The Latest: 62 evacuation flights left Kabul in past 2 days

Hundreds of people gather near a U.S. Air Force C-17 transport plane at a perimeter at the international airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, Monday, Aug. 16, 2021. On Monday, the U.S. military and officials focus was on Kabul’s airport, where thousands of Afghans trapped by the sudden Taliban takeover rushed the tarmac and clung to U.S. military planes deployed to fly out staffers of the U.S. Embassy, which shut down Sunday, and others. (AP Photo/Shekib Rahmani)

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. Turkish air force planes were meanwhile, evacuating Turkish citizens from Afghanistan, he said.

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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MORE ON THE CRISIS IN AFGHANISTAN:

— Taliban violently disperse rare protest days after takeover

— Mullah’s risecharts Taliban’s long road back to power

— Taliban allowing‘safe passage’ from Kabulin US airlift

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

— US agencies scrub websites to protect Afghans left behind

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

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

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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.

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.

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