Food agency warns of hunger in Afghan conflict

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Food agency warns of hunger in Afghan conflict

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — UNITED NATIONS — The head of the U.N. food agency in Afghanistan says a humanitarian crisis is unfolding with 14 million people facing severe hunger following the Taliban takeover of the country.

Mary Ellen McGroarty, the World Food Program’s country director, said in a video briefing to U.N. correspondents from Kabul on Wednesday that the conflict in Afghanistan, the nation’s second severe drought in three years, and the social and economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic have pushed an already dire situation into a “catastrophe.”

McGroarty said over 40% of crops have been lost and livestock devastated by the drought, hundreds of thousands of people were displaced as the Taliban advanced, and winter is fast approaching. “Really the race is on to get food where it’s most needed,” she said.

WFP reached 4 million people in May and plans to scale up to reach 9 million “over the next couple of months, but there are many, many challenges,” she said.

McGroarty called for a halt to the conflict and urged donors to provide the $200 million needed to get food into the country so it can get to communities before winter sets in and roads are blocked.

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MORE ON THE CRISIS IN AFGHANISTAN:

— Taliban violently disperse rare protest days after takeover

— Mullah’s rise charts Taliban’s long road back to power

— Taliban allowing ‘safe passage’ from Kabul in US airlift

— In Taliban’s 7-day march to power, a stunning string of wins

— US agencies scrub websites to protect Afghans left behind

— Find more AP coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/afghanistan

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

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UNITED NATIONS — The United Nations says it’s sending about a third of its 300 international staff in Afghanistan to Kazakhstan to work remotely on a temporary basis in light of “the volatile situation in the country.”

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric announced on Wednesday that about 100 U.N. personnel were traveling from Kabul to Almaty, Kazakhstan’s largest city, to work in a temporary satellite office.

He said the majority of the U.N.’s humanitarian staff “remain in Afghanistan, providing vital assistance to millions most in need.”

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told the U.N. Security Council on Monday following the Taliban takeover of the country that the U.N. is committed to staying in Afghanistan and helping millions of people, but he also said the 193-member world organization will adapt to the security situation.

“This is a temporary measure intended to enable the U.N. to keep delivering assistance to the people of Afghanistan with the minimum of disruption while at the same time reducing risk to U.N. personnel,” Dujarric said. “Personnel will return to Afghanistan as conditions permit.”

In addition to the international staff, the U.N. and its agencies have about 3,000 Afghan employees.

Dujarric said “a significant amount of work is being undertaken, as we speak, specifically to safeguard national staff.”

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WASHINGTON — U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin says the U.S. military doesn’t have the capacity at this point to extend security forces beyond the perimeter of the Kabul airport in order to get more civilians safely evacuated out of Afghanistan.

Afghans and aid organizations have said that citizens are having a hard time getting past the Taliban and into the airport, in a mass exodus triggered by the insurgents’ rapid takeover of the country and its capital on Sunday.

Austin told reporters at a Pentagon press conference on Wednesday that the U.S. is working to get as many people through the evacuation process and out of the country as quickly as possible, but “we’re not close to where we want to be.”

The Pentagon says that about 5,000 civilians have been taken out of Afghanistan so far, but officials have said they want to get to a goal of getting a maximum of 5,000 to 9,000 people out a day.

Austin said that securing the airport is the paramount mission right now and he doesn’t want to do anything to detract from that. He said the U.S. military doesn’t have the capability to go out and collect large numbers of citizens and get them to the airport.

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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Afghan President Ashraf Ghani defended his decision to flee Kabul in the face of the Taliban advance, describing it as the only way to prevent bloodshed. He also denied claims by his country’s ambassador to Tajikistan that he had stolen millions of dollars from state funds.

Ghani posted a video on his Facebok page late on Wednesday, confirming that he was in the United Arab Emirates. He thanked Afghan security forces in his message, but also said that the “failure of the peace process” led to the Taliban snatching power.

He also indirectly tried to quash an accusation by Afghanistan’s ambassador to Tajikistan that he had stolen $169 million from state funds.

