The Latest: Mexico accepts its 1st group of Afghan refugees
MEXICO CITY — Mexico has accepted its first group of refugees from Afghanistan.
The five women and one man arrived Tuesday in Mexico City, where they were welcomed by Foreign Relations Secretary Marcelo Ebrard. Ebrard told the group, “Welcome to your home.”
The refugees belong to a group involved in the field of robotics. They had to travel through six countries to reach Mexico. They fled Afghanistan after the Taliban took control of the country earlier this month.
Ebrard says Mexico will grant them “whatever legal status they consider best.” That could include giving them asylum or refugee status.
MORE ON AFGHANISTAN:
— Taliban insist on airlift deadline amid new report of abuses
— Biden decides to stick with Aug. 31 final pullout from Kabul
— G-7 grapples with Afghanistan, an afterthought not long ago
— UN rights chief warns of abuses amid Taliban’s Afghan blitz
— Taliban takeover prompts fears of a resurgent al-Qaida
— Find more AP coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/afghanistan
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden says forces are on track to leave Afghanistan by his self-imposed Aug. 31 deadline but it will depend on Taliban cooperation.
In an address to the nation Tuesday, the president said he is pushing U.S. forces to leave “the sooner the better” due to increasing threats from ISIS-K and other terror groups in Kabul. Biden says the threats are “real and significant challenges that we also have to take into consideration.”
Biden says more than 70,000 people have been evacuated since Aug. 14. But there is tumult and violence outside Kabul’s airport making it difficult for Americans and their Afghan allies to reach safety.
The president says that in a virtual Group of 7 meeting with world leaders, the nations were resolved to stand “shoulder to shoulder” to get people out of Afghanistan. But Biden’s decision to pull out forces by the deadline has received sharp criticism from at home and abroad
MOSCOW — Russia’s defense minister has voiced concern about the Taliban seizing a large number of weapons, including air defense missile systems, after sweeping over Afghanistan.
Sergei Shoigu said Tuesday the Taliban has captured hundreds of combat vehicles along with a number of warplanes and helicopters.
He expressed a particular worry about the Taliban obtaining more than 100 man-portable air defense missile systems.
Shoigu noted that Afghanistan’s refugee problem is a cause for grave concern.
The Russian defense chief voiced hope that the Taliban would move to form an inclusive government that would include all groups in the country.
ROME — Italy will offer Afghan citizens evacuated to Italy from their homeland the opportunity to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
Premier Mario Draghi’s office said Tuesday he has asked the Italian army general in charge of the national vaccination program to work out a plan so evacuees of recent days can receive the vaccine. If they want a vaccine they will receive them at locations around the country.
Right after they arrive in Italy, evacuees are issued humanitarian visas and are tested for COVID-19. Earlier in the day, Italian ministers told lawmakers that 2,659 Afghans have already reached Italy, and nearly 1,100 more were at Kabul airport awaiting Italian flights.
MADRID — Spain is receiving a new batch of 290 Afghan refugees on a commercial airplane that has flown from Dubai to a military airbase in the outskirts of Madrid.
At least 130 more people are expected to travel later on Tuesday in two separate flights operated by the Spanish Air Force, the Defense Ministry said.
The latest arrivals bring to more than 1,200 the number of people that Spain has evacuated from Taliban-ruled Afghanistan.
They come as Defense Minister Margarita Robles acknowledged that Spain won’t be able to aid all the people it had planned to despite the ongoing frantic efforts to evacuate as many as possible.
In an interview with Spain’s Cadena SER radio, the minister said that controls by Taliban forces and increasing tensions in Afghanistan were making it even more difficult for Afghans who worked for Spanish troops in the western city of Herat to travel to the Afghan capital, Kabul.
“We are going to take out all the people that is possible. But there will be people that will remain for reasons that don’t depend on us, due to the situation there,” she said.
BRUSSELS — European Council President Charles Michel says a number of G-7 leaders raised concerns with U.S. President Joe Biden about the Aug. 31 deadline for getting their nationals and Afghan helpers out of Kabul.
Michel says that “several leaders expressed concerns about the timing of August 31,” during Tuesday’s G-7 summit. He declined to tell reporters after the meeting what response Biden gave the leaders.
According to an administration official, Biden plans to stick with his deadline for completing the U.S.-led evacuation from Afghanistan. The decision reflects in part the U.S. military’s concern about heightened security threats to the massive airlift that began 10 days ago.
Michel says the EU remains concerned about European citizens and Afghan people who worked with them being able to safely reach Kabul airport.
