to rescue his 64-year-old mother, his two daughters aged 12 and nine and his 11-year-old son.

Read the full story here

Taliban reject Macron’s call for humanitarian ‘safe zone’ in Kabul

Henry Samuel reports: 

The Taliban appeared to reject Mr Macron’s call for the creation of a “safe zone” in Kabul for humanitarian reasons. Suhail Shaheen, spokesman for the Taliban’s politburo, said: “It’s not necessary. Afghanistan is an independent country. Can one create such a zone in France or the UK?,” he asked.

“Each Afghan will anyway after August 31 be able to travel abroad if he wants,” he told France Info.

Mr Macron on Sunday night insisted that discussions France is having with the Taliban over evacuations did not mean it recognised the group. 

That would only happen, he said, if it fulfilled three conditions: allowing those who qualify for asylum to leave, taking a “very clear line” against all terror movements, and respecting human rights “particularly respect for the dignity of Afghan women”.

US official says two suicide bombers were in car targeted by air strike, Fox News reports 

NEW: US official confirms 2 suicide bombers were in explosive laden vehicle targeted by US drone strike today. The vehicle targeted by the US drone was parked when the drone struck. Airstrike occurred about 3 km from the Kabul Airport. The drone flew out of UAE.

— Jennifer Griffin (@JenGriffinFNC) August 29, 2021

Macron rejects Taliban recognition 

President Emmanuel Macron on Sunday said discussions France is having with the Taliban over the evacuation of nationals and persons in danger from Afghanistan does not indicate recognition of the hardline Islamist group as the country’s new rulers.

“We have operations to carry out in Afghanistan – the evacuations. The Taliban are the ones in control… we have to have these discussions from a practical point of view. This does not mean there will be recognition. We have set conditions,” Macron told the evening news show of TF1 television during a visit to Iraq.

French President Emmanuel Macron, center, visits the landmark al-Nuri mosque, which was blown up in the battle with Islamic State group militants in 2017 and is being rebuilt, in Mosul, northern Iraq, Sunday, Aug. 29, 2021

Credit:
AP

Militant fire across Afghan border kills two Pakistani soldiers

Militant fire from across the border in Afghanistan killed two Pakistani soldiers on Sunday, the Pakistani army said, in the first such attack since the Taliban took over Kabul ten days ago.

The army said it retaliated and killed two or three attackers, a claim not verifiable because the tribal districts along the Afghan border are off limits to journalists and human rights organisations.

The incident in Pakistan’s Bajaur district is the first of its kind reported since the Taliban took over Kabul on August 15.

Bajaur is one of several lawless tribal regions along the Afghan border which have long sheltered militants, including an Islamist militant umbrella organisation called Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).

Afghan people wait to enter Pakistan through Chaman border

Credit:
Anadolu 

The TTP, which renewed an allegiance to the Afghan Taliban after the fall of Kabul, has recently stepped up its campaign against the Pakistani army.

The army did not say which group it thought was responsible for Sunday’s attack, but has long held that TTP leaders and fighters are sheltering in Afghanistan after fleeing the tribal districts during military operations targeting militants.

“As per intelligence reports, due to fire of Pakistan army troops, 2-3 terrorists got killed and 3-4 terrorists got injured,” the military said in a statement.

The statement condemned the “the use of Afghan soil by terrorists for activities against Pakistan and expects that existing and future set-up in Afghanistan will not allow such activities against Pakistan.”

Taliban’s ‘supreme leader’ is in Afghanistan 

The Taliban’s supreme leader Hibatullah Akhundzada – who has never made a public appearance and whose whereabouts have largely remained unknown – is in Afghanistan, the hardline Islamist group confirmed on Sunday.

“He is present in Kandahar. He has been living there from the very beginning,” said Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid.

“He will soon appear in public,” added deputy spokesman Bilal Karimi.

The so-called commander of the faithful, Akhundzada has shepherded the Taliban as its chief since 2016 when snatched from relative obscurity to oversee a movement in crisis.

Little is still known about Akhundzada’s day-to-day role, with his public profile largely limited to the release of annual messages during Islamic holidays.

He has yet to issue any kind of statement since the Taliban swept to power and took control of Afghanistan in mid-August.

US troops killed in Kabul return home 

President Joe Biden met in solemn privacy on Sunday with the families of the 13 US troops killed in the suicide attack near the Kabul airport and became the fourth commander in chief to bear witness as the remains of the fallen returned to US soil from Afghanistan. First lady Jill Biden joined the president at Dover Air Force Base to grieve with loved ones as the “dignified transfer” of remains unfolded, a military ritual for those killed in foreign combat.