He claimed that he was “forced to leave Afghanistan with one set of traditional clothes, a vest and the sandals I was wearing.”

“Accusations were charged in these days that money was transferred, these accusations are fully baseless.” he said.

Ghani left Afghanistan on Sunday just as the Taliban approached Kabul.

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ANKARA, Turkey — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says he welcomes the Taliban’s recent moderate statements and is willing to meet with Taliban leaders for the good of the Afghan people and Turkey’s interests.

Erdogan also told Kanal 7 television on Wednesday that Turkey was determined to stand by Afghanistan, regardless of who is in charge of the country.

“Our relevant institutions have been in contact with the Taliban for a while. We have previously stated that we can host the Taliban leaders. We maintain this stance,” Erdogan said. “We are ready for any kind of cooperation for the peace of the Afghan people, the well-being of our ethnic Turkic brothers in the country and to protect our interests.”

The Turkish leader described the Taliban’s approach toward majority-Muslim Turkey as being “careful” and “very sensitive.”

“I hope that the same sensitivity will continue from now on,” he said.

On Turkey’s proposal for Turkish troops in Afghanistan to carry on running and guarding Kabul’s airport, Erdogan said Turkey’s continued military presence would “strengthen” the Taliban’s hand internationally and “make things easier for them.”

Erdogan said a total of 552 Turkish nationals have so far been evacuated from Afghanistan.

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ASHGABAT, Turkmenistan — Turkmen diplomats in Afghan cities of Herat and Mazar-e-Sharif have met with the Taliban there on Wednesday, Turkmenistan’s Foreign Ministry said, describing the meetings as “friendly,” “positive” and “constructive.”

The energy-rich Central Asian nation that shares a border with Afghanistan has an embassy in Kabul and consulates in Herat and Mazar-e-Sharif. All three missions have been operating “as usual” after the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan on Sunday. Taliban fighters are guarding the outer perimeter of the missions, the ministry said.

Turkmenistan’s general consuls in Herat and Mazar-e-Sharif and the Taliban representatives discuss issues related to “the implementation of duties of the Turkmen consular organization in the northern provinces of Afghanistan” and “organizational and other matters” related to the missions, the ministry said. It added that Turkmen officials have regular contacts with the Taliban regarding security along the Afghan-Turkmenistan border.

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MOSCOW — Afghanistan’s ambassador to Tajikistan has accused Afghan President Ashraf Ghani of stealing $169 million from state funds and has called on international police to arrest him.

Ghani fled Afghanistan on Sunday, just as the Taliban approached Kabul, and his whereabouts remained unknown until Wednesday, when the United Arab Emirates said it has accepted him and his family on account of “humanitarian considerations.”

Ambassador Mohammad Zahir Aghbar told a news conference on Wednesday that Ghani “stole $169 million from the state coffers” and called his flight “a betrayal of the state and the nation.”

The ambassador did not elaborate or explain his claim further.

Aghbar also promised to file a request to the Interpol to arrest Ghani. Shahriyor Nazriev, director of the Interpol’s National Central Bureau in Tajikistan, told Russia’s state news agency RIA Novosti that they haven’t received such a request yet.

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SKOPJE, North Macedonia — North Macedonia’s prime minister says the country is increasing to more than 450 the number of Afghan refugees to whom it is offering temporary shelter.

Zoran Zaev said on Wednesday that these are people who have closely collaborated with Western forces in Afghanistan over the past 20 years, and include human rights activists, journalists and students.

The first are expected to arrive in North Macedonia by the end of the week. Initially, authorities had said they would accept 186 people.

The center-right main opposition VMRO-DPMNE party complained, noting that North Macedonia is one of the poorest countries in Europe and that richer countries should take Afghans in.

The Afghans will be put up in motels, resorts and hotels, at the expense of international organizations, as well as the United States.

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BERLIN — German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke by phone on Wednesday with U.S. President Joe Biden about the situation in Afghanistan, her office said.

