State Department denies relying on Taliban promise to allow safe passage for evacuees: “It’s not about trust.”

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State Department spokesman Ned Price denied that the Biden administration was relying on the Taliban promise to allow safe passage for Afghan allies and others seeking to leave the country, saying that American officials had “significant sources of leverage” if the group reneged on its commitment.

The extent of the Biden administration’s confidence in Taliban engagement was a point of contention at the department’s regular press conference on Monday. Asked about US efforts to reassure vulnerable Afghans fearing retaliation from the Taliban, Price first noted that the Taliban had “accepted and committed to providing and enabling safe passage” for Americans as well as to “third country nationals and Afghans”.

While Price said the Biden administration was “focused on deeds, not words” regarding the pledge, his response prompted a question about how officials could trust the Taliban not to retaliate against the Afghans who have assisted US forces for the past two decades.

“We do not trust the Taliban in any way. It is not a question of trust,” Price said. “It’s about what’s in our best interests and also what’s in the best interests of the Afghan people, and those two things are aligned.”

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“It’s not about asking for permission, it’s not about establishing any formal relationship,” Price added. “This is about doing everything we can to facilitate a safe passage, to ensure that the Taliban know that any effort to prevent the evacuation of American citizens, to hamper our operations while it is in progress, would collide to a very quick and stern response, that was our message.

The Biden administration has stepped up efforts to evacuate thousands of people stranded at Kabul airport after the Taliban takeover. Thousands of people are applying for special immigrant visas to leave the country, fearing violence will ensue after the impending withdrawal from the United States.

Price argued that the Taliban would need the support of the international community to maintain a functioning economy and effective control over Afghanistan. He noted that the US government and its international allies have “significant sources of influence” over the regime.

“We have been very clear that these things would be quite difficult, if not impossible, if the Taliban do not live up to their fundamental commitments, if they deny the rights of their citizens, if they deprive more than half of their population. of their basic rights, if they commit the kinds of atrocities we have all seen happen in Afghanistan over the years, ”Price added.

US authorities have evacuated around 37,000 people since August 14 and around 42,000 since the end of July, according to the White House. The tally included about 10,400 people evacuated by US military flights in the past 30 hours.

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Price said the Biden administration was “determined to help as many Afghans at risk as possible,” adding that the United States’ commitment to those who remained in Afghanistan would continue beyond August 31.

He declined to say whether evacuation operations could continue beyond the August 31 deadline that Biden initially imposed.

“President Biden will ultimately have to decide when to end this operation. I can tell you that our goal is to act as quickly and efficiently as possible to get as many people as possible to safety,” he said. -he adds. Price says.

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