The dead ranged in age from 20 to 31, and came from California and Massachusetts and states in between. They include a 20-year-old Marine from Wyoming who had been expecting his first child in three weeks and a 22-year-old Navy corpsman who in his last FaceTime conversation with his mother assured her that he would stay safe because “my guys got me.”

Five were just 20, born not long before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, that spurred the United States to invade Afghanistan in order to topple al-Qaida and dismantle their Taliban hosts who ruled the country.

Eleven of the 13 Americans killed were Marines. One was a Navy sailor and one an Army soldier.

US President Joe Biden pays respects to US soldiers killed in Kabul blast last week

Biden and his wife, Jill, both wearing black and with black face masks, first met far from the cameras with relatives of the dead

Credit:
SAUL LOEB / AFP

President Joe Biden watches as a Navy carry team moves a transfer case containing the remains of Navy Corpsman Maxton W. Soviak, 22, of Berlin Heights, Ohio

Credit:
Manuel Balce Ceneta 

President Joe Biden bows his head as first lady Jill Biden, right, and Secretary of State Antony Blinken, left, watch during a casualty return at Dover Air Force Base

Credit:
AP 

This is a moment of shame for ministers, says Labour

Britain’s withdrawal from Afghanistan is an “unparalleled moment of shame” for ministers who have been “completely unprepared”, Labour’s shadow foreign secretary has said.

“It really is an unparalleled moment of shame for this government, that we’ve allowed it to come to this,” Lisa Nandy told Sky News.

“It beggars belief that ministers have presided over such chaos,” she added. 

Meanwhile, Tory MP Tobias Ellwood, chair of the Commons defence committee, called it “humiliating” and predicted another terrorist attack would seed in Afghanistan as a result. He wants a full-scale official inquiry into how the withdrawal has taken place. 

Taliban promises to allow Afghans ‘safe passage’ to leave

The UK Government has received assurances from the Taliban that anybody wishing to leave Afghanistan after August 31 will be allowed to do so.

British troops have already left Kabul and US military personnel will be out of Afghanistan before the August 31 deadline set by US President Joe Biden.

But there have been fears over the potentially thousands of Afghans who may have been eligible for resettlement schemes, who could not make it to Kabul airport for evacuation or were not processed in time.

A joint statement with the US and more than 90 other countries on Sunday said: “We have received assurances from the Taliban that all foreign nationals and any Afghan citizen with travel authorisation from our countries will be allowed to proceed in a safe and orderly manner to points of departure and travel outside the country.”

Daily life ostensibly continues on Sunday after Taliban takeover of the Herat City, Afghanistan

Credit:
Mir Ahmad Firooz Mashoof/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Dozens of Afghan women trapped in Kabul, denied their university dream

By Nick Squires in Rome

A group of 81 Afghan women who won the right to study at a university in Italy are trapped in Kabul and unable to get out, Italian authorities say.

The women gained places at La Sapienza University in Rome over the last few months, but the fall of Kabul to the Taliban and the chaos surrounding evacuations from the city means they are not able to escape.

The students reportedly arrived at Kabul airport hoping to secure a flight with Italian forces – they were inscribed on a list drawn up by the Italian ministry of defence.

But shortly afterwards, Isis launched their devastating attack on the airport. Italy has now ended its evacuation flights.

The women were supposed to study a course in Global Humanities at La Sapienza. There are now efforts to get them out of Kabul on one of the last evacuation flights. Traveling with the women are nine children.

The Italian government has given assurances that they “absolutely will not abandon” the group, said Bruno Botta, the director of international affairs at La Sapienza.

We’ll keep carrying out airstrikes, US vows

US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan has vowed that America will continue to carry out strikes in Afghanistan, but stressed that US President Joe Biden “does not intend to start a new war in Afghanistan”.

“That being said, he also is going to talk to his commanders about whatever set of tools and capabilities they need to get the people who attacked our troops at the Kabul airport and to make sure that we are degrading and debilitating the group, Isis-K, that conducted this attack,” he told CBS. 

“So yes, we will continue to take the kinds of over-the-horizon [remote] strikes like we did over the weekend against the Isis-K facilitators and plotters. And yes, we will consider other operations to go after these guys, to get them and to take them off the battlefield.”

US President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden arrive at Dover Air Force Base in Dover, Delaware

Credit:
Tom Brenner/Reuters

Tory MP who served in Afghanistan condemns ‘shameful’ exit

A Conservative MP who served in Afghanistan has called the situation in the country and the Government’s handling of the withdrawal of troops a “catastrophe”.

