The Latest: Milley praises those who served in Afghanistan

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Taliban fighters stand guard in front of the Hamid Karzai International Airport after the U.S. withdrawal in Kabul, Afghanistan, Tuesday, Aug. 31, 2021. The Taliban were in full control of Kabul’s international airport on Tuesday, after the last U.S. plane left its runway, marking the end of America’s longest war. (AP Photo/Khwaja Tawfiq Sediqi)

WASHINGTON — The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff reflected on the Afghanistan war’s end and delivered an emotional tribute Tuesday to the 13 service members killed by a suicide bombing last week.

Gen. Mark Milley said the military’s counterterrorism efforts over the past 20 years and the evacuation of 124,000 people from Afghanistan in the last 20 days are the legacy of U.S. service members.

In his words, “We’re now closing a chapter in our nation’s history.”

Milley said the 11 Marines, one soldier and one Navy corpsman who died in the suicide bombing “gave their tomorrows for the tomorrows of 124,000 people.”

His comments came during the retirement ceremony for Gen. Robert Abrams, who most recently commanded U.S. Forces Korea. Both men commanded troops in Afghanistan.

Milley called it “an incredibly emotional day,” adding: “All of us are conflicted with feelings of pain and anger, sorrow and sadness, combined with pride and resilience. But one thing I am certain of, for any soldier, sailor, airman or Marine and their families, your service mattered. It was not in vain.”

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MORE ON AFGHANISTAN:

— Victorious Taliban focus on governing after US withdrawal

— In Kabul, some fear economic collapse more than Taliban fist

— Analysis: War is over but not Biden’s Afghanistan challenges

— As US military leaves Kabul, many Americans, Afghans remain

— Last troops exit Afghanistan, ending America’s longest war

— Qatar emerges as key player in Afghanistan after US pullout

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

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden says he chose to end the war in Afghanistan in order to focus the nation’s defenses on other security problems, including China and Russia.

Addressing the nation Tuesday from the White House on the day after the last U.S. troops left Afghanistan, ending a 20-year war, Biden said he will sharpen the focus of U.S. foreign policy by concentrating on threats such as cyberattack and the proliferation of nuclear weapon technologies.

He vows to continue counterterrorism operations, including against any threats emanating from Afghanistan. He says this can be done with forces based outside of Afghanistan.

The president also mentioned the Islamic State extremist group’s Afghanistan affiliate, which conducted a suicide bombing at the Kabul airport on Aug. 26 that killed 13 American service members and dozens of Afghan civilians. Biden said, “We are not done with you yet.”

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WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden is defending his handling of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, including the frantic final evacuation from Kabul airport.

In remarks at the White House on Tuesday, Biden said the U.S. government had reached out 19 times since March — prior to his public announcement that he was going to end the U.S. war — to encourage all American citizens in Afghanistan to leave. He acknowledged that 100 to 200 were unable to get out when the airlift ended Monday.

Biden asserted that his administration was ready when the U.S.-backed government in Kabul collapsed in mid-August and the Taliban took over. But the airlift that began Aug. 14 has been heavily criticized by many as initially unorganized and chaotic.

Biden said that 5,500 Americans eventually got out, and that “arrangements” will be made to get the remaining Americans out if they so choose.

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UNITED NATIONS — The acting head of the U.N. women’s agency is urging the Taliban to reaffirm their commitment to comply with Afghanistan’s 2004 constitution and international treaties that guarantee equality to all citizens.

She also asks them to guarantee “the full and equal participation of women in the political and decision-making processes.”

Pramila Patten said in a statement Tuesday that Afghanistan’s development and the cause of peace require the equal and meaningful participation of women in all fields including public and political life, and the Taliban must take “bold steps” to ensure their inclusion in decision-making at all levels, both nationally and internationally.

She said the hard-won gains that Afghan women’s rights activists have fought for “cannot be reversed or rolled back.”

“The inclusion of women in the governance architecture will be the litmus test for the new political leadership of Afghanistan,” Patten said. “Urgent action is needed now to ensure the full participation of women in the public and political life of Afghanistan.”

