BOSTON — Taliban websites that delivered the victorious insurgents’ official messages to Afghans and the world at large in five languages have abruptly gone offline.
It is not immediately clear why the sites in the Pashto, Urdu, Arabic, English and Dari languages went offline Friday. They had been shielded by Cloudflare, a San Francisco-based content delivery network and denial-of-service protection provider.
Cloudflare has not respond to emails and phone calls seeking comment on the development, which was first reported by The Washington Post.
Also Friday, the popular encrypted messaging service WhatsApp removed a number of Taliban groups, according to Rita Katz, director of SITE Intelligence Group, which tracks online extremism.
The websites’ disappearance may just be temporary as the Taliban secures new hosting arrangements. But the reported removal of the WhatsApp groups followed the banning of Taliban accounts by Facebook, the service’s parent company, on Tuesday after the U.S.-backed Afghan government fell to the Taliban.
MORE ON THE CRISIS IN AFGHANISTAN:
— Report: Taliban killed minorities, fueling Afghans’ fears
— US struggles to speed Kabul airlift despite Taliban, chaos
— Western groups desperate to save Afghan workers left behind
— Allies embraced Biden. Did Kabul lay bare “great illusion”?
— Afghan president latest leader on the run to turn up in UAE
— Afghanistan war unpopular amid chaotic pullout: AP-NORC poll
— Afghan officer who fought with US forces rescued from Kabul
— Find more AP coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/afghanistan
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Antony Blinken says 13 countries have thus far agreed to at least temporarily host at-risk Afghans evacuated from Afghanistan and a dozen more have agreed to serve as transit points for evacuees, including Americans and others.
Blinken says in a Friday statement that potential Afghan refugees not already cleared for resettlement in the United States will be housed at facilities in Albania, Canada, Colombia, Costa Rica, Chile, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Mexico, Poland, Qatar, Rwanda, Ukraine and Uganda.
Transit countries include Bahrain, Britain, Denmark, Germany, Italy, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Qatar, Tajikistan, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and Uzbekistan.
Blinken says: “We are encouraged by other countries that are also considering providing support. We have no higher priority than the safety and security of U.S. citizens overseas and to fulfill our commitments to citizens of partner nations and at-risk Afghans.”
KABUL, Afghanistan — U.S. helicopters have ferried 96 Afghans to the Kabul airport for evacuation, signaling that U.S. military flights are taking place beyond the airport perimeters in the Afghan capital.
Senior American military officials told The Associated Press that an American CH-47 Chinook helicopter picked up the Afghans, mostly women and children, and ferried them to Hamid Karzai International Airport on Friday. U.S. Army’s 3rd Brigade Combat Team of the 82nd Airborne Division airlifted the Afghans from Camp Sullivan, near the Kabul airport.
The officials say sorties like this one have been underway for days as Afghans seek to flee the country taken over by the Taliban. Intelligence teams inside Kabul are helping guide both Americans and Afghans and their families to the airport or are arranging for them to be rescued by other means.
For those living in other cities and provinces outside Kabul, CIA case officers, special operation forces and agents from the Defense Intelligence Agency on the ground are gathering U.S. citizens and Afghan nationals who worked for the U.S. at pre-determined pick-up sites.
The officials would not detail where these airlift sites were for security reasons. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss ongoing operations.
—James La Porta in Boca Raton, Florida.
MOSCOW — Uzbekistan says it has sent 150 Afghan refugees who fled from the Taliban takeover back to Afghanistan, in accord with their own wishes.
The Uzbek Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Friday that the move followed talks with the Taliban, who have pledged not to persecute those who come back.
The ministry said it has contacted the Taliban to obtain “security guarantees for citizens of Afghanistan who illegally crossed the border during those dramatic days” as the Taliban blitzed across the country, just weeks before the final U.S. and NATO pullout.
It said the ministry learned from those Afghans who returned from Uzbekistan that they were now safe at their homes after “the necessary formal procedures.” The ministry did not elaborate.
The ministry noted that Uzbekistan was cooperating with the countries working to evacuate their citizens from Afghanistan, including the United States, Russia, Germany, Switzerland, Austria and others. It said the country has allowed them to use its airspace and airports and provided the necessary technical and logistical support to help evacuate a total of 1,982 people.
WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden says his administration is also committed to evacuating Afghans who assisted the United States during its 20-year war in Afghanistan.
Biden spoke at a White House press conference on Friday, vowing to evacuate every American still in Afghanistan who wants to get out. Biden’s said no American citizens who want to leave the country will be left behind.
Biden was asked whether all Afghan allies will be evacuated. He responded, “Yes. We’re making the same commitment” to evacuate Afghan allies as has been made to Americans in Afghanistan.
The exact number of Afghans who qualify for evacuation is not clear, but it is believed to number in the tens of thousands.
WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden is pledging to evacuate any American currently in Afghanistan who wants to come home.
Biden made the promise on Friday as he provided an update on the tense situation in Afghanistan. The president has been under mounting pressure over his decisions in Afghanistan, which led to the Taliban completely taking over the country on Sunday.
Thousands of Americans, Afghans are clamoring to leave and chaotic scenes have unfolded at Kabul’s international airport.
Addressing Americans in Afghanistan, Biden said: “Let me be clear. Any American who wants to come home, we will get you home.”
WASHINGTON — U.S. officials say that American military planes will resume evacuation flights from the Kabul airport after an hours-long pause due to a lack of places available to take evacuees.
One official said there was a backlog on Friday of about 10,000 people at the airport who have been cleared for departure and were awaiting flights.
The backlog, in turn, caused the military to close gates at the airport perimeter, where many people are trying to get on flights. The State Department was working on arranging additional places to take the evacuees.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss matter not yet publicly announced ahead of President Joe Biden’s speech Friday on the situation in Kabul.
—Robert Burns in Washington;
—This item has been corrected to say that flights are to resume, not that they have resumed.
MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin has sharply criticized the United States and its allies over their role in Afghanistan.
The Russian leader spoke on Friday after his talks in Moscow with visiting German Chancellor Angela Merkel. He said that the Taliban’s quick sweep over Afghanistan showed the futility of Western efforts to enforce its own vision of democracy.
“It’s necessary to stop the irresponsible” efforts of the U.S. to enforce “its own values on others and attempts to build democracy in other countries … without taking into account historic, ethnic and religious issues and fully ignoring other people’s traditions,” Putin said.
Putin said that “we know the country well and became convinced that it’s counterproductive to try to enforce forms of government and social life that are alien to it.”
The remark was an apparent reference to the 10-year Soviet war in Afghanistan that ended with the Soviet troops’ withdrawal in 1989.
Putin noted the Taliban’s pledge to maintain public order and protect civilians and foreign diplomatic missions. He made no reference to reports of atrocities underway across Afghanistan in the wake of the Taliban takeover.
ROME — The U.N. food agency says it has been able to negotiate access with the Taliban to distribute aid in one provincial capital in Afghanistan but hasn’t been able to resume food deliveries to three other provincial capitals it supplies.
The World Food Program, headquartered in Rome, has said that some 14 million people are facing severe hunger in the nation of some 39 million. A second drought in three years, combined with fighting, had afflicted Afghanistan even before the Taliban takeover of the country on Sunday.
Andrew Patterson, WFP’s deputy country director, told The Associated Press on Friday that after Faizabad, a provincial capital in the north, fell to the Taliban last week, the agency’s field office succeeded in negotiating access with the local Taliban command, and “we had (a food) truck on the road the next day.”
However, Patterson said the situation in Kandahar, Herat and Jalalabad so far hasn’t allowed the U.N. agency to resume distributing food in those areas.
According to WFP estimates, some 2 million children are malnourished in Afghanistan.
BRUSSELS — NATO foreign ministers vowed on Friday to center their efforts on assuring the safe evacuation from Afghanistan of citizens from the alliance’s member countries and allies, as well and Afghans deemed at risk after the takeover by the Taliban.
During a virtual meeting, the ministers also expressed concern over the “grave events” in Afghanistan and called for “an immediate end to violence” amid reports of Taliban atrocities and “serious human rights violations and abuses across Afghanistan.”
The ministers insisted that the new rulers in Kabul would have to make sure that the nation does not become a center for terrorism. They said that “under the current circumstances, NATO has suspended all support to the Afghan authorities.”
“Any future Afghan government must adhere to Afghanistan’s international obligations …. And ensure that Afghanistan never again serves as a safe haven for terrorists,” a statement from the alliance said.