Johnny Mercer, MP for Plymouth Moor View and a former British Army officer, wrote in the Sunday Times that the exit from the country was “shameful”.

Mr Mercer said: “My rage is only quelled by tears, which inevitably give way to rage again. And so it goes on, day after day.

“The tears are for what has been lost: friends, fathers, bodies and minds. The rage is towards our leaders – that kind of generation-defining rage from which I hope defining change comes.”

He agreed that deploying troops to fight the Taliban would not have been the correct choice, but added: “But this self-inflicted hell? Other options were available. It’s unforgivable.”

‘Imminent threat’ struck by US on way to Kabul airport

Here are some more details on the US drone strike in Kabul this afternoon targeting a suspected suicide bomber. 

Captain Bill Urban, spokesman for the US Central Command, said: “US Military forces conducted a self-defence unmanned over the horizon airstrike today on a vehicle in Kabul, eliminating an imminent ISIS-K threat to Hamad Karzai International Airport.

“We are confident we successfully hit the target. Significant secondary explosions from the vehicle indicated the presence of a substantial amount of explosive material.

“We are assessing the possibilities of civilian casualties, though we have no indications at this time. We remain vigilant for potential future threats.”

The damage caused at the scene of a strike near Kabul airport on Sunday

Credit:
 STRINGER/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

US airstrike ‘hits suicide bomber targeting airport’

American forces launched a military strike in Kabul on Sunday targeting a possible suicide car bomb that was aiming to attack the airport, US officials said.

The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the strike targeted suspected Isis-K militants. They said they were citing initial information and cautioned it could change. The Associated Press quoted officials as saying there were “multiple suicide bombers” in the car. 

The Taliban also said that a US airstrike targeted a suicide bomber in a vehicle Sunday who wanted to attack the Kabul international airport amid the American military’s evacuation there.

300 US citizens left to be evacuated from Afghanistan

Only 300 American citizens still in Afghanistan are seeking to leave the country, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Sunday, just days ahead of the US deadline for evacuations.

“We have about 300 American citizens left, who have indicated to us that they want to leave. We are very actively working to help them get to the airport, get on a plane and get out of Afghanistan,” he told ABC.

Nearly 5,500 Americans have been evacuated as part of a mammoth operation that has flown more than 114,000 people from the country since the Taliban takeover.

Some Americans, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told Fox News Sunday, had chosen to stay beyond the August 31 deadline set to complete the evacuation, but he said “they are not going to be stuck in Afghanistan.”

The US has “a mechanism to get them out,” Sullivan added, without elaborating.

In pictures: Final British troops arrive back from Afghanistan

UK military personnel and working dogs departing from a RAF C-17 aircraft from Kabul at RAF Brize Norton, Oxfordshire, on Sunday morning

Credit:
SAC Samantha Holden RAF/MoD/PA Wire

RAF C-17A Globemaster III heavy-lift aircraft, flown by 99 Squadron, lands at RAF Brize Norton from Kabul earlier

Credit:
Cpl ‘Matty’ Matthews/Handout via REUTERS

Military personnel arrive at RAF Brize Norton base after being evacuated from Afghanistan

Credit:
SAC Samantha Holden RAF/Handout via REUTERS

‘We’ll judge Taliban on actions not words’

The Taliban faces continued lack of legitimacy on the world stage and asset freezes if it does not allow people to leave the country, Boris Johnson has said. 

The UK Prime Minister vowed to “engage with the Taliban not on the basis of what they say but what they do”, alongside allies in the US and Europe. 

He said in a video message: “And though we would not have wished to leave in this way, we have to recognise that we came in with the United States, in defence and support of the US and the US military did the overwhelming bulk of the fighting.

“Though we now leave with the United States, we will remain represented in the region.”

He added: “If the new regime in Kabul wants diplomatic recognition, or to unlock the billions that are currently frozen, they will have to ensure safe passage for those who wish to leave the country, to respect the rights of women and girls, to prevent Afghanistan from, again, becoming an incubator for global terror, because that would be disastrous for Afghanistan.”

US air strike targeted suicide bomber 

A US air strike has targeted a suicide bomber in a vehicle who wanted to strike Kabul airport, according to a Taliban spokesman.

US carried out military strike in Kabul, officials say

The United States carried out a military strike on Sunday in Kabul, two US officials have told Reuters news agency.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the strike targeted suspected ISIS-K militants. They said they were citing initial information and cautioned it could change. 