Michel says the EU “raised this issue with our American friends and partners” notably “the need to secure the airport, as long as necessary, to complete the operations; and second, a fair and equitable access to the airport, for all nationals entitled to evacuation.”
MOSCOW — Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov says Moscow is strongly against any U.S. troops presence in the ex-Soviet Central Asian nations and also opposes American attempts to persuade them to host Afghan refugees.
Speaking during Tuesday’s visit to Hungary, Lavrov noted that Russia and some of the Central Asian countries are members of a security pact stipulating that any foreign military presence in the region requires their common agreement.
He added that the presence of U.S. troops in any of the region’s countries would expose it to a potential retaliatory blow.
“Hosting troops from the U.S. which has openly declared an intention to keep Afghanistan in cross hairs and launch strikes if necessary means immediately turning itself into a target,” Lavrov said. “I strongly doubt that any country, in Central Asia or elsewhere, would be willing to become a target to help the Americans pursue their initiatives.”
Russia’s top diplomat predicted that Washington’s efforts to persuade Central Asian nations to host the Afghans who worked with the U.S. and its NATO allies would prove equally futile.
Lavrov charged that the U.S. has asked the countries of the region to host the Afghans for a couple of months before it gives them them American visas, the offer he scathingly criticized.
BRUSSELS — European Council President Charles Michel says the sweeping Taliban takeover of Afghanistan and the chaos that has followed are proof that the European Union must boost defense cooperation to handle security challenges itself.
Taliban militants took control of Afghanistan in just a few weeks as the NATO-trained national security forces withered after the Biden administration announced its intention to leave the conflict-ravaged country.
European NATO allies rely on U.S. airpower, transport and logistics to operate in Afghanistan and were forced to pull out too.
Michel says “these events show that developing our strategic autonomy, while keeping our alliances as strong as ever, is of the utmost importance, for the future of Europe.”
Twenty-two EU countries are members of the U.S.-led 30-nation military alliance, NATO.
Michel told reporters Tuesday after the G-7 summit that he plans to put the question up for debate at Europe’s top table.
BRUSSELS — European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen says the European Union is ramping up its aid to Afghanistan amid a widening humanitarian crisis in the strife-torn country.
Von der Leyen says the EU’s executive commission “will propose to almost quadruple the humanitarian aid coming from the EU budget.”
She says Brussels “will now increase it to over 200 million euros ($235 million)” this year to “help meet the urgent needs of Afghans” inside Afghanistan and those being sheltered in neighboring countries.
Von der Leyen told reporters after Tuesday’s G-7 summit that the 27-nation bloc has frozen development assistance to Kabul and will only resume payments if the Taliban meet several conditions, including on human rights and forming an inclusive government
MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin has criticized the United States and its allies for leaving Afghanistan in chaos that raises potential security threats for Russia and its allies in Central Asia.
Addressing Tuesday’s meeting of the main Kremlin party, United Russia, Putin noted that militants could use the turmoil to destabilize the ex-Soviet Central Asian nations bordering Afghanistan.
“There is a danger that terrorists and different groups that found a refuge in Afghanistan will use the chaos left by our Western colleagues and try to launch an expansion into neighboring countries,” Putin said. “That will pose a direct threat to our country and its allies.”
At the same time, Putin noted that Moscow has learned the lessons of the 10-year Soviet war in Afghanistan and will stay away from turmoil in Afghanistan.
“We have drawn the necessary lessons,” Putin said. “We don’t have any intention to interfere in Afghanistan’s internal affairs and, moreover, let our military forces be drawn into the all-against-all conflict.”
He added that a possible rise in drug trafficking and the exacerbation of problems with migration could also pose threats to Russia.
Moscow, which fought a 10-year war in Afghanistan that ended with the Soviet troops’ withdrawal in 1989, has made a diplomatic comeback as a mediator over the past few years, reaching out to the Taliban and other feuding Afghan factions.
BERLIN — The German military says it is concerned by the growing risk of attacks by the Islamic State group in Kabul.
Germany’s top military commander, Gen. Eberhard Zorn, told reporters Tuesday that “the threat has further increased.”
“We have signals both from American sources as well as our own assessment, that there is an increase of (IS) suicide bombers (slipping) into the city,” he said.
“That’s increasing and leads to heightened precautions,” he added.
German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer said she takes seriously the Taliban threat not to allow any foreign troops to remain beyond Aug. 31.
“I think one needs to take very, very seriously the announcement that they won’t agree to a further delay,” she said. She added the threat could also be an attempt by the group to “drive up the price” in negotiations with foreign officials.