BERLIN — Germany’s foreign minister says the United States will use its Ramstein Air Base in western Germany as a temporary transit point to transport people from Afghanistan seeking protection to the United States.
Germany, like other Western countries, has sent military aircraft of its own to Afghanistan in recent days to evacuate German nationals and Afghans who worked for its forces prior to their withdrawal amid the Taliban surge.
Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said in a statement on Friday that the focus is on evacuating as many people from Kabul “as is possible under the very difficult circumstances” and that Germany is working closely with international partners.
Maas said: “We agree with all our partners on the ground that no place on our planes should remain empty.” He said that, as a result, U.S. flights will also take Germans or people named by German authorities to Ramstein, while Germany also will evacuate people from various nations on its own planes.
PARIS — French President Emmanuel Macron sent a message of “welcome” in a tweet on Friday to Afghans evacuated to France, following the arrival from Kabul of a third group of more than 200 people, mostly Afghans.
He also noted that health rules are not being forgotten, posting photos of Afghans surrounded by doctors and a man getting a COVID-19 test, obligatory for all arrivals.
All people coming to France from Afghanistan must observe a 10-day quarantine under pandemic restrictions because their country is on the French red list of color-coded risks for coronavirus, with red the highest, the Foreign Ministry noted Thursday.
To ensure that France and other nations can continue evacuations, Macron insisted in a phone call with President Joe Biden of the “absolute need for rapid and concrete coordination among allies,” according to a French statement Friday about the conversation the day before.
The U.S. military is in charge of the evacuations at Kabul airport, meaning that other countries must go through them to evacuate their own citizens and Afghans considered at risk in their homeland following the Taliban takeover of the country on Sunday.
ROME — A retired Italian general who commanded Italy’s initial contingent in western Afghanistan in 2001 says NATO’s retreat should have been planned for winter, after the end of the Taliban’s so-called “fighting season.’’
Gen. Giorgio Battisti, in an interview on Sky TG24 TV Friday, also said the U.S. air base at Bagram should have been left operating during withdrawal to help evacuate civilians.
“Probably, in my modest opinion, it was necessary to spread out the final withdrawal, assuming one wanted to completely leave Afghanistan,’’ Battisti said.
He contended that militarily it would have been better to pull out after the end of the traditional “fighting season,’’ which lasts from spring through much of autumn.
Instead, “they left in the middle of ‘fighting season,’ left, like thieves in the night, this immense base of Bagram,” the general said.
Noting that Bagram is some 40 kilometers (25 miles) from Kabul, he suggested it could have served as a “second escape valve” for thousands of citizens now clamoring to get into the one operational airport at Kabul or for those who can’t make it through Taliban checkpoints along the way.
LONDON — Britain’s embattled foreign minister has defended his decision not to call while on vacation his Afghan counterpart about the evacuation of translators who had helped British forces.
Dominic Raab has come under increasing pressure to resign for failing to follow the advice of officials in his department to make a call to Hanif Atmar on Aug. 13, while he was vacationing on the Greek island of Crete.
Two days later, the Taliban took over Afghanistan, 20 years after they had been ousted from power, and Raab headed back to the U.K. after cutting his vacation short to deal with the crisis.
Raab on Friday posted a statement on Twitter to counter what he described as “inaccurate media reporting over recent days.” He said he prioritized “security” at Kabul airport and “delegated” the call to a junior minister in his department.
Raab said Atmar wasn’t able to take that call because of “the rapidly deteriorating situation.”
WARSAW, Poland – Poland’s prime minister says his government has taken on the responsibility as a NATO member to organize the evacuation of some 300 Afghans who have cooperated with the military alliance.
Mateusz Morawiecki said Friday on Facebook that following his talks with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, Poland will be evacuating from Kabul 300 Afghans who “in recent years cooperated with” NATO. He did not elaborate what that cooperation entailed.
They will be brought to Poland and then on to other NATO countries, which Morawiecki did not name.
Morawiecki said that Poland is taking seriously its obligations within the alliance and that the evacuation was “not the last word” from Poland in the NATO response to the crisis in Afghanistan. Poland has been a NATO member since 1999.
In three previous flights, Poland has evacuated some 130 Afghans and another 100 are waiting at the Kabul airport, according to Michal Dworczyk, a top aide to Morawiecki. They were first flown on Polish military planes to Uzbekistan and then on national carrier LOT planes to Warsaw.
COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Sweden’s Foreign Minister Ann Linde said that her ministry is aware of the “great difficulties in getting to the airport and through the gates” amid the chaos at the airport in the Afghan capital.
Linde was writing on Twitter on Friday about plans to evacuate Swedes and local hires in Kabul from the country following the Taliban takeover.
“All countries are experiencing this problem and we are working on possible solutions at the airport in cooperation with other countries,” Linde wrote.
She said her Foreign Ministry had staff at the Kabul airport with “resources needed for further evacuation work,” and added that “transport capacity is available.”
Linde stressed that “it is important to follow the information and always put safety first.”
MADRID — Spain’s defense minister says the country’s military transport planes are leaving Kabul partly empty because chaos at the city’s airport is preventing Afghans from evacuating.
Defense Minister Margarita Robles said Friday that one Afghan family taken out by Spain had left behind a daughter they lost in the airport crush.
She told Spanish public radio RNE that an ideal solution would be to set up corridors into the airport, but that’s impossible because “nobody’s in control of the situation.”
She said that after Afghan President Ashraf Ghani left the country, the airport’s air traffic controllers and security staff walked out, rendering it inoperative until U.S. forces took it over.
She said the U.S. has given assurances that its forces won’t leave the airport until the last person awaiting evacuation is out.
WARSAW, Poland – A Polish diplomat says the most difficult thing in evacuating Afghans is finding and extracting them from pressing crowds at the Kabul airport. Poland has so far evacuated a few hundred people in three flights.
Deputy Foreign Minister Marcin Przydacz said Friday that sometimes consulate staff can identify the individuals in the crowd but that it was difficult for them to make their way through to the gate to be pulled into the airport.
“There are thousands of totally determined people in the crowd, in extremely difficult conditions pressing on the walls and gates of the airport,” Przydacz told reporters.
“From this desperate crowd, sometimes understandably aggressive crowd, our people are trying to extract those who are on our list,” Przydacz said.
“The transport logistics goes very smoothly but the greatest challenge now is how to find these people. Even if we know where they are, and sometimes our consuls can see them 40-50 meters (yards) away, they have no possibility of getting closer,” Przydacz said.
“These people must first of all, on their own, get as close as they can to the entrance to have not only eye contact but real contact with the consul, because very often these people are simply pulled by the hand, jerked from the crowd with the help of the soldiers,” Przydacz said.
A former ambassador to Afghanistan, Piotr Lukasiewicz, has appealed to Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki on social media to send more evacuation planes to Kabul.
WASHINGTON — The United States says it evacuated approximately 3,000 people from Kabul via military transport aircraft on Aug. 19.
In a Friday statement, the White House said multiple C-17 flights from Hamid Karzai International Airport evacuated nearly 350 U.S. citizens, as well as family members of U.S. citizens, asylum applicants and their families, and vulnerable Afghans.
“We have evacuated approximately 9,000 people since August 14. Since the end of July, we have evacuated approximately 14,000 people,” it said.
It added that in the last 24 hours, the U.S. military facilitated the departure of 11 charter flights, and that those numbers were not included in the other totals.
COPENHAGEN, Denmark — The Danish Defense Ministry is urging interpreters who have worked with them and need evacuation from Kabul to urgently make contact.
In a message sent by Twitter Friday, it urged the interpreters to contact an included email address, saying: “Urgent – Urgent Contact Danish Authorities NOW.”
The tweet ended with “We will do our best to assist.”
BERLIN — Germany says a civilian suffered a gunshot wound before being evacuated from Kabul on a German air force plane.
German government spokeswoman Ulrike Demmer said Friday that the wounded person was not in a life-threatening condition, but didn’t immediately further details about the person or incident.
Meanwhile, Foreign Ministry spokesman Christofer Burger said Germany is providing 100 million euros in immediate funding for humanitarian aid inside Afghanistan and neighboring countries.
He said the money would exclusively go to aid organizations, particularly UNHCR, and not to the Taliban.
KABUL, Afghanistan — An Afghan official familiar with talks with the Taliban says the group does not plan to make any decisions or announcements about the upcoming government until after the Aug. 31 U.S. withdrawal date passes.
