DOHA: After the Taliban claimed full control of Afghanistan, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken landed in Doha on Monday for urgent talks with Qataris.
Shortly before the invasion, an official revealed that four Americans had departed Afghanistan with Taliban knowledge, the first such departures organized by the US since its haphazard military withdrawal.
The four Americans arrived by land and were received by US diplomats, according to the senior official, who did not disclose which country they passed into, but did say that “the Taliban did not obstruct them.”
Blinken is the most senior US official to visit the region since the Taliban’s rapid takeover of Afghanistan on August 15. He is accompanied by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.
He was not scheduled to meet with any Taliban representatives in Doha, but State Department spokesman Dean Thompson said the US would continue to interact with the organization “to ensure our messaging with them remains clear.”
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The State Department said ahead of Blinken’s arrival in Doha at 1500 GMT, “We are grateful for Qatar’s close collaboration on Afghanistan.”
Blinken’s team lauded Doha for its “invaluable assistance” in easing the transit of US nationals, embassy Kabul personnel, at-risk Afghans, and other refugees from Afghanistan through Qatar.
Qatar, which contains a major US airfield, has served as a transit point for 55,000 people airlifted out of Afghanistan, accounting for roughly half of the total number of people evacuated by US-led troops following the Taliban’s swift takeover.
Blinken stated before his arrival that he would “communicate our sincere gratitude for all that they’re doing to support the evacuation effort” in Qatar and meet rescued Afghans.
He will also meet with US officials after Washington, along with a number of allies including the United Kingdom and the Netherlands, evacuated their embassies in Kabul to Doha.
Blinken will meet with Qatar and Turkey to discuss efforts to reopen Kabul’s dilapidated airport, which is critical for bringing in desperately needed humanitarian aid and evacuating surviving Afghans, according to the State Department.
In 2013, Qatar asked the Taliban to build a political office in Doha, and in 2014, Qatar hosted talks between the US and the Taliban, which resulted in a troop pullout deal in 2020. Direct talks between the former insurgents and the Afghan government followed.
The Taliban claimed entire control of Afghanistan on Monday, claiming victory in the important battle for the Panjshir Valley, the final bastion of resistance to their rule.
After sweeping into Kabul three weeks ago at a speed that observers say likely stunned even hardcore Islamists, the group has failed to finalize its new rule.
Following Doha, Blinken will travel to Ramstein, Germany, a US air station that serves as a temporary home for thousands of Afghans relocating to the United States.
Some Americans may have departed Afghanistan since the US finished its 20-year war at the end of August, according to US authorities, but they would have done so on their own dime.
As it considers how to deal with the Islamists, Washington is keeping a close eye on whether the Taliban keeps their promises to allow US people and allies leave.
After a major evacuation of tens of thousands of personnel in the final days of America’s longest conflict, US authorities believe only about 100 Americans, largely dual nationals, remain in Afghanistan. Republican opponents have accused Vice President Joe Biden of abandoning Americans.
Despite Taliban guarantees, tens of thousands of translators and others who helped the US effort, as well as their families, are believed to have remained.
With the Kabul airport in shambles, land routes remain the only option out of Afghanistan, largely via Pakistan or Iran, neither of which has diplomatic connections with the United States.
Blinken, along with German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, will hold a virtual 20-nation ministerial meeting on the crisis at Ramstein.