US evacuates under threat of Afghan interpreters as Taliban gains ground

Thousands of interpreters who helped US and NATO troops in Afghanistan will be evacuated in late July, Washington announced Wednesday, as Taliban insurgents captured a strategic crossing point on the Pakistani border from government forces.

In what the White House called Operation Allies Refuge, the interpreters and their families will likely be taken to US overseas military bases or possibly third countries before settling in the United States or elsewhere.

Many fear reprisals from the Taliban, who want to regain control of the government in Kabul after US troops leave before the end of August.

There are an estimated 18,000 people — interpreters, translators and others who have worked with US troops — who would be eligible for evacuation. With their families, the total number of evacuees could potentially reach 80,000 or more.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the goal is to get those already processed under the State Department’s Special Immigrant Visas program just some of the 18,000 by Aug. 31 for the withdrawal of get the US out.

“These are courageous individuals. We want to make sure we recognize the value of the role they played,” she said.

At the Pentagon, spokesman John Kirby said they were working intensively on where the translators would be sent, but he would not identify any possibilities.

“We are looking at all options,” he said.

Fighters on motorcycles

The news came as the US military proceeded with final tasks of withdrawing from the country, and when Islamist insurgents captured Spin Boldak, the border crossing on the main road between Kandahar and Quetta, Pakistan, and on to Karachi.

The Afghan Interior Ministry denied that the insurgents had taken over the area.

“The terrorist Taliban had some movements near the border area… The security forces repulsed the attack,” Interior Ministry spokesman Tareq Arian told AFP.

But social media was flooded with photos of Taliban fighters relaxing in the border town, and residents told AFP it was in Taliban hands.

“I went to my shop this morning and saw that the Taliban are everywhere. They are in the bazaar, in the police station and in customs areas. I also hear the sound of fighting in the neighborhood,” said Raz Mohammad, a shopkeeper who lives nearby. from the border.

The border crossing provides direct access to Pakistan’s Balochistan province – where the insurgents’ top leadership has been based for decades – along with an unknown number of reserve fighters who regularly enter Afghanistan to bolster their ranks.

Hours after the crossing was completed, an AFP reporter on the Pakistani side saw about 150 Taliban fighters riding motorcycles, waving insurgent flags and demanding they be allowed to cross Afghanistan.

Bush condemns US withdrawal

Spin Boldak was the latest in a series of border crossings and dry ports seized by the insurgents in recent weeks as they sought to stifle the revenue Kabul so desperately needed while filling their own treasury.

In another sign that Western governments were quickly reassessing the situation, British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said the UK is ready to work with the Taliban if it takes on a power-sharing government.

“Whatever the government today is, provided it adheres to certain international standards, the British government will get involved,” he told the Daily Telegraph.

“All peace processes require you to come to terms with the enemy. Sometimes that is what it is.”

On Tuesday, the Pentagon urged leaders in Kabul to step up their fight against the Taliban.

“They know what to do,” Kirby told reporters. “Whatever the results, good or bad, it’s about how leadership was radiated, how leadership was displayed,” he said.

“That will really be the test here in the coming weeks and months.”

As the government’s grip on the country appeared to be easing further, former US President George W. Bush – who launched the US invasion 20 years ago after the September 11 attacks – rejected Biden’s decision to withdraw all troops.

“I am afraid that Afghan women and girls will suffer unspeakable harm… They will be left to be slaughtered by these very cruel people and it breaks my heart,” he told German broadcaster Deutsche Welle.

When asked if he thought the withdrawal was a mistake, Bush replied, “Yes, I think so.”

Meanwhile, nearly 350 Afghans fled to Tajikistan from northern Afghanistan on Wednesday to escape Taliban attacks, Tajik Khova news agency reported.

It said the refugees, the majority of them girls, “had fled the Taliban to save their lives”, adding that two babies died during the border crossing.

(AFP)

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