During the call, Merkel stressed the importance of enabling as many Afghans as possible who supported German military and civilian efforts in the country to leave. The two leaders “agreed to fly out as many people in need of protection as possible,” her office said.

Germany’s foreign minister said his country’s ambassador in Kabul has begun talks in Doha with Taliban representatives to ensure they allow Afghans to reach the airport.

Heiko Maas said Germany has flown more than 500 people out of Afghanistan, including about 200 Afghan citizens, since Sunday “and we want to continue doing so in this quantity in the coming days.”

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Maas said the assumption is that the window for evacuation flights will be limited “but all those in positions of responsibility on the ground, in particular the United States, are trying to use this time as best as possible.”

He added that according to his information there are currently hundreds, if not thousands of people massed outside the gates of the airport, and sporadic outburst of violence.

Maas said Germany is also trying to bring supplies of food to Kabul to provide for those waiting to be evacuated, and has a Medevac plane in the region.

Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer said Germany would “do everything to get as many local staff out of Kabul as possible.”

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LJUBLJANA, Slovenia — Slovenia’s foreign minister says the small Alpine state is ready to accept “up to five” Afghan staff who had worked for the European Union mission in Afghanistan.

Anze Logar said on Wednesday that for the time being, Slovenia will not offer taking in additional refugees from Afghanistan.

EU foreign ministers have agreed that member states should do their utmost to assist Afghans who have worked with the bloc over the past 20 years and bring them safely to Europe, avoiding possible reprisals by the Taliban.

Slovenia’s state STA news agency reported that according to Logar, there are between 400 and 500 people who fall into this category.

Slovenia, which is currently heading EU’s rotating presidency, is run by a right-wing conservative government that has strongly advocated anti-migration policies and the influx into Europe of refugees from the war-ravaged countries in the Middle East, Africa and Asia.

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ROME — Italian Defense Minister Lorenzo Guerini says 1,500 Italian military personnel are working non-stop to provide safe transport out of Afghanistan for Afghans who worked with Italy and their families.

Italy on Wednesday increased the number of its Air Force aircraft involved in the mission from seven to eight. The aircraft are shuttling between Kabul, Kuwait and Rome in the humanitarian airlift.

After 86 passengers arrived late Wednesday afternoon in at Rome’s Leonardo da Vinci airport, two C130J planes took off from Kuwait for Kabul, where they will embark 103 persons, the defense ministry said. Earlier in the day, an Italian Army official told reporters in Rome that Italy’s goal is to evacuate as many as possible who are in need — not just those who had worked with Italy’s forces in Afghanistan — as long as security conditions allow.

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TEHRAN, Iran — Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi has discussed the situation in Afghanistan with his Chinese and Russian counterparts.

The Iranian president’s website, president.ir, reported on Wednesday that he talked on the phone with Chinese President Xi Jinping and told him Iran was ready to cooperate with China in establishing security, stability and peace in Afghanistan, as well as on issues regarding the development, progress and prosperity for Afghans.

Raisi said: “We believe that the departure of foreigners, as well as past experiences in this country, has highlighted the need for the support and participation of all Afghans to ensure the security and development of Afghanistan more than ever.”

Raisi separately spoke with Vladimir Putin and was quoted by the website as saying that stability must be established in Afghanistan as soon as possible.

Raisi was quoted as saying that “establishing security and peace in Afghanistan has always been emphasized by Iran and we believe that all Afghan active groups should work together to establish stability in the country as soon as possible and make the U.S. withdrawal to a turning point for lasting peace and stability in Afghanistan.”

Raisi also praised what he described as Iranian-Russian cooperation in Syria, where the two have over the past years boosted Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government and turned the tide of war in Assad’s favor and called for Iran and Russia to “increase the interaction between Tehran and Moscow.”

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ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey’s defense ministry says a Turkish Air Force plane has ferried some 200 Turkish citizens from Kabul to Pakistan as nations continue to evacuate their citizens after the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan.

The group was expected to be flown back to Istanbul later on Wednesday on board a Turkish Airlines plane that was being sent to Islamabad to collect the evacuees, an airline official said.

A defense ministry official said all of those being evacuated were Turkish nationals. Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to make public statements.

—Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey;

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TERMEZ, Uzbekistan — Uzbekistan has taken in several hundred Afghan refugees, a Russian state-funded media outlet reported Wednesday.

The Sputnik Uzbekistan news site said about 150 Afghans, including 17 women and children, have been temporarily placed in a camp near the Uzbek-Afghan border in the southeastern Surkhandarya region of Uzbekistan. They have all been tested for coronavirus, and no infections have been registered among them.

In addition, some 650 Afghan servicemen who arrived to Uzbekistan by plane have been temporarily housed in a COVID-19 hospital near a local military training site, the report said.

A diplomat in Uzbekistan confirmed to The Associated Press that the ex-Soviet country has taken in a number of Afghan soldiers and was not sending them back to Afghanistan any time soon. The Afghan soldiers will stay in a tent camp while the weather is good. The diplomat spoke anonymously because he was not authorized to talk to the media.

There have been conflicting reports about how many Afghan refugees Uzbekistan has admitted. Uzbekistan has not signed the 1951 Refugee Convention and hence does not have any asylum procedures.

—Agnieszka Pikulicka-Wilczewska in Termez, Uzbekistan;

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LONDON — Britain’s ambassador to Kabul says his team has got “days, not weeks” to speed up the evacuation of British nationals and Afghans who worked with U.K. forces.

Laurie Bristow said his team helped 700 people fly out on military flights on Tuesday, and the goal is to help 1,000 people each day.

“We are trying to scale up the speed and pace over the next couple of days,” he told Sky News. “We’re working on the basis of days, not weeks, so we really do have to get those numbers through.”

Gen. Nick Carter, head of the British armed forces, said he expected seven aircraft to head to Kabul to enable another 1,000 people to leave on Wednesday.

Bristow said the Taliban are supporting the operation and his team is working with them “where we need to, at a tactical, practical level.”

“My assessment is that they see it as in their interests to help it to happen in an orderly and clear way,” he said. “Obviously it’s in our interests for them to see it that way.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said earlier on Wednesday that authorities had so far secured the safe return of 306 British citizens and 2,052 Afghans, with a further 2,000 Afghan applications completed and many more being processed.

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WASHINGTON — The Pentagon says that 2,000 people — including 325 American citizens — were evacuated from Afghanistan in 18 flights over the past 24 hours, just days after the Taliban’s stunningly swift takeover of the country.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby says the U.S. military is still working toward its goal of getting a maximum of 5,000 to 9,000 people out a day.

He said on Wednesday that the U.S. military says it’s talking regularly with the Taliban to help get Afghans into the airport, and also to improve the paperwork process, including for Afghans who have applied for Special Immigrant Visas.

Kirby also said that U.S. troops have fired warning shots along the airport perimeter as a crowd control measure. He said there are now about 4,500 U.S. troops on the ground to secure the airport and help the airlift, and several hundred more are expected to flow in over the next 24 hours.

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BEIRUT — Save the Children is warning that the unfolding crisis in Afghanistan is exacerbating what was already an extremely dire situation in the country.

The aid organization’s regional director for Asia, Hassan Noor, says the aid group paused its Afghanistan operations and closed its offices as of Sunday, pending an assessment of the security situation. The group has 1,500 national staff in the country and had been working in 10 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces, reaching hundreds of thousands of children.

Speaking to journalists at an online press briefing, Noor said the future of Afghanistan’s population, particularly women and children, was “very concerning,” particularly with regards to how their humanitarian needs will be met.

Even before this latest conflict, Afghanistan held the world’s largest internally displaced population, with 2.9 million people displaced across the country at the end of 2020. Hundreds of thousands have fled their homes in the past few weeks as the Taliban advanced.

Noor said Save the Children has decided to remain in Afghanistan for now and is committed to resume delivering aid as soon as the security situation allows.

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ROME — An Italian Air Force jet has ferried 86 passengers to Rome’s main airport from Kabul.

The Foreign Ministry said the passengers who arrived on Wednesday afternoon included Italians as well as European Union and NATO personnel plus “numerous” Afghan citizens who worked with Italy and their family members.

