NEW YORK – CIA director William J. Burns held a “secret meeting” with Taliban key leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar in Kabul on Monday amid pressure from the group on foreign forces to complete withdrawal by August 31, claimed international media.
This is the first high-level contact between the Taliban and the US since the former’s swift return to power in Afghanistan amid the drawdown of US-led foreign troops.
The development also came as Taliban Spokesperson Suhail Shaheen on Monday warned that there would be “consequences” if the United States and its allies extend the presence of troops in Afghanistan beyond Aug 31, as the chaos continued to overwhelm Kabul airport.
The CIA has not shared details about the meeting but it is most likely that matters related to evacuation of foreign nationals, who are stranded in Kabul after the Taliban takeover, had been discussed.
Biden administration is under pressure from its allies as they are pressing it to extend the stay of US forces beyond August 31, a deadline for withdrawal of troops, to ensure the safe evacuation of their citizens and soldiers.
Taliban spokesperson Dr Suhail Shaheen in an interview to international media said: “It’s a red line. President Biden announced that on 31 August they would withdraw all their military forces. So if they extend it that means they are extending occupation while there is no need for that.”
He added: “If the US or UK were to seek additional time to continue evacuations – the answer is no. Or there would be consequences. It will create mistrust between us. If they are intent on continuing the occupation it will provoke a reaction.”
US Department of Defence press secretary John Kirby commenting on Shaheen’s remarks said: “We have seen the public statements by the Taliban spokesman about their views on 31 August, I think we all understand that view.”
He added: “The goal is to get as many people out as fast as possible, and while we’re glad to see the numbers that we got yesterday, we’re not going to rest on any laurels.
“The focus is on trying to do this as best we can by the end of the month and as the Secretary [of Defence] said, if there needs – if we need, if he needs – to have additional conversations with the Commander in Chief about that timeline, he’ll do that but we’re just not at that point right now.”
Thousands of people scrambling to leave Afghanistan amid fears of persecution after the Taliban took control of the country after a two-decade-long war, ensued after the US invaded the country following the 9/11 attacks.
The Taliban, however, assured people that they have forgiven everyone and will not seek revenge, besides vowing to ensure women’s rights with the jurisdiction of Islamic law.