THE HAGUE, Netherlands — The Dutch military is halting shooting exercises at one of its firing ranges because the facility will be used to house Afghans evacuated from Kabul.
The Defense Ministry said Tuesday that shooting training at the Harskamp military base is suspended until further notice.
The first Afghan evacuees are expected to arrive later Tuesday in Harskamp, a large military base in the forests of the Veluwe region of the central Netherlands.
Military exercises are continuing near the first Dutch army base opened to house Afghan evacuees, in a northern village, but shooting has been suspended there, too.
The military says that evacuees will hear almost nothing of the exercises at the base in the northern village of Zoutcamp.
The Defense Ministry has opened three barracks to evacuees. So far, around 1,000 people have been brought to two accommodation centers, which are already nearly full.
The Harskamp base will house a further 800 Afghans.
A Taliban spokesman says the U.S. must complete its evacuation of people from Afghanistan by the Aug. 31 date the Biden administration set for the withdrawal of all American troops.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said Tuesday his group will accept “no extensions” to the deadline. He says life is returning to normal in the country but chaos at the airport remains a problem. Many Afghans are desperate to flee the Taliban takeover of the country.
Mujahid says he is “not aware” of any meeting between the Taliban and the CIA, but he did not deny that such a meeting took place. An official says the director of the U.S. agency met with the Taliban’s top political leader in Kabul on Monday.
ANKARA, Turkey — Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu says Turkey has so far evacuated 1,404 people from Afghanistan — 1,061 of them Turkish nationals and 343 nationals of “various countries.”
“Because of our (troops’) presence at the airport, many countries, international organizations or NGOs have asked our help in evacuating their personnel,” Cavusoglu told reporters Tuesday. “We have been providing assistance to them together with the United States and Britain.”
Cavusoglu said that there were some 4,500 Turkish nationals in Afghanistan but only around 200 are still waiting to be evacuated.
“We have contacted each one of them. ... An important number of them said they did not want to return,” Cavusoglu said, explaining that they included people who had businesses or jobs in Afghanistan or were married to Afghans.
“We of course, respect their decision but we have also made the necessary suggestions and warnings,” he said.
ROME — Italy’s foreign minister is warning allies against concentrating on blaming the U.S. administration for the chaotic evacuation from Afghanistan.
Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio told Parliament’s foreign affairs and defense commissions on Tuesday that while such finger-pointing “is coming into fashion” in European public opinion, it risks weakening the traditionally solid trans-Atlantic alliance. Those engaged in assigning blame should “be aware that if this alliance ends, there is no other” to replace it, Di Maio said.
“After the Americans leave Kabul airport — the date hypothesized for now is at the end of the month — it won’t be in any case possible, not for us, nor for any country in the Alliance, to maintain any kind of presence” in Afghanistan, Di Maio said.
Defense Minister Lorenzo Guerini told lawmakers that so far 2,659 Afghan citizens, about a third of them children, have been evacuated by Italy. Another 1,000 people were waiting inside the airport for flights to Italy.
Italy is using its current leadership of the G-20 grouping to involve world powers, especially China and Russia, to try to build consensus on strategy toward Afghanistan.
The rapidly unfolding crisis in Afghanistan has forced Italy to suspend aid cooperation agreements. But “we don’t intend to interrupt humanitarian aid” where conditions permit, Di Maio said. He said assistance would be funneled through the International Red Cross and U.N. agencies, especially for women and other vulnerable people.
At the request of the United States, Italy is also allowing temporary transit of evacuees on U.S. flights through military bases in Sicily and northern Italy.
BUDAPEST, Hungary — Russia’s foreign minister says he opposes the placement of any U.S. military forces in countries neighboring Afghanistan in the wake of the U.S. withdrawal from the country and its subsequent takeover by the Taliban.
Speaking at a press conference in Hungary’s capital, Budapest, Sergei Lavrov said the presence of U.S. soldiers in Central Asian countries bordering Afghanistan would create instability in the region, and make those countries a “target” for potential attacks.
“This is not the right way to preserve stability in those countries,” Lavrov said.
HELSINKI — Finland says it has now evacuated over 200 people from Afghanistan, including permanent staff and locally hired employees working for the Nordic country’s embassy in Kabul with their families.
Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto tweeted on Tuesday that Finland’s most recent evacuation on Monday included also 40 persons from the European Union delegations in Afghanistan.
He said that the majority of those evacuated from Afghanistan were women and children, and that the evacuation effort was continuing this week.