Italian Army Col. Diego Giarrizzo told reporters at the airport that in addition to “hundreds” of previously designated Afghan citizens, the number of those needing evacuation will “grow” since the humanitarian air bridge continues “as long as security conditions allow.”

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Wednesday’s flight was the second such evacuation mission this week, and Italy said it is deploying a total of seven military jets to fly passengers out of Kabul airport.

“We’ll make every effort to bring out as many as possible,” the colonel said.

Among those arriving in the latest flight was a female Italian humanitarian aid worker.

Giarrizzo said Kabul airport security conditions were currently OK but stressed that they are “very fluid.” U.S., British and Turkish military forces were helping to keep the airport entrance more orderly, he added.

Asked about efforts to help terrified women flee Kabul, Giarrizzo said that of “all those who need (to leave) and make a request, we are trying to bring them via this humanitarian air bridge” to Italy. “We will evaluate them swiftly….do everything possible, considering this is a humanitarian emergency.”

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BRUSSELS — NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg says he will chair an emergency meeting of foreign ministers from the 30-nation military alliance on Friday to discuss developments in Afghanistan.

Stoltenberg tweeted on Wednesday that he has convened the videoconference “to continue our close coordination and discuss our common approach on Afghanistan.”

On Tuesday, Stoltenberg blamed a failure of Afghan leadership for the swift collapse of the country’s Western-backed armed forces, but he conceded that NATO must also address flaws in its military training program.

NATO has been leading international security efforts in Afghanistan since 2003 but wound-up combat operations in 2014 to focus on training the national security forces. NATO helped build up an army some 300,000 strong, but that force withered in the face of the Taliban offensive in just days.

Stoltenberg says that around 800 civilian personnel from NATO countries continue to work in Afghanistan, many in Kabul helping with air traffic control, refueling and communications at the airport.

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COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said Denmark had set up an “air bridge” between Kabul and Copenhagen via Islamabad in Pakistan, and has evacuated 84 people, including local Afghan employees and interpreters.

She said that the Taliban takeover means “the rules of the game were changed in a short time and the situation is very chaotic.”

Frederiksen also said: “This was not the way we wanted to leave Afghanistan.”

Danish Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod said “a base” had been established in Islamabad for the airlifts. ”The operation is in full swing. We do everything we can,” he added.

The Scandinavian country’s Defense Minister Trine Bramsen said Denmark also has been able to evacuate Danes, Norwegians and Americans

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ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey’s defense minister says at least 62 evacuation flights were made from Kabul’s international airport in the past two days, after security was restored at the airfield.

Hulusi Akar told state-run Anadolu Agency on Wednesday that Turkish troops and other NATO soldiers were involved in the effort to restore calm at the airport. Turkish air force planes were meanwhile, evacuating Turkish citizens from Afghanistan, he said.

Turkey last month took over running the airport as U.S. troops were completing their pullout from the country.

Akar also said Turkey was engaged in talks with the United States, other NATO allies as well as other nations over Ankara’s proposal for Turkish troops to continue protecting and operating the airfield.

“We have stated that we are considering continuing our work if the necessary conditions are met,” Akar was quoted as saying. He did not elaborate.

Meanwhile, the first military cargo plane sent by Spain to Kabul has left the airport, but Spain’s defense ministry is not yet giving any more details on how many people are on board or who they are.

The Dutch defense ministry says that a C-17 military transport plane has flown out of Kabul carrying around 35 people with Dutch, Belgian, German and British passports. The plane is headed for Tbilisi in Georgia.

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WASHINGTON — The U.S. State Department has released a joint statement signed by about two dozen nations expressing concern for the rights of Afghan women and girls and urging those in power in Afghanistan to “guarantee their protection.”

Wednesday’s statement was signed by the United States, Britain, the European Union and 18 other countries. It says the statement’s signatories are “deeply worried” about the Afghan women’s “rights to education, work and freedom of movement”″ in the wake of the Taliban takeover.

