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  07 Sep 2021, 13:43

Blinken in Doha for Afghan crisis talks with Qatar

 DOHA, Sept 7, 2021 (BSS/AFP) - US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met

with Qatar's emir in Doha on Monday for crisis talks on Afghanistan after the
Taliban claimed to have full control over the country.

  Blinken, accompanied by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, is the most senior
US official to visit the region since the Taliban's lightning takeover of
Afghanistan on August 15.

  In his meeting with Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, Blinken thanked
the Gulf state ruler for "Qatar's extraordinary support in facilitating the
safe transit of US citizens, our partners, and other Afghans at-risk" during
the United States' chaotic military pullout from Afghanistan.

  They also "discussed other important bilateral issues", according to a
brief State Department statement.

  The top diplomat was not due to meet any of the Taliban's Doha
representatives, but State Department official Dean Thompson said Washington
would continue to engage with the Islamist group "to ensure our messaging
with them is clear".

  Qatar, which hosts a major US airbase, has been the gateway for 55,000
people airlifted out of Afghanistan, nearly half the total number evacuated
by US-led forces after the Taliban's takeover.

  Before his arrival, Blinken said that in Qatar he would "express our deep
gratitude for all that they're doing to support the evacuation effort," and
meet rescued Afghans.

  He will also meet US diplomats, after Washington relocated its embassy in
Kabul to Doha, along with a number of allies including Britain and the
Netherlands.

  The State Department said Blinken would discuss with Qatar its efforts,
alongside Turkey, to reopen Kabul's airport -- essential to fly in badly
needed humanitarian aid and to evacuate remaining Afghans.

  Qatar invited the Taliban to open a political office in Doha in 2013,
subsequently hosting talks between Washington and the Taliban that concluded
in 2020 with a troop withdrawal agreement. It was followed by direct
negotiations between the former insurgents and the Afghan government.

  - Retribution fears -

  The Taliban on Monday claimed total control over Afghanistan, saying they
had won the key battle for the Panjshir Valley, the last remaining holdout of
resistance against their rule.

  The group is yet to finalise its new regime after rolling into the capital
Kabul three weeks ago at a speed that analysts say likely surprised even the
hardline Islamists themselves.

  After Doha, Blinken will head Wednesday to the US air base at Ramstein in
Germany, a temporary home for thousands of Afghans moving to the United
States.

  US officials say some Americans may have left Afghanistan since the United
States ended its 20-year war at the end of August, but they would have done
so by private means.

  Shortly before Blinken landed in Qatar, an official disclosed that four
Americans had left Afghanistan with Taliban knowledge, in the first
departures arranged by Washington since its withdrawal.

  The four US citizens left by land and were greeted by US diplomats, said
the senior official, without specifying to which country they crossed, adding
that "the Taliban did not impede them".

  Washington is closely watching whether the Taliban makes good on promises
to let US citizens and allies depart as it decides how to deal with the
Islamists.

  US officials say just over 100 Americans, mostly dual nationals, remain in
Afghanistan after the massive airlift of tens of thousands of people in the
last days of America's longest war.

  President Joe Biden's Republican rivals have been quick to accuse him of
abandoning Americans.

  But tens of thousands of interpreters or others who supported the US
mission and their family members are believed to remain, with many fearing
retribution despite Taliban assurances.

  With the Kabul airport in disarray, land routes are the key way out of
Afghanistan, primarily though Pakistan or Iran, which does not have
diplomatic relations with Washington.

  While at Ramstein, Blinken will hold a virtual 20-nation ministerial
meeting on the crisis alongside German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas.

 

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