The rocket killed a child and struck Kabul’s Khuwja Bughra neighborhood, said Rashid, the Kabul police chief who goes by one name. 

It comes after dozens of Afghans and 13 US troops were killed in another blast last week by the Islamic State group, which prompted Pentagon officials to kill two members of the splinter group in Afghanistan known as IS-Khorasan (IS-K) in a retaliatory strike. 

Jake Sullivan, the US national security adviser, said both targets were planning additional attacks after the suicide bombing at Kabul’s airport that left more than 150 people dead, including 13 US service members.

“These are individuals who are planning additional attacks,” Mr Sullivan said on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday.

“And we believe that by taking them out, we have disrupted those attacks to the individuals involved in the facilitation and planning and production of explosive devices.”

Map: Where the new Kabul blast has hit

Rocket ‘kills child’ near Kabul airport after explosion heard

A rocket has killed a child after a loud explosion was heard near Kabul airport, an Afghanistan official is quoted as saying.

The weapon hit a neighborhood northwest of Kabul international airport amid the final days of the US evacuation, the AP news agency reports an Afghan police chief as having confirmed.

US attack on IS leaders raises questions about US drones

The use of a top-secret “ninja bomb” to kill two Islamic State (IS) leaders accused of planning last week’s Kabul airport suicide attack has raised fresh questions over the US drone weapons programme, Roland Oliphant reports.

Pentagon officials said that two members of the splinter group in Afghanistan known as IS-Khorasan (IS-K) were killed and another injured by a retaliatory drone strike following the group’s deadly bombing of Kabul airport.

The targets, who have not been identified, were reportedly killed by an R9X Hellfire missile, which kills its targets by deploying a fan of sword-length blades instead of using an explosive warhead.

The US military has made almost no public statements about the R9X. Defence analysts believe it was developed after former President Barack Obama asked military chiefs to find a way of minimising the risk of collateral damage during targeted drone strikes.

From the outside, the missile is indistinguishable from a normal Hellfire, the laser-guided air-to-surface missile favoured by the US for precision drone strikes against “high value targets”.

Inside, the eight-kilogramme high explosive warhead has been replaced by six razor-sharp blades that spring out on impact, slicing open cars like a tin opener and skewering anyone unfortunate enough to be sitting inside.

Kabul blast reports claim rocket may have hit a house

The AFP news agency said a “loud blast” was heard in the capital by its journalists. 

A security official from the recently deposed government told AFP it was a rocket that “initial information shows hit a house”.

Two witnesses told Reuters news agency the blast appeared to have been caused by a rocket that hit a house in an area to the northern side of the airport but there was no immediate confirmation, nor of any casualties. 

We will bring you more information as we get it.

Blast heard near Kabul airport

There have been reports of an explosion near Kabul airport in Afghanistan.

Photos and videos on social media show large plumes of smoke rising from the site at around 1.30pm UK time.

The cause of the blast and any further details have not been confirmed yet.

US President Joe Biden warned on Saturday that a second attack at the airport was  “highly likely in the next 24-36 hours”, with the US Embassy warning all citizens on Sunday to stay away from the airport because of a “specific, credible threat”. 

An Islamic State suicide bombing just outside the capital’s airport on Thursday killed dozens of Afghans and 13 American troops.

US troops killed in Kabul airport blast travel home

US President Joe Biden is heading to Dover Air Force Base to honour members of the US military killed in a suicide bomb attack during the evacuation of civilians from Kabul airport last week.

An Islamic State suicide bombing just outside Kabul airport on Thursday killed scores of Afghans and 13 American troops.

Biden was expected to receive the service members’ remains that were being flown back to the United States. Families of those troops were also expected to be present.

Thursday’s attack, which was claimed by ISIS-K, the Afghan affiliate of Islamic State, was the most lethal incident for US service members in Afghanistan in a decade.

US President Joe Biden boards Air Force One prior to departure from Joint Base Andrews in Maryland earlier

Credit:
SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images

A flag flies at half staff at the Mt. Soledad National War Memorial to honour those killed in the Kabul blast

Credit:
Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images

Educators call on Taliban not to overhaul classes

Former officials and lecturers at Afghanistan universities have called on the Taliban to maintain and upgrade the country’s education system instead of creating a new one.

Abas Basir, former minister of higher education, said on Sunday at a conference on higher education held by the Taliban that starting over is a mistake made by previous governments.

“Lets not reject everything, starting a new system, we should work more on what we already have,” he said.