“Afghan women and girls, as all Afghan people, deserve to live in safety, security and dignity,” it said. “Any form of discrimination and abuse should be prevented. We in the international community stand ready to assist them with humanitarian aid and support, to ensure that their voices can be heard.”

It went on to add that the world will “monitor closely how any future government ensures rights and freedoms that have become an integral part of the life of women and girls in Afghanistan” during the last 20 years.

Since sweeping into Kabul on Sunday and taking over the country, the Taliban insist they have changed and won’t impose the same draconian restrictions they did when they last ruled Afghanistan, all but eliminating women’s rights.

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PRAGUE — The third Czech evacuation flight in three days has left the Afghan capital of Kabul and is heading for Prague.

Foreign Minister Jakub Kulhanek says Afghan interpreters with their families, including children, and Afghan nationals with permanent residency in the Czech Republic are onboard the flight Wednesday.

Defense Minister Lubomir Metnar says there are 62 passengers on the flight plus crew.

The previous two flights from Kabul to Prague on Monday and Tuesday carried a total of 133 people, including Czech and Afghan nationals and two Polish women.

Four Afghans are being transported at the request of another European Union member state — Slovakia — that has pledged to grant asylum to 10 Afghans who recently cooperated with EU states. Slovakia’s transport plane has yet to receive approval to fly to Kabul.

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WARSAW, Poland — The Polish government says it’s in the process of evacuating people from Afghanistan, most of them Afghans who have worked with the Polish mission there.

Poland has sent three military planes to Afghanistan to carry out the evacuations.

A government official, Michal Dworczyk, said 250-260 people have expressed a wish to be evacuated, but that not all of them might be able to reach the Kabul airport to leave. Officials said Wednesday that a first group of 50 people was flown from Kabul to Uzbekistan.

Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said a Dreamliner was on its way to Uzbekistan to bring the people to safety in Poland.

Some of those being evacuated are Polish citizens but the majority are Afghans who have worked with Poles in Afghanistan.

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TIRANA, Albania — Albania is preparing for the arrival of Afghans who worked with Western peacekeeping forces in Afghanistan and are now threatened by the Taliban.

A students’ campus in the capital, Tirana, is among places that will temporarily shelter the Afghans while the United States processes their visa requirements. Some hotels at the nearby port city of Durres will also take in Afghans.

Government sources, who spoke anonymously under regulations, said that about 300 Afghans are expected to arrive on a military plane late on Wednesday.

Albania was among the first to offer temporary shelter to the Afghans leaving their country after all Western military left and the Taliban have usurped the power.

But some Albanians were upset. Llesh Perkola, a Tirana resident in the capital Tirana, wondered who had decided so fast to shelter them. Perkola said that “Albania is a small country and bringing that many people from Afghanistan is not a good thing.”

Others say Albanians were in the same position after the collapse of the communist regime and the anarchy of 1997. Ylli Suberaku, 66, remembers Albanians fleeing the country toward “the world’s streets.” They were welcomed and integrated in the societies of the host countries.

U.S. Ambassador to Tirana Yuri Kim said Tuesday: “We’ve been deeply moved by the gesture of the Albanian people, the decision to give temporary refuge to those who are in greatest need.”

—Llazar Semini in Tirana, Albania;

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KABUL, Afghanistan — Afghanistan’s former president has met with a senior leader of a powerful Taliban faction who was once jailed and whose group has been listed by the U.S. as a terrorist network.

Former President Hamid Karzai and Abdullah Abdullah, a senior official in the ousted government, met with Anas Haqqani as part of preliminary meetings that a spokesman for Karzai said would would facilitate eventual negotiations with Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the top Taliban political leader.

The U.S. branded the Haqqani network a terrorist group in 2012, and its involvement in a future government could trigger international sanctions.

The Taliban have pledged to form an “inclusive, Islamic government,” although skeptics point to its past record of intolerance for those not adhering to its extreme interpretations of Islam.

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BEIJING — China says it is waiting for the establishment of an “open, inclusive, and widely representative” government in Afghanistan before it decides on the issue of recognition.