On Friday, Finland sent a few dozen of its special unit soldiers to Afghanistan to help safeguard evacuations at the airport in Kabul.
Finnish President Sauli Niinisto urged the international community in a speech in Helsinki on Tuesday to take notice of “the acute human distress” unfolding in Afghanistan. He expressed concerns over the situation of women and girls and “other groups in a vulnerable position” in the country, including locally hired employees of foreign embassies.
“We have a specific responsibility for the security of the locally hired people who have enabled our (Finland’s) own operations in Afghanistan over the past years,” the Finnish head of state said.
SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea says it has sent three military aircraft to Afghanistan and an unspecified nearby country to evacuate Afghans who worked for its embassy in Kabul and other South Korean-run facilities.
South Korea’s Foreign Ministry on Tuesday did not confirm how many people will be evacuated. On Sunday, Song Young-gil, lawmaker and leader of South Korea’s ruling Democratic Party, said the Seoul government should evacuate some 400 Afghans who were involved in South Korean rebuilding projects in Afghanistan.
Apart from embassy staff and their families, the South Korean planes will pick up Afghans who worked for a South Korean-run hospital at the U.S. military’s Bagram Airfield before the facility closed in 2015 and a South Korean-run job training center, the ministry said.
BERLIN — A German army officer trying to help Afghans at risk from the Taliban to flee their country has launched a blistering attack on Germany’s evacuation efforts.
Cpt. Marcus Grotian told reporters in Berlin on Tuesday that he was “overwhelmed by disbelief at the way Germany’s governing parties and politicians disregarded warnings” about the Taliban advance and accused Chancellor Angela Merkel’s office of failing to step in when needed.
Grotian, who heads a network of volunteers trying to help locals who worked for German institutions in Afghanistan, said some 6,000 Afghans are still waiting to be evacuated and many likely won’t make it.
“There will be many, too many human tragedies to come,” he said. “That’s absolutely clear.”
Grotian accused German officials of creating a dysfunctional bureaucracy that is making incomprehensible decisions about who can board evacuation flights and who can’t.
“Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes a person who was never on a list is let through, sometimes a person who has been on our lists or those of the military command for six weeks is still turned away,” he said.
Grotian recounted one incident earlier Tuesday in which an Afghan woman who had worked for Germany’s foreign development agency four years ago was barred from entering Kabul airport.
He said the mixed messages being sent to Afghans by German bureaucrats would likely mean some will miss other opportunities to leave the country because they are still waiting for Germany to evacuate them.
“Everyone who has worked for Germans must now be let through, because there won’t be many more chances,” said Grotian. “They’ve been rejected three times, some of them four. There may not be a fifth when the planes don’t fly anymore.”
PARIS — French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said an Afghan evacuated from Kabul to Paris and suspected of links to the Taliban was detained by French police on Tuesday.
The man is one of five Afghans placed under strict surveillance by France’s intelligence agency for possible links to the Taliban. The five men were required to stay in a hotel in the Paris region for a quarantine, as are all evacuees who arrive in France without having been fully vaccinated.
“One left the place where he was asked to stay” and police arrested him, Darmanin said on news broadcaster France Info.
Of the other four men, one “was obviously linked to the Taliban,” Darmanin said. “But he helped the French army a lot, the French (nationals), your fellow journalists, more than a hundred Afghans who had visas and could not get out from the embassy.” The French Embassy has served as a shelter for hundreds of people before they were transferred to the Kabul airport, where the French ambassador and a reduced staff now work.
The man admitted to belonging to the Taliban and to bearing arms at a blockade in Kabul that was under his responsibility.
Darmanin said the security checks were done in Abu Dhabi, where the French have transferred evacuees before the onward journey to Paris.
“There was no breach,” he said.
Darmanin said France has evacuated over 1,000 Afghans from Kabul over the past week, including a large majority of Afghans who worked with the French government or French groups in the country.
COPENHAGEN, Denmark — A second person who had been deported from Denmark to Afghanistan, and who returned to the Scandinavian country on an evacuation plane from Kabul, has been arrested.
Danish police said Tuesday on Twitter that the man faces preliminary charges of violating an entry ban. Preliminary charges are one step short of formal charges.
On Sunday, a 23-year-old man was recognized by police for being member of an outlawed criminal gang when he tried to sneak back into Denmark. He too arrived on an evacuation plane from Afghanistan following the Taliban takeover of the country.
Because of the situation in Afghanistan, Denmark is no longer deporting people to that country.
