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Monday, September 27, 2021

US formally ends 20 year Afghanistan invasion, moves embassy to Qatar

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Qatar said that the Taliban has insisted on not having any foreign assistance in operating Kabul’s airport.

Two decades, some $2 trillion, and least 71,000 civilian casualties later, the US has formally ended its invasion in Afghanistan.

Late on Monday, Washington ended its military presence just hours ahead of its 31 August deadline, with Major General Chris Donahue, commander of the 82nd Airborne Division, being the last American soldier to leave the country.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced that Washington suspended its diplomatic presence in Afghanistan and confirmed all diplomatic operations will be conducted from Qatar instead, while continuing to push for the safe evacuation of people from Kabul.

According to the US official, the team in Doha will be headed by Ian McCary, the deputy chief of the US mission to Afghanistan.

“A new chapter of America’s engagement with Afghanistan has begun. It’s one in which we will lead with our diplomacy,” said Blinken, noting that over 6,000 Americans have been evacuated.

Almost immediately after the US military departed Kabul, the Taliban took control of the Hamid Karzai International Airport, firing gunshots in the air to celebrate the troop withdrawal.

The Taliban destroyed more than 70 aircrafts, dozens of armoured vehicles and disabled air defences that were previously used to thwart attacks by an IS rocket.

While American personnel managed to safely leave the country along with over 123,000 people from Kabul in one of the biggest airlifts in history, tens of thousands of people who helped Western countries during the 20-year invasion were left behind.

According to Reuters, hundreds of Americans have also been left behind.

Meanwhile, Qatar said it previously asked the Taliban to allow a foreign security presence at the Kabul airport following the troop withdrawal, but the group refused the Gulf state’s request.

“What we are trying to explain to them is that airport safety and security requires a lot more than securing the perimeters of the airport,” Qatar’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani told the Financial Times [FT] on Monday.

The request came amid concerns over the safety of Afghans wishing to flee the country and the foreigners left behind amid a rushed evacuation operation that has continued on for two weeks since the Taliban seized power militarily.

“What is a clear [Taliban] objection is that they don’t want to see a foreign security presence in their airport or their territory,” said Sheikh Mohammed, adding that the group was “mainly focusing on the technical side” of the airport.

The FT’s report also said that despite the Taliban’s promises to allow Afghans to leave the country if they had official travel documents and visas, the group has refused them access into the airport.

Earlier reports stated that both Qatar and Turkey were working towards cooperating in the operation of the Kabul airport, but no further details have been released.

“We don’t mind who operates it, but what both of us are focusing on, if they are expecting the airport to run and operate flights for civilians, it needs to be up to the security standards we are looking for,” said the Qatari diplomat.

“This is considered a high priority for us, and, what we have seen in the past couple of days, it’s also a priority for the Taliban.”

On Monday, Qatar attended a meeting with the foreign ministers of all the G7 countries—the UK, France, Germany, Canada, Italy, and Japan—in addition to Turkey, EU and NATO to discuss the next steps of operations at Kabul’s airport.

“We discussed how we will work together to facilitate safe travel out of Afghanistan, including by reopening Kabul’s civilian airport as soon as possible—and we very much appreciate the efforts of Qatar and Turkey, in particular, to make this happen,” said Blinken in a statement.

“This would enable a small number of daily charter flights, which is a key for anyone who wants to depart from Afghanistan moving forward,” he added.

The meeting also tapped into the safe transition of power in Afghanistan and the protection of civilians as well as their rights. Diplomats at the meeting also thanked Qatar for its role throughout the Afghan peace process.

Qatar’s foreign minister also stressed the need to address the current situation in Kabul “in a realistic way and setting up incentives in order to ensure a peaceful transfer of power that preserves the basic rights of the Afghan people”.

“Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani stressed the importance of accelerating the provision of humanitarian aid to avoid any humanitarian and economic crisis in Afghanistan, warning that such crisis would have serious repercussions on the stability of Afghanistan and the region,” read a statement by Qatar’s foreign ministry [MOFA].

Meanwhile, the UN Security Council approved a resolution offered by France, the US and UK aimed at allowing the continuation of evacuations past the deadline by both air and ground “including at the reopened and secured Kabul airport, with no one preventing them from traveling.”

In total, 13 of the representatives voted in favour of the resolution, with two abstentions.

The council also called for “strengthened efforts” to provide humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan.

US President Joe Biden has been facing global criticism for his decision to withdraw all foreign troops from Afghanistan after 20 years without a proper peace plan nor a strategised evacuation process.

In no time, the Taliban managed to capture Kabul without a fight on 15 August, forcing all Western powers to rush the withdrawal of foreign troops at a fast rate.

As a strategic ally and host of the Taliban’s political office, several countries reached out to Qatar to assist in the fast-paced evacuations and to hold talks with the militant group in order to ensure the safety of evacuees in Kabul.

“The Security Council resolution about securing the airport must be implemented. There are talks under way with the Qataris and Turks about management of the airport. We must demand that access to the airport is safe,”  French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told France 2 television.

On Tuesday, Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi said that his country temporarily moved its embassy from Afghanistan to Turkey with plans to relocate it to Qatar.

“I believe various forms of communication will take place,” Motegi said.

Similarly, the UK also announced its diplomatic mission would be moved to Doha.

Despite the Taliban’s takeover, Qatar’s Assistant Foreign Minister Lolwah Al Khater said that her country will continue to facilitate talks between the militants and the former Afghan government.

“The fact that President Ashraf Ghani left the country does not mean that the rest of the cabinet or the former government are not there. As a matter of fact, all of them are there, on the ground, and there have been some meetings that took place and we still continue facilitating some discussions amongst all parties,” Al Khater told Doha News.

The US invasion was announced by then-President George W. Bush in 2001 following the 9/11 attacks at the World Trade Center. Bush blamed Al-Qaeda for carrying out the attacks and vowed to wage a war against the terrorist group.

The US president launched an invasion into Afghanistan after the Taliban refused to hand over Al Qaeda leader, Osama Bin Laden.

However, with the Taliban now in power once more, the 20 years of war has appeared ot bring little change on the ground.


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