“If we are going to recognize a government, we will have to wait till the government is formed,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said on Wednesday.

“Only after that, will we come to the question of diplomatic recognition,” Zhao told reporters at a daily briefing.

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Zhao reiterated Beijing’s hopes for a “a smooth transition” following the Taliban’s sweep to power to avoid further violence or a humanitarian disaster.

“China will continue to support the peaceful reconstruction of Afghanistan and provide assistance to Afghanistan’s economic and social development within its capacity,” Zhao said.

The Taliban must make good on its commitment not to give shelter to terrorists or allow foreign elements to operate within its territory, singling out the East Turkestan Islamic Movement that Beijing blames for attacks in its northwestern region of Xinjiang, which shares a narrow, remote border with Afghanistan.

Beijing long called for the U.S. to leave Afghanistan, but has condemned what it calls the “hasty” retreat of American forces for the current instability.

China has sought good relations with both the former Afghan government and the Taliban, hosting the group’s top political leader, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, for talks with Foreign Minister Wang Yi late last month.

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MADRID — The European Union’s top diplomat says that it is necessary to talk with the Taliban to secure the evacuation of foreign nationals and those Afghans who have worked with NATO forces.

“I said that we must speak with them and some people found that scandalous,” Josep Borrell, the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, told Spanish National Radio on Wednesday. “But how are we supposed to open a safe passage to the airport if we are not speaking with those who have taken control of Kabul?”

Borrell said his main concern is the immediate situation of those needing help to immediately leave the country for fear of reprisals.

“We have seen images of crowds on the landing strips that make the operation of the airport difficult. We hope that the situation can be controlled and that our planes can land and take off, but to be frank, I don’t know,” Borrell said. “Where we need to act is not so much in the airport itself, which the American army has under its control, but in how to get those who need to leave to the airport.”

“My responsibility is to identify and help move those who have worked with us,” Borrell said. “(But) that does not exclude the EU from opening its arms to other people.”

“What has happened in Afghanistan is a defeat for the entire western world and we all must have the courage to accept that,” he said.

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ISLAMABAD — Pakistan is issuing visas upon arrival to all diplomats, foreigners and journalists who want to leave Kabul over security concerns.

Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said on Wednesday that since Sunday, 900 foreigners including diplomats and staff working for international organizations have arrived in Pakistan from Kabul via air travel.

He said transit visas were also being issued to foreigners upon arrival from Afghanistan at airports and land crossings so that they could travel on to their home countries.

Ahmed said hundreds of Pakistanis and Afghans crossed into Pakistan from two key land border crossings in recent days.

He said all Pakistanis who want to leave Afghanistan will be brought back over the coming two days.

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BERLIN — Germany will send up to 600 army personnel to Kabul to help evacuate German citizens and former Afghan local embassy staff.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Cabinet on Wednesday okayed the mission which started Monday. Germany’s Bundestag Parliament will have to vote on the military mission as well which is likely going to happen next week.

Every armed foreign deployment of the German army has to be approved by parliament in Germany.

Normally this has to happen before the start of the deployment but in this case, because of the imminent danger German citizens were exposed to in Afghanistan, Cabinet and parliament were also allowed to approve the mission in retrospect, German news agency dpa reported.

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KABUL, Afghanistan — Afghanistan’s central bank governor says that the country has some $9 billion in reserves abroad and not in physical cash inside the country.

Ajmal Ahmady, the head of Afghanistan’s Central Bank, wrote on Twitter on Wednesday that the majority of that — some $7 billion — is being held in U.S. Federal Reserve bonds, assets and gold.

Ahmady says Afghanistan’s holding of physical U.S. dollars “is close to zero” as the country did not receive a planned cash shipment amid the Taliban offensive that swept the country last week.

“The next shipment never arrived,” he wrote. “Seems like our partners had good intelligence as to what was going to happen.”

He noted the lack of U.S. dollars likely will see the afghani depreciate and inflation rise, hurting the poor in the country. Getting access to those reserves likely will be complicated by the U.S. government considering the Taliban a sanctioned terror group.