Denmark’s Defense Minister Trine Bramsen said another 50 persons have been evacuated out of Kabul. A Danish Hercules C-130 flew them out Tuesday, with Bramsen saying that so far a total of about 850 people have been evacuated from Afghanistan.
In neighboring Sweden, Foreign Minister Ann Linde said on Monday evening that 55 people — mainly Swedish Embassy employees and their families — had been flown out of Kabul, bringing the total number of evacuees to 225.
WARSAW, Poland — Officials say that Poland has evacuated over 750 people from Afghanistan and a few dozen more are waiting at the Kabul airport for the air transport to Poland, but time is running out on the possibility of evacuation.
A deputy foreign minister, Marcin Przydacz, said on Tuesday that majority of those who cooperated with Poland’s diplomatic mission have been evacuated and the waiting list is getting shorter. However, there are still a number of families and mothers with children whom the authorities want to bring to Poland for security reasons, Przydacz said.
But the logistics and the conditions of the evacuation are challenging, he added.
Top government official, Michal Dworczyk, tweeted an appeal for help in locating the family of 13-year-old Fawad who got separated from his relatives during an “attempted evacuation” from Kabul. It was not immediately clear if Fawad has been brought to Poland. Fawad’s photo was posted on Dworczyk’s Twitter account.
BEIJING — China says the international community should support chances for positive developments in Afghanistan rather than impose sanctions on the Taliban.
“The international community should encourage and promote the development of the situation in Afghanistan in a positive direction, support peaceful reconstruction, improve the well-being of the people and enhance its capacity for independent development,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin told reporters at a daily briefing on Tuesday.
“Imposing sanctions and pressure at every turn cannot solve the problem and will only be counterproductive,” Wang said.
China, which shares a narrow border with Afghanistan, has seized on the ugly scenes at Kabul airport to redouble its harsh criticism of U.S. actions in the country, particularly its attempt to install a Western-style democracy. Beijing has kept open its embassy in Kabul and sought to maintain friendly relations with the Taliban.
KABUL — Afghanistan’s Hazaras, a Shiite minority, are calling on the Taliban to set up an inclusive government in which all ethnic groups would have a voice.
Shiite leader Sayed Hussain Alimi Balkhi said the country’s Shiite clerics have issued a declaration stating that a future parliament in Afghanistan should include members of different sects of Islam.
He asked for freedom of religion under an Islamic government and asked that there be separate courts for Shiites that follow Jafari jurisprudence, “in accordance with the provisions of law.”
The Shiite concerns come as the Taliban negotiating team in Qatar has been was insisting on implementation of Islamic law, and specifically Hanafi laws which are a major school of Sunni jurisprudence, in the laws and the constitution of Afghanistan.
The Taliban are a Sunni militant group.
LONDON — Britain says it has evacuated 8,600 U.K. citizens and Afghans from Kabul in recent days, 2,000 of them in the last 24 hours.
But Defense Secretary Ben Wallace conceded that “we’re not going to get everybody out of the country” before the U.S.-led mission ends on Aug. 31.
Britain and other allies are pressing President Joe Biden to extend the evacuation past the end-of-the-month date agreed with the Taliban. But Wallace told Sky News it’s unlikely Biden will agree.
The government said one of the evacuees on a British plane turned out to be a person on a U.K. no-fly list. Wallace said the individual was identified on arrival in Britain was investigated and judged “not a person of interest” to security services.
BERLIN — Prominent Afghan women’s rights activist Zarifa Ghafari has arrived in Germany together with her family members.
Ghafari landed at Cologne/Bonn airport late on Monday after fleeing Afghanistan to Pakistan last week.
Armin Laschet, the governor of Germany’s North Rhine-Westphalia state who met Ghafari, said it was important to help as many women as possible to leave Afghanistan in the coming days, Germany’s dpa news agency reported.
Ghafari became the mayor of the Afghan town of Maidan Shahr in 2018, at the age of 26.
She was a recipient of the the U.S. State Department’s 2020 International Women of Courage award. According to the State Department, she has survived at least six assassination attempts.
GENEVA — Switzerland’s foreign affairs office says a charter flight has arrived in Zurich with 219 people who were evacuated from Afghanistan on board.
The Federal Department of Foreign Affairs says the flight from Tashkent, Uzbekistan, landed early Tuesday, carrying 141 Afghans who worked with the Swiss department of development and cooperation in Afghanistan or their families and relatives.
Another 78 people from Afghanistan, Germany and Sweden were also on the flight.