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Thursday, January 27, 2022

US, Qatar ‘close to agreement’ on rehousing Afghans as Taliban enters Kabul


The Taliban edged closer to Kabul hours after gaining control over Jalalabad.

Qatar and the United States are making progress to finalise an agreement to temporarily host around 8,000 Afghans who worked with US troops in Afghanistan, in the Gulf state, Doha News has learnt.

This comes as the Taliban continues to carry out a rapid military offensive, with the most latest reports pointing towards the insurgent group penetrating the capital Kabul on Sunday.

The news was also confirmed by a source who spoke to CNN on Saturday, however officials on both sides have been cautious to issue statements.

“We are evaluating all available options. We have no announcements to make on third-country relocation sites for Afghan SIV [Special Immigrant visa] applicants,” said a State Department spokesperson in a statement to CNN.

CNN’s source said an initial group ranging between 1,000-to-2,000 Afghans would be moved to Doha once an agreement is finalised “soon”.

On Thursday, Pentagon Spokesperson John Kirby told a press conference that the US will be moving approximately 1,000 military personnel to Qatar in order to fast-track the processing of Afghan SIV applications.

“The next movement will consist of a joint US Army-Air Force support element of around 1,000 personnel to facilitate the processing of SIV applicants. Initial elements will arrive in Qatar in the coming days,” said Kirby, following international Afghan peace talks in Doha.

Qatar urges Taliban to cease fire as insurgents close in on Kabul

Qatar’s defence minister is also believed to be heading to Washington this week for talks, though no details have been released about his visit.

Taliban seizes more territories

The Joe Biden administration’s decision to withdraw US and NATO troops from Afghanistan was followed by major and rapid military escalations by the Taliban, with the insurgent group capturing key territories in the county at an alarming pace.

On Sunday, the Taliban were reported to have entered Kabul after seizing the key eastern city of Jalalabad without a fight. By capturing Jalalabad, the insurgent group also gained control of the road leading to the Pakistani city of Peshawar.

The militants also captured the city of Mazar-i-Sharif late on Saturday, forcing Afghan forces to flee the area.

“There are no clashes taking place right now in Jalalabad because the governor has surrendered to the Taliban,” a Jalalabad-based Afghan official told Reuters, adding that granting passage to the militant group was the only way to save civilian lives.

The latest news comes as a blow to US intelligence estimates from last week which anticipated the fall of Kabul in three months time. 

The sudden decision by the Biden administration to withdraw troops without a peace plan has led to a major catastrophe in the country that has allowed the insurgent group to capture nearly all provinces across Afghanistan.

Earlier this week, Biden also green-lighted the deployment of 5,000 U  troops to help evacuate citizens and ensure an “orderly and safe” withdrawal of embassy staff and Afghan interpreters.

Escalating violences have triggered concerns over the future of Afghans, especially women and girls, The number of internally displaced people [IDPs] and civilian casualties have increased in recent weeks.

“The Islamic Emirate [as the Taliban identify themselves] will, as always, protect their life, property and honour, and create a peaceful and secure environment for its beloved nation,” said the group, adding that diplomats and aid workers would not be attacked.

On Saturday, Biden warned that any action that risks the lives of US personnel “will be met with a swift and strong US military response”.

That came after meetings in Doha between the warring factions ended with no ceasefire, though a joint statement released by international representatives at the talks said they would not recognise any Afghan party that seizes power militarily.

Qatar has also urged the Taliban to halt its military offensive in Afghanistan and cease fire.

Doha’s statement was made during a meeting on Saturday between Qatar’s Foreign Sheikh Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani and the head of the Taliban’s political office, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar.

During the meeting, the Qatari diplomat “called on the Taliban to de-escalate” and “contribute to efforts aimed at speeding up” the Afghan peace process.

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