The “Taliban won militarily – but now have to govern,” he wrote. “It is not easy.”

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LONDON — The British government says it will welcome up to 5,000 Afghan refugees this year, and a total of 20,000 Afghans will be offered a way to settle in the U.K. in the coming years.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said late Tuesday: “We owe a debt of gratitude to all those who have worked with us to make Afghanistan a better place over the last 20 years.”

The new Afghan Citizens’ Resettlement Scheme will focus on women, children, and others who have been forced to flee their home or face threats of persecution from the Taliban.

Opposition parties have criticized the plan for not going far enough to make a real difference. Nick Thomas-Symonds, of the Labour Party, said the proposal did not meet the scale of the challenge.

British lawmakers are returning to Parliament Wednesday for an emergency session to discuss Afghanistan. Johnson is set to tell lawmakers there must be an immediate increase in aid to Afghanistan to avert a humanitarian crisis erupting in the country following the Taliban’s seizure of power.

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ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey has has denied reports claiming that it has given up on plans to continue running Kabul’s airport, saying it was awaiting the results of ongoing talks between the Taliban and several Afghan politicians.

“We hope that they reach an agreement through peaceful means,” Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told Hurriyet newspaper in comments that were printed on Wednesday. “After these (talks) take place, we can talk about these things.”

Turkey, a NATO member whose some 600 troops provided security at the international airport in Kabul, has proposed to continue running and protecting the airport following the withdrawal of U.S. and NATO troops. The Taliban has said it wants all NATO troops to leave Afghanistan.

Cavusoglu meanwhile, defended the government’s decision to engage in talks with the Taliban, following criticism from opposition parties.

“This does not mean that we espouse their ideology. Everyone is being pragmatic,” he said.

The minister also came under criticism for saying the government welcomes “positive messages” from the Taliban.

“We said, ‘We welcome their messages,’ but we said that we are cautious, that is, we should see these (messages) applied in practice,” Cavusoglu said.

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ISLAMABAD — The British prime minister and German chancellor have called their Pakistani counterpart about the rapidly evolving situation in Afghanistan, the foreign ministry said in an overnight statement.

It was their first contact with Imran Khan since the Taliban took control of the country Sunday.

According to Pakistan’s foreign ministry, Khan told Germany’s Angela Merkel that “an inclusive political settlement was the best way forward” for resolving the conflict in Afghanistan.

In a separate statement, the ministry said Khan also received a call from the British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, and Khan passed along a similar message.

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KABUL, Afghanistan — The Taliban have blown up the statue of a Shiite militia leader who had fought against them during Afghanistan’s civil war in the 1990s.

The statue depicted a militia leader killed by the Taliban in 1996, when the Islamic militants seized power from rival warlords.

Abdul Ali Mazari was a champion of Afghanistan’s ethnic Hazara minority, Shiites who were persecuted under the Sunni Taliban’s earlier rule.

The statue stood in the central Bamyan province, where the Taliban infamously blew up two massive 1,500-year-old statues of Buddha carved into a mountain in 2001. The Taliban claimed the Buddhas violated Islam’s prohibition on idolatry.

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CANBERRA, Australia — Australia has evacuated the first 26 people, including Australian and Afghan citizens, from Kabul since the Taliban overran the Afghan capital, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Wednesday.

An Air Force C-130 Hercules transport aircraft landed at an Australian military base in the United Arab Emirates with the 26 who included a foreign official working for an international agency, Morrison said. The remainder were Australians and Afghans.

“This was the first of what will be many flights, subject to clearance and weather and we do note that over the back end of this week, there is some not too favorable weather forecast,” Morrison said.

Two Hercules and two larger C-17A Globemaster transport aircraft will make further evacuation flights.

Australia plans to evacuate 130 Australians and their families plus an undisclosed number Afghans who have worked for Australian soldiers and diplomats in roles such as interpreters.

Australia’s goal is to evacuate 600 people, according to media reports. Morrison did not provide a number. “Our goal is as many as we can, as safely and as quickly as we can,” he said.

First published on: AP

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