But Abdul Baqi Haqqani, Taliban caretaker higher education minister, criticised the current education system founded by the international community, saying that religious education was considered insignificant.

“[The] world tried to take religion out of scientific education which harmed the people,” Haqqani said. He added that “every item against Islam in the educational system will be removed.”

The Taliban policy on women’s education was not clear.

UK and France to propose Kabul safe zone to UN

France and Britain will appeal to an emergency United Nations meeting for a safe zone in Kabul to try and protect people trying to leave Afghanistan, French President Emmanuel Macron said on Sunday.

“Our resolution proposal aims to define a safe zone in Kabul, under U.N. control, which would allow humanitarian operations to continue,” Macron told French newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche.

On a visit to Mosul in Iraq, Macron later confirmed the comments and said he was hopeful the resolution would be welcomed favourably.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is convening a meeting on Afghanistan with the UN envoys for Britain, France, the United States, China and Russia – the Security Council’s permanent, veto-wielding members.

In pictures: The latest scenes in Kabul

Taliban fighters patrol along a street in Kabul on Sunday

Credit:
 AAMIR QURESHI/AFP via Getty Images

A Taliban Fateh fighter, a ‘special forces’ unit, stands guard along a street in Kabul

Credit:
AAMIR QURESHI/AFP via Getty Images

Taliban fighters are out in large numbers patrolling streets in Kabul as the West’s military drawdown continues

Credit:
AAMIR QURESHI/AFP via Getty Images

Money running out for Taliban as the West freezes assets

Afghanistan’s new rulers have inherited a mountain of problems that may quickly take the sheen off their victory – chief among them an urgent need for cash.

But as the Taliban prepares to govern for the second time, experts have warned that it will not compromise on its hardline Islamist values to secure crucial aid from the West.

Afghanistan experts believe that many of the advances in Afghanistan made in the last 20 years – such as women returning to schools and universities – will not be preserved, despite claims by some British officials that the group has changed.

Either way, they are showing signs of mixing their hardline Islamism with pragmatism, despite the West trying to leverage aid donations amid warnings of a food crisis.  

Senior figures reject suggestion Taliban have changed

The Taliban is unlikely to have changed since it was last in power in Afghanistan 20 years ago, the UK’s former ambassador and a former head of the British Army have said.

The group, which seized Kabul a fortnight ago, has been at pains to stress that its attitudes towards issues such as women being allowed to go to work and violence had shifted.

Speaking to Times Radio, Sir Nicholas Kay, who was the ambassador to Afghanistan from 2017 to 2019, said the UK does not need to trust the Taliban.

“I don’t think they’ve changed,” he said. “What we have seen is that they are more aware of what they should be saying, and maybe that will translate into being able to actually do some of the things that they’re saying.”

But he added: “We do need to engage with them, we don’t need to trust them, we need to test them.”

Earlier, General Lord Richard Dannatt, who was chief of the general staff from 2006 to 2009, told the radio station said he was “not optimistic that we’re going to see a very different Taliban”.

Watch: Highlights from Boris Johnson’s latest statement on Afghanistan

Placeholder image for youtube video: kFBCUWM1rdY

Macron vows to stay in Iraq no matter what Americans decide

French President Emmanuel Macron has visited the Islamic State jihadist group’s former Iraqi stronghold Mosul, a day after vowing to keep troops in the country.

In a speech at the destroyed city’s Church of Our Lady of the Hour, which Unesco officials are working to restore, Macron urged Iraq’s religious communities to “work together” to rebuild the country.

“We will bring back a [French] consulate and schools,” he pledged, while criticising the pace of reconstruction in Mosul, where IS fought its last urban battle, as “too slow”.

Macron spoke during a regional summit in Baghdad largely focused on the impact of the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan as the US withdraws.

“No matter what choices the Americans make, we will maintain our presence in Iraq to fight against terrorism,” he vowed.

We’ll protect the gains of the last 20 years, vows UK’s ambassador

Britain’s ambassador to Afghanistan has vowed to reopen the UK’s embassy in the country “as soon as we can”, as he expressed solidarity with the Afghan people going forwards.

Sir Laurie Bristow, who touched down at RAF Brize Norton on Sunday morning on one of the final evacuation flights from Kabul, said: “We’ll do everything we can to protect the gains of the last 20 years and above all to help the Afghan people achieve the peace and security that they deserve.”

In a video posted to Twitter, he hailed the “extraordinary, intense effort” of the airlift and said the UK would be “putting pressure” on the Taliban to allow safe passage for people to leave the country. 

