US and Taliban officials will meet face-to-face this weekend in Qatar for the first time since the last American military forces left Afghanistan at the end of August, reports said Friday.
The Saturday and Sunday talks in the Qatari capital of Doha will focus on ensuring the removal of all American citizens, green-card holders and Afghan allies who have applied for or hold special visas allowing them into the US, Reuters reported.
Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen, who is based in Doha, told The Associated Press the meetings will also involve discussion of the 2020 agreement between the Islamic fundamentalist and Washington that paved the way for the final US withdrawal.
“Yes there is a meeting . . . about bilateral relations and implementation of the Doha agreement,” said Shaheen. “It covers various topics.”
The US officials will seek to hold the Taliban accountable to its promise that it would allow foreign nationals and Afghans who assisted US-led military forces to leave Afghanistan, the AP reported.
The Biden administration has acknowledged that dozens of Americans and legal permanent residents were left behind after the conclusion of the withdrawal Aug. 30. It is also believed that thousands of Afghan allies remain in hostile territory, though the administration has not provided an exact count.
State Department spokesman Ned Price said Thursday that 105 American citizens and 95 green card holders had left since the end of August on flights facilitated by the US government. That number had not changed for more than a week.
Military veterans and other individuals have helped others leave the country on charter flights, and some have gotten out across land borders. Price acknowledged Thursday that the State Department was in contact with “dozens of Americans in Afghanistan who wish to leave.”
US officials have cited the difficulty of verifying flight manifests without any American officials on the ground in Afghanistan to help, along with other hold-ups, in response to complaints from lawmakers of both parties that the evacuation process is going too slowly.
The American delegation, which reportedly will include officials from the State Department, US Agency for International Development (USAID) and the intelligence community, will also press the Taliban to release Illinois civil engineer Mark Frerichs, who was abducted in February 2020 by the Taliban-linked Haqqani network.
The US contingent further intends to implore the Taliban to honor the rights of women and girls — many of whom are being blocked from returning to jobs and classrooms — as well as give humanitarian agencies free access to areas of Afghanistan in need of intervention.
Officials emphasized that the meeting did not indicate that Washington was leaning toward recognizing the Taliban as the legitimate government of Afghanistan.
“We remain clear that any legitimacy must be earned through the Taliban’s own actions,” one US official told Reuters. “They need to establish a sustained track record.”
With Post wires
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