She said the Taliban must also ensure that women are protected from gender-based threats and attacks, “which violate their rights and impede their effective participation.”

The U.N. Security Council adopted a resolution Monday reaffirming the importance of upholding human rights and encouraging a negotiated political settlement “with the full, equal and meaningful participation of women.”

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UNITED NATIONS — The United Nations chief is urging all countries to help the people of Afghanistan “in their darkest hour of need,” saying almost half the population needs humanitarian assistance to survive and the country faces the threat of basic services collapsing completely.

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres expressed “grave concern at the deepening humanitarian crisis in the country” in a statement Tuesday, the first day of Taliban rule after the withdrawal of the last U.S. forces from Afghanistan.

He offered some grim statistics of the looming “humanitarian catastrophe”: 18 million Afghans need aid to survive, one in three don’t know where their next meal will come from, over half of all children under age 5 are expected to become “acutely malnourished” in the next year, and every day people are losing access to basic goods and services.

Guterres said that “amid a severe drought and with harsh winter conditions on the horizon, extra food, shelter and health supplies must be urgently fast-tracked into the country.”

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the current $1.3 billion U.N. humanitarian appeal for Afghanistan is only 39 per cent funded. Guterres said a new emergency appeal for the next four months is expected next week.

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PARIS — France says “a few dozen” French nationals remain in Afghanistan, including some who wanted to be evacuated but could not as the last flight left Kabul.

Defense Ministry spokesman Herve Grandjean said in a news conference Tuesday that “all efforts are being done” to allow those left behind to get “a safe and orderly evacuation.”

He said “that is the goal of the talks under way within the United Nations framework with the Taliban power.”

In addition, France was not able to evacuate a “few dozen” former Afghan employees of the French army who asked for the protection of the country, he said.

France will do “the maximum” in the coming days and weeks to help them getting out of Afghanistan, Grandjean said.

France’s evacuation flights from Aug. 17 to Aug. 27 have evacuated about 2,600 Afghans at risk, including 110 former employees of the French army and their families.

France withdrew its troops from Afghanistan at the end of 2014.

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BERLIN — The U.S. military says it has conducted more than 100 flights to bring almost 24,000 vulnerable Afghans to its Ramstein Air Base in Germany since Aug. 20.

The 86th Airlift Wing said Tuesday that about 10,000 evacuees have already departed again for resettlement locations, with some 13,900 still at the base.

A further 2,300 people are expected to be brought to Ramstein in the coming hours and a similar number will depart for onward destinations, it said.

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ISTANBUL — Turkey’s foreign minister has warned of a fresh wave of migration from Afghanistan following the Taliban’s takeover.

Mevlut Cavusoglu’s comments came Tuesday at a news conference in the Serbian capital Belgrade.

“There is a migration crisis in the world and there may be a new wave of migration, it’s very likely,” he said.

Cavusoglu said a meeting of G-7 foreign ministers on Monday had discussed ways to help Afghans stay in their country.

Turkey currently hosts some 4 million refugees, mainly Syrians, and has been reinforcing security measures along its border with Iran to prevent a new influx from Afghanistan.

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CHAMAN, Pakistan — Dozens of Afghan families have crossed into Pakistan through the southwestern Chaman border a day after the U.S. wrapped up its 20-year military presence in the Taliban-controlled country.

According to witnesses Tuesday, an Islamabad-based Christian organization was providing food and tents to some of the families.

It was the first time that some Afghans were seen sitting in tents in an open area on the outskirts of Chaman, a border town in southwestern Baluchistan province.

Pakistan’s Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said Monday that most Afghans who came to Pakistan in the past two weeks are staying with relatives in Chaman.

Pakistan says it has not granted refugee status to any Afghans since the Taliban took the control in Afghanistan this month.

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THE HAGUE, Netherlands — Dutch Foreign Affairs Minister Sigrid Kaag is traveling to Qatar, Pakistan and Turkey to discuss how to get people out of Afghanistan who did not make it onto evacuation flights while Kabul’s airport was still under the control of American forces.