“We’ve had to leave Afghanistan for now and the embassy will operate from Qatar for the time being,” he said.

“But we’ll continue to stand by the people of Afghanistan, working on humanitarian, diplomatic and security work and above all bringing to the UK Afghans and British nationals who still need our support.”

What are the headlines this morning?

Good morning. If you’re just joining us, here’s a summary of the latest Afghanistan developments: 

  • Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said the UK departure from Afghanistan was “the culmination of a mission unlike anything we’ve seen in our lifetimes”, as the final evacuation plane left Kabul
  • Britain’s ambassador to Afghanistan, Sir Laurie Bristow, was on one of the last airlift flights to land with troops at RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire on Sunday morning
  • US forces are in the final phase of their evacuation from Kabul ahead of the August 31 deadline, and just over 1,000 civilians inside the airport remain to be flown out before troops are withdrawn
  • The Taliban have said they are ready to take over Kabul airport as soon as US forces leave and are preparing to form a government
  • US President Joe Biden has warned that an another attack at Kabul airport is “highly likely in the next 24-36 hours”
  • A new security alert from the US Embassy on Sunday morning said due to a “specific, credible threat” all US citizens should avoid certain gates at the airport and avoid travelling to the area
  • A former head of the British Army has said it was “unfathomable why it would appear that the Government was asleep on watch” in relation to the protection of Afghans who helped soldiers and officials.

Taliban ready to take over Kabul airport

Taliban technicians and engineers have said they are ready to take over Kabul airport as soon as US forces leave. 

“We are waiting for the final nod from the Americans to secure full control over Kabul airport as both sides aim for a swift handover,” a Taliban official told Reuters news agency, adding this would come “very soon”.

The Taliban have also said they hope to announce a government for the country within a few days, however Western governments say they will not give the group international recognition unless they allow people to leave.

Spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid admitted that the group’s takeover of Kabul was “sudden” and “unanticipated” and spoke of “minor obstacles” in forming an administration.

He said the group had appointed governors and police chiefs in all but one of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces.

Mujahid  also said there had been an exchange of messages with the anti-Taliban pocket of resistance in the Panjshir Valley, north of Kabul, and that the Taliban hoped their differences would be settled through talks.

Biden ‘holds grudges and will punish Britain for Afghan criticism’

Joe Biden “will remember” comments about his mental acuity emanating from senior figures in the UK, and will “bear a grudge” against Britain, sources told the Telegraph.

It came after Cabinet insiders were quoted as suggesting the US president “looked gaga” and described him as “doolally” in the wake of the fall of Kabul.

“The Brits have their view. But they should be careful. What’s been said is offensive and he will remember it. He actually has a long memory,” a US source told the Telegraph.

“It’s always been his way that if somebody says something really bad to him, or about him, he doesn’t speak to them again. He does bear grudges. Boris Johnson should know that.”

‘Model’ US marine victim of Kabul blast told friends how she loved her job

A female US marine posted “I love my job” on social media days before she died in the Kabul airport suicide bombing along with 12 young colleagues.

Sgt Nicole Gee, 23, a maintenance technician, was described as a “model marine” by distraught friends.

A week before the attack, she shared a photograph of herself, in uniform, and armed, cradling a baby in the process of evacuating Afghan civilians.

The caption said: “Kabul, Afghanistan. I love my job.”

In pictures: Final troops land back in UK from Afghanistan

Members of the British armed forces 16 Air Assault Brigade depart a flight from Afghanistan at RAF Brize Norton, Oxfordshire, on Sunday morning

Credit:
Jonathan Brady/PA Wire

Troops arrived back in the UK on the final evacuation flights from Kabul on Sunday

Credit:
Jonathan Brady/PA Wire

Vice-Admiral Ben Key, Chief of Joint Operations, who commands Operation Pitting (left) and Air Mobility Force Commander to Air Commodore David Manning, at RAF Brize Norton earlier

Credit:
Jonathan Brady/PA Wire

Delay in acting was ‘unfathomable’, says former Army chief

A former head of the British Army has said it was “unfathomable why it would appear that the Government was asleep on watch” in relation to the protection of Afghans who helped soldiers and officials.

Speaking on Times Radio, General Lord Richard Dannatt said: “On the particular issue of those who we knew were in danger, people who had worked for us, interpreters, former locally-engaged civilians, this issue has been in the media.

“This issue has been on politicians’ desks for two to three years and, certainly, it’s been there during the course of this year.”

He pointed out that in July, 45 senior officers wrote an open letter to the Government warning of complacency.

