US Secretary of State to visit Qatar on Afghan crisis trip

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(FILES) In this file photo US Secretary of State Antony Blinken addresses reporters during his first press briefing at the State Department in Washington, DC, on January 27, 2021. - US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called on February 15, 2021, for an investigation into a rocket attack on an airbase in Iraq's Kurdistan region and promised to "hold accountable those responsible." (Photo by CARLOS BARRIA / POOL / AFP)
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  • Blinken will spend Monday and Tuesday in Qatar, the largest hub for the evacuations of some 100,000 Afghans in the final days
  • Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will leave on a trip Sunday that also begins in Qatar and will also include Bahrain, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia

The US diplomatic and defense chiefs on Friday announced travel next week to Qatar and other allies on the Afghanistan crisis as they strive to help more people escape Taliban rule.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken will spend Monday and Tuesday in Qatar, the largest hub for the evacuations of some 100,000 Afghans in the final days of the 20-year US military mission.

He will then head to the US air base of Ramstein in Germany, which has become a temporary home for thousands of Afghan allies of the United States flown out after the US-backed government collapsed.

He said he will meet with German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas and then hold a 20-nation virtual ministerial meeting on the crisis.

The countries “all have a stake in helping to relocate and resettle Afghans and in holding the Taliban to their commitments,” Blinken told reporters.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will leave on a trip Sunday that also begins in Qatar and will also include Bahrain, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, fellow US military allies in the Gulf, the Pentagon said.

The Taliban, eager to keep foreign assistance coming in as they suddenly run a deeply poor country, have promised to keep letting Afghans leave. They are also expected shortly to name a government. 

“There is an expectation that any government that emerges now will have some real inclusivity and that it will have non-Talibs in it,” Blinken said.

Blinken said he will voice “deep gratitude” to Qatar for its efforts.

A senior State Department official however said that Blinken had no plans to meet the Taliban, who have made the Gulf kingdom their diplomatic base from which they negotiated the pullout deal with former president Donald Trump’s administration.

“If it is appropriate for the secretary of state to engage with a senior Taliban leader on a matter that is in our national interest, he will do that, but we’re not at that stage,” the official said on condition of anonymity.

Reassuring US allies 

Republican critics at home have predictably denounced how Biden carried out the withdrawal but some US allies, many of whom rejoiced at seeing Biden replace Trump, have also voiced concern.

Britain’s defense secretary, Ben Wallace, suggested that the United States is no longer a superpower and Armin Laschet, the leader of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s ruling party and candidate to succeed her, described the Afghanistan mission as “the biggest debacle” in NATO’s history.

Biden, much like Trump, argued that nothing more could have been gained from America’s longest war that claimed nearly 2,500 US lives along with many more among Afghans in the 20 years since the September 11 attacks prompted the invasion.

Blinken said the mad dash to fly out Afghans was caused in part by inaction by the Trump administration, which fervently opposed non-European immigration and had virtually shut down a visa program for Afghan interpreters and others who helped the US mission.

Blinken on Thursday toured an evacuation hub at Washington’s international airport in Dulles, Virginia, where more than 26,000 Afghans have flown in on their way to new lives after clearing screening.

In an exposition center the size of an airport hangar, makeshift rooms were created with curtains to separate rows of beds with blue blankets as children roamed nearby.

“It’s a range — some are exhausted, some are traumatized obviously. But for the most part it’s an amazing amount of resiliency here,” a woman in fatigues with a nametag identifying her as Kim told Blinken.

The top US diplomat, the stepson of a Holocaust survivor, has been a longtime advocate for refugees and appeared visibly emotional as he described his tour.

“We throw a lot statistics around, but each one of those was a mother, a father, a son, a daughter, a parent, a grandparent,” Blinken said.

Welcoming refugees, Blinken said, is “part of our DNA.”

 

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