Evacuation flights rescued more than 1,000 Afghans who had worked with Dutch forces and diplomats in Afghanistan during the two-decade conflict there. However, not all those who were entitled to leave made it out of the country before the departure Monday night of the last American troops.

Kaag leaves Tuesday night for a whistle-stop tour of Doha, Islamabad and Ankara in coming days before heading to a meeting of European Union foreign ministers in Slovenia later this week.

The Dutch foreign ministry says that Kaag will talk to her counterparts about “the possibility of keeping borders and Kabul airport open, the importance of safe exit routes” and possible support for countries in the region.

She also will discuss support for the Afghan population – particularly women and girls — humanitarian aid and migration in the region.

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WASHINGTON — The United States says its mission to get Americans out of Afghanistan will continue after Monday’s withdrawal.

Jake Sullivan, the U.S. national security adviser, says it’s just that the evacuation effort “has shifted from a military mission to a diplomatic mission.” He cited “considerable leverage” the U.S. has over the Taliban to get out any remaining Americans — a number that U.S. official have said is under 200.

Sullivan says the U.S. intends to continue sending health, food and other forms of humanitarian aid to the Afghan people. He says that other forms of aid, including economic and developmental, would depend on Taliban actions and adherence to publicly stated commitments.

American forces helped evacuate over 120,000 U.S. citizens, foreigners and Afghans after the Taliban regained control of the country, according to the White House. Coalition forces also evacuated their citizens and Afghans. But foreign nations and the U.S. government acknowledged they didn’t evacuate all who wanted to go.

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ROTA, Spain — A military aircraft carrying 200 Afghans has landed at a military base in southern Spain hours after the United States wrapped up its 20-year-long military presence in the Taliban-controlled country.

The latest flight to Rota was the sixth to the Spanish navy base since evacuations began through hubs in allied countries — transit bases where U.S. authorities are offering basic help and screening the Afghan refugees before they are cleared to arrive on U.S. soil.

U.S. officials said Tuesday the evacuees had flown from Kabul to an undisclosed location in the Middle East before they continued their trip to Spain.

Rota, and the nearby air force base of Morón, have hosted a significant U.S. detachment since the mid-1950’s. Spain, which owns both bases, has allowed the U.S. to evacuate up to 4,000 Afghans there for a maximum of 14 days.

U.S. officials at the base said the first flight taking 350 Afghans to Dulles airport in Virginia would depart Tuesday. From there, people will be relocated to different cities in the country, said Rear Adm. Benjamin Reynolds, director of maritime headquarters at Rota,

Some 1,700 Afghans are currently being hosted in Rota.

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NEW DELHI — India’s ambassador to Qatar has held talks with a top Taliban leader in Doha, the first such formal diplomatic contact between Indian officials and the insurgent group’s leadership.

India’s Ministry of External Affairs said Tuesday that Deepak Mittal met Sher Mohammed Abbas Stanekzai, the head of the Taliban’s Political Office in Doha, at the request of the insurgent group. The discussions “focused on safety, security and early return of Indian nationals stranded in Afghanistan,” the ministry said in a statement.

The ministry said Mittal made clear “Afghanistan’s soil should not be used for anti-Indian activities.” It said the Taliban representatives assured the issues raised by India “would be positively addressed.”

This is the first time India has acknowledged formal contact with the Taliban since Kabul fell to the insurgent group on August 15.

India’s earlier position was that it was engaged in talks with “important stakeholders in Afghanistan.” It had neither acknowledged nor denied that its officials had held any meetings with the Taliban.

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BERLIN — Chancellor Angela Merkel has stressed that Germany is focused on humanitarian aid now and on helping former local Afghan staffers who were not evacuated in the last two weeks.

Merkel said their numbers are “not 300” but “between 10,000 to 40,000.” Germany has evacuated more than 5,000 people from Afghanistan this month, the majority of them Afghans.