“I think the issue of Afghanistan sat on the backburner… We should have done better, we could have done better. It absolutely behoves us to find out why the Government didn’t spark up faster.”

Watch: Last British troops leave Afghanistan after 20 years

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Deportations from West to Afghanistan before Taliban takeover ‘shameful’

Western nations behaved “shamefully” by deporting people to Afghanistan before leaving the nation to the Taliban, an advocate for Afghan refugees has said.

Abdul Ghafoor, the director of the Afghanistan Migrants Advice and Support Organisation (Amaso), said some nations were trying to deport Afghans back to the nation even until the day Kabul fell.

“I have been advocating against the deportation to Afghanistan for the past six years… my fear was what we are witnessing today,” the 35-year-old told the PA news agency.

“It’s shameful to see that some of the countries were insisting (on deportations) until the last day – until Kabul had collapsed.”

Home Office statistics released this week show a total of 6,033 Afghan nationals had enforced returns from the UK since 2010 – but only 10 have happened in the most recent 12 months.

‘We tried our best to get everyone out’

The man in charge of Britain’s evacuation mission from Afghanistan has hailed the “phenomenal effort achieved in the last two weeks” but added: “I think we always knew that somewhere we would fall just short.”

“So, this isn’t a moment of celebration for us at all, this is a moment to mark a tremendous international effort to evacuate as many people as we could in the time available,” Vice-Admiral Ben Key, Chief of Joint Operations, told reporters on Sunday morning as the last planes from Kabul touched down.

“That sense of sadness that we haven’t done all we would have wished.”

On the evacuation effort, he said: “Of course we would have liked (more time) because then we could have brought more people out. It would have allowed us to pull in those people who we know were still trying to get across from the city to the airport.

“But the truth is no more time was granted to us by the Taliban.”

He added: “The effort has been, frankly, truly humbling to see hours worked with exhaustion painted on people’s faces, so we tried our best, we have absolutely tried our best.”

Premature to say Afghan airlift was successful, says mission chief

Vice-Admiral Ben Key, Chief of Joint Operations, who commands Operation Pitting, has said he “would be very nervous” in saying the UK had completed a successful withdrawal from Afghanistan “until all our allies and partners have returned”.

Speaking from RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire, he said: “The United States has provided the framework for security in Kabul as part of a huge international effort and so operations continue even if the UK’s particular contribution concludes today.”

Asked about how not everyone eligible for evacuation from Kabul could be rescued, he said: “That is both true and a matter of great sadness for all of us that have been involved in this.

“Whilst we recognise and I pay testament to the achievement of everything that has been achieved by coalition forces, but particularly the British contingent, over the last two weeks, in the end we know that there are some really sad stories of people who have desperately tried to leave that we have – no matter how hard our efforts – we have been unsuccessful in evacuating.”

Vice-Admiral Ben Key, Chief of Joint Operations, who commands Operation Pitting, speaks to the media at RAF Brize Norton, Oxfordshire, on Sunday

Credit:
Jonathan Brady/PA Wire

UK ambassador to Afghanistan has been evacuated

Ambassador to Afghanistan Sir Laurie Bristow arrived on one of the last flights carrying UK military and civilian personnel on their final homeward leg back from Afghanistan.

A Voyager aircraft touched down at RAF Brize Norton airfield in Oxfordshire on Sunday morning.

Roughly 250 personnel were on board, including members of 16 Air Assault Brigade who were stationed at Kabul airport.

The plane flew in from Al Minhad airfield in the United Arab Emirates near Dubai where the UK’s evacuation flights from Afghanistan first landed.

Further flights carrying personnel are expected later on Sunday.

Ambassador to Afghanistan Sir Laurie Bristow exits a plane on Sunday morning after being evacuated from Kabul upon its arrival at RAF Brize Norton base in Oxfordshire

Credit:
Jonathan Brady/PA Wire

Ambassador to Afghanistan Sir Laurie Bristow (left) is greeted by Sir Philip Barton, Permanent Under-Secretary of the Foreign Office, as he exits a plane after being evacuated from Kabul

Credit:
Jonathan Brady/PA Wire

Your sacrifice was not in vain, PM tells British troops

Boris Johnson has told British troops and their families that “your suffering and your hardship were not in vain”, thanking them for having “gave their all”.

In a video statement on Sunday morning, the Prime Minister said: “It was no accident that there’s been no terrorist attack launched against Britain or any other western country from Afghanistan in the last 20 years.

“It was thanks to the bravery of our Armed Forces who fought to knock out (Osama) Bin Laden’s networks.

“And, thanks to the devotion of British troops and aid workers and diplomats and others, we’ve helped educate 3.6 million girls.

“Whatever the future may hold for Afghanistan, they will have that gift for the rest of their lives, a gift they will pass on to their daughters as well as their sons.”

US issues warning to avoid Kabul airport

The US Embassy issued a new warning early on Sunday for all Americans to avoid Kabul’s airport area entirely.

President Joe Biden warned on Saturday that commanders had told him another attack was “highly likely in the next 24-36 hours”.

Taliban forces sealed off the airport on Saturday to most Afghans hoping for evacuation, as the US and its allies were ending a chaotic airlift that will end their troops’ two decades in Afghanistan.

Western leaders acknowledged their withdrawal would mean leaving behind some of their citizens and many locals who helped them over the years, and they vowed to try to continue working with the Taliban to allow local allies to leave.

Although most of its allies had finished their evacuation flights, the US planned to keep its round-the-clock flights going until Mr Biden’s Tuesday deadline.

Britain ended its evacuation flights on Saturday, though Prime Minister Boris Johnson promised to “shift heaven and earth” to get more of those at risk from the Taliban to Britain by other means.

PM praises troops and officials for work done in ‘harrowing conditions’

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the UK departure from Afghanistan was “the culmination of a mission unlike anything we’ve seen in our lifetimes”.

In a video clip uploaded to Twitter on Sunday morning, Mr Johnson said: “UK troops and officials have worked around the clock to a remorseless deadline in harrowing conditions.

“They have expended all the patience and care and thought they possess to help people in fear for their lives.

“They’ve seen at first-hand barbaric terrorist attacks on the queues of people they were trying to comfort, as well as on our American friends.

“They didn’t flinch. They kept calm. They got on with the job.

“It’s thanks to their colossal exertions that this country has now processed, checked, vetted and airlifted more than 15,000 people to safety in less than two weeks.”

Injured infant trapped in Kabul in critical condition

The infant grandson of a London minicab driver killed in the Kabul airport blast is trapped in the city in a critical condition in hospital.

Muhammad Raza, aged just 23 months, suffered life-threatening injuries while his grandfather, 49-year-old Sultan Muhammed Rez, was killed by the suicide bomb.

His desperate mother, Basbibi, 19, had already made it into the airport and was prevented by soldiers from rushing back to care for her child.

On Saturday night, back home in London, she begged the UK Government to rescue Muhammad, but an MOD official reportedly said he was too unwell to fly.

Read more: London shopkeeper and two British cab drivers among dead in Kabul blast

The front page of today’s Sunday Telegraph

Taliban ready to take charge of airport

A Taliban official told Reuters on Sunday the Islamist group was prepared to take charge of the airport.

“We are waiting for the final nod from the Americans to secure full control over Kabul airport as both sides aim for a swift handover,” the official said on condition of anonymity.

The Taliban’s engineers and technicians were ready to take control, the Taliban official added.

Marines assigned to the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit process evacuees at Hamid Karzai International Airport on Saturday

Credit:
US Marine Corps

US forces in final phase of their evacuation

US forces are in the final phase of their evacuation from Kabul and just over 1,000 civilians inside the airport remain to be flown out before troops are withdrawn, a Western security official in the Afghan capital said on Sunday.

The official, who asked not to be identified, told Reuters a date and time for the end of the operation was yet to be decided. US President Joe Biden has said he will stick by his Tuesday deadline to withdraw all troops from Afghanistan.

“We want to ensure that every foreign civilian and those who are at risk are evacuated today. Forces will start flying out once this process is over,” said the official, who is stationed at Kabul airport.

A US official told Reuters on Saturday there were fewer than 4,000 troops left at the airport, down from 5,800 at the peak of the evacuation mission. Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby told reporters some troops had been withdrawn but declined to say how many service members remained.

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US warns of ‘specific, credible threat’ near Kabul airport

US forces are taking every precaution at the airport as there are concerns that IS could strike again.

A new security alert from the US Embassy on Sunday morning said due to a “specific, credible threat” all US citizens should avoid certain gates at the airport and avoid travelling to the area.

In his statement earlier, Mr Biden said a drone strike he ordered that killed what military officials described as two “high-profile” IS militants believed to have been involved in planning or facilitating attacks would not be his “last” response to Thursday’s suicide attack.

Read more: Further terror attacks on Kabul Airport ‘highly likely’ in next 24-36 hours, warns Biden

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