She said that of those who remain, it wasn’t clear how many of them want to leave Afghanistan. She says that while Germany doesn’t have any diplomatic relations with the Taliban, it’s important to talk to the militant group, also in order to get further Afghans in need of evacuation out of the country.

Merkel spoke ahead of talks on Tuesday with her Austrian counterpart Sebastian Kurz in Berlin. Kurz reiterated his country’s position to not take in any migrants from Afghanistan. He said that “when it comes admission, my position in known. Nothing much has changed there. Especially because Austria has done a lot already. We have taken in a disproportionately high amount of people since 2015, we have the per-capita fourth biggest Afghan community worldwide.”

Kurz has long taken a tough approach to migration issues. Last month he said that he also would not halt the deportations of rejected asylum seekers to Afghanistan despite the situation there.

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BERLIN — Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz says his country is not prepared to take in more Afghans and will not back a Europe-wide system for distributing refugees from Afghanistan across the European Union.

Asked about proposals for all EU countries to share the burden of taking in refugees, Kurz told reporters in Berlin on Tuesday that Austria had already taken in a “bigger than proportionate share” of migrants since 2015.

Austria already has the fourth largest Afghan community worldwide, he said ahead of a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Merkel said that, for her government, the focus now is on how to help up to 40,000 Afghans who are entitled to come to Germany with their close family because they had worked for the German military or aid organizations.

“We need to see how many actually want to leave the country and how many don’t,” she said. “That will depend very much on the circumstances the Taliban create in the country.”

Speaking at a separate event, Germany’s interior minister said his country is willing to take in Afghans who are at particular risk of persecution, but declined to say how many.

“I don’t think it’s wise if we talk about numbers here, because numbers obviously trigger a pull effect and we don’t want that,” said the minister, Horst Seehofer.

He urged all 27 EU countries to agree on a common asylum policy, noting that “so far Austria hasn’t been prepared to do so, up to now.

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KABUL, Afghanistan — A prominent member of the Taliban’s political office has congratulated Afghans on their “great victory” in achieving “full independence of the country” as the U.S. troops pulled out.

Shahabuddin Delawar spoke to a gathering of about a hundred people, apparently only men, in Kabul on Tuesday. The event was carried live on state television. Delawar chastised the enemy — meaning U.S. and NATO forces — and accused the West of spreading propaganda to undermine the Taliban.

But, he warned, “you will soon witness the progress” of the nation. Delawar spoke with the white Taliban flag seen in the background. The state TV captioned the live shot with he caption: “Celebration of Independence Day and the end of U.S. invasion in Afghanistan”

Delawar also reminded the audience that the Taliban defeated the Soviet Union and today they defeated America. He asked Afghan ambassadors to return home, and promised that the Kabul airport would resume operations soo.

His speech both celebrated the Taliban’s return to power, and underlined their latest mantra that they are not a threat to anyone. He also sought to assure the world that they were a government the international community could do business with. He vacillated between reveling in their victory to assuring those who had opposed them to return.

“We do not seek revenge,” he said.

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BEIJING — China says the withdrawal of the U.S. military and others from Afghanistan shows the nation “has broken free from foreign military occupation, and the Afghan people stand at a new starting point for peace and reconstruction.”

“The history of Afghanistan is entering a new chapter,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin told reporters at a daily briefing Tuesday.

China has kept its embassy in Kabul following the Taliban’s sweep to power and In July hosted a delegation from the group including its political leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar. China shares a narrow border with Afghanistan and is chiefly concerned with preventing the Taliban exporting instability or Islamic militancy to its traditionally Muslim northwestern region of Xinjiang.

As Washington’s chief strategic rival, China has been piling on criticism of the chaotic pullout of U.S. and NATO forces, stating on a daily basis that the performance shows the U.S. cannot be relied on by countries that need its political and military support.

China, along with Russia, abstained from a vote at the United Nations calling on the Taliban to allow all those wishing to leave Afghanistan to be allowed to do so.

“The recent chaos in Afghanistan is directly related to the hasty and disorderly withdrawal of foreign troops,” Wang said. “We hope that the countries concerned will realize that the withdrawal is not the end of responsibility, but the beginning for reflection and correction of mistakes.”

He also urged the United States and other Western countries to provide Afghans with “much-needed economic, livelihood and humanitarian assistance to help the Afghan people overcome the difficulties and embark on the road to peaceful reconstruction as soon as possible, instead

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ISLAMABAD — Pakistan’s foreign minister on Tuesday urged the international community to act to prevent an “economic collapse” in neighboring Afghanistan after the takeover of the country by the Taliban and the pullout of U.S. forces.

Shah Mahmood Qureshi says it’s in the interest of peace and stability for the world to remain engaged and not abandon Afghanistan since more instability and further exodus of Afghans fleeing the Taliban rule were not in the interest of the nation.

He said that “this is a pivotal moment in Afghanistan’s history. International community must remain engaged, do not let economic collapse take place in Afghanistan.”

Qureshi spoke at a joint news conference with visiting German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas on Tuesday, a day after the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, marking the end of the 20 years of war next door.

Qureshi said Pakistan facilitated the evacuation of more than 10,000 foreigners from Afghanistan since the Taliban takeover. He said Pakistan has already been hosting more than 3 million Afghan refugees for the past decades and that his Islamic nation lacks the capacity to absorb more refugees.

Maas said that while the Taliban have pledged to form an inclusive government and respect human rights, it remains to be seen whether they will live up to those commitments.

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KABUL, Afghanistan — At one of Kabul’s upscale wedding halls, a celebration was in full swing around midday Tuesday. Afghan dance music could be heard from inside the hall.

According to reception hall’s manager, Shadab Azimi, 26, at least seven wedding parties have been held since the Taliban takeover of Kabul two weeks earlier, with festivities moved to daylight hours because of security concerns.

The Taliban, who during their previous rule between 1996-2001 had banned most music, except for devotional Islamic songs, did not announce a ban of live music, Azimi said. However, wedding singers canceled on their own, for fear of running afoul of possible new Taliban restrictions.

He said in recent celebrations, couples played taped music. Azimi said business was down by 80% over the past two weeks, presumably because of a sense of uncertainty.

The manager said Taliban patrols check in a couple of times a day, asking if he needs help with security, but have not seemed threatening. And unlike the security forces under the deposed government, the Taliban have not demanded bribes, he said.

“Former officials, including police officers, were asking us for money and we were forced to host their friends for lunches and dinners,” he said.

Even before the Taliban takeover, wedding parties were traditionally been segregated, with men and women celebrating in different spaces.

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TOKYO — Japan’s top diplomat says his country has temporarily moved its embassy from Afghanistan to Turkey but now plans to relocate it to Qatar, where the Taliban have an office. The Gulf Arab country is also expected to play an important political role in what comes next for Afghanistan.

Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi earlier this month visited the Middle East. He told reporters on Tuesday that his talks with leaders in the region suggest that Doha, the capital of Qatar, will carry growing political importance.

“I believe various forms of communication will take place,” Motegi said.

Japanese nationals at the embassy in Kabul were among the first to be evacuated from Afghanistan. Most of them were airlifted by the British military before Tokyo dispatched its Self-Defense Force aircraft last week as the security outside the Kabul airport worsened.

Last Thursday and Friday, Japan evacuated only one Japanese citizen, along with 14 Afghan people at the request of U.S. military, to Pakistan.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato said that safe evacuations of the rest of Japanese nationals and Afghans who worked for the Japanese Embassy and aid organization remain a top priority.

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KABUL, Afghanistan — Even as the U.S. and its NATO allies left Afghanistan, some of the gains of the last 20 years were on display as boys and girls rushed to school early on Tuesday.

Masooda was hurrying to get to her fifth grade class at a private school. “I’m not afraid of the Taliban,” she said. “Why should I be?”

Students had been called back to school four days ago. The Taliban have said students will be segregated by sex, but in many schools that was already the practice, except for the early grades.

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