The official, who is not authorized to give information to the media and thus spoke anonymously, says Taliban lead negotiator Anas Haqqani has told his ex-government interlocuters that the insurgent movement has a deal with the U.S. “to do nothing” until after the final withdrawal date passes.
He did not elaborate on whether the reference to doing nothing was only in the political field. Haqqani’s statement raises concerns about what the religious movement might be planning after Aug. 31, and whether they will keep their promise to include non-Taliban officials in the next government.
Until now the Taliban have said nothing of their plans to replace the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces, or what a replacement would look like.
VATICAN CITY — The Vatican’s newspaper is calling on the international community to welcome Afghan civilians fleeing the Taliban, expressing incredulousness “that before deciding to abandon the country no one thought through such a foreseeable scenario or did anything to avoid it.”
In a front-page article in the Friday edition of L’Osservatore Romano, deputy editor Gaetano Vallini said the West was obliged to urgently remedy the situation with concrete action and welcome refugees to avoid a “catastrophic humanitarian emergency.”
The commentary was an unusually blunt criticism of the U.S., though Washington wasn’t singled out by name. After expressing shock at the chaos created by the U.S.-led Western withdrawal, Gallini wrote: “It would be even more serious if such a decision was taken with the knowledge of such dramatic consequences.”
Pope Francis has expressed alarm at the chaos that has engulfed Afghanistan with the Taliban takeover. During his Sunday blessing, Francis asked for prayers for an end to the violence and for Afghan men, women and children to be able to live in “fully reciprocal” peace and security.
KABUL, Afghanistan — Friday prayers were uneventful in the Afghan capital, with no Taliban gunmen seen guarding the entrances of mosques or enforcing dress code restrictions as they have in the past. Some mosques even saw higher numbers than normal in attendance.
The Islamic-fundamentalist Taliban issued guidance to imams around Afghanistan on Thursday, saying they should use the weekly sermons and prayers to appeal for unity, urge people not to flee the country, and to counter “negative propaganda” about them.
“The benefits of state should be explained to all,” a commission of Taliban monitoring religious affairs and mosques said in the guidance they circulated.
Kabul resident Jawed Safi was please to see the mosques secure. The Afghan government had previously posted guards at mosques to ward off attackers due to frequent bombings in the past.
“People were as normal, as in the past, but there were more of them,” Safi said, adding that there were “no restrictions so far.”
An imam in eastern Kabul, Bashir Wardak, said that Afghans should unite to stop the decadeslong bloodshed. “Allah has ordered us to peace and brotherhood so we must get united,” he said.
Abdul Boghdi, another imam in northern Kabul, said that “people together should collect money to help those displaced.”
One attendee, Qasim Ahmadi, saw people wearing jeans attend prayers as usual. “There should be no restrictions on us, we are already Muslims,” he said. “The Taliban should aim for an inclusive government in order to be successful.”
Thousand of internally displaced people are living on the streets and in the parks of Kabul, with limited access to drinking water and food. Some reports indicate that their situation has worsened since the Taliban overran the capital, causing donors to shy away.
JAKARTA, Indonesia — Indonesia has evacuated 26 of its citizens, including 5 diplomats, from Kabul on a special military flight to Jakarta.
Indonesia’s foreign minister Retno Marsudi said in a tweet that the Friday flight that would land later in the day also carried five Filipinos and two Afghans, including the spouse of an Indonesian national and a local staff member of the Indonesian Embassy.
“The Indonesian military aircraft carrying out this mission is now in Islamabad and will proceed to Indonesia soon,” Marsudi said.
The ministry’s spokesperson, Teuku Faizasyah said the evacuation was planned once the Taliban took control of the capital and President Ashraf Ghani fled the country.
KABUL, Afghanistan — Life is returning to normal for some Afghans in the capital, although Kabul’s normally crowded streets appear empty of their usual traffic congestion.
The Taliban have not imposed any restrictions on people so far, as they prepare for Friday prayers. Having a long beard and wearing traditional hats and clothes were required while the group was ruling the country in the late 90s.
Fewer stores have opened, and few cars could be seen on the streets. Taliban checkpoints have sprung up around the city, searching cars and checking documents. Some Taliban are patrolling in cars as well.
MADRID — Top European Union officials will visit a Spanish military airport being used as a hub to receive Afghans flown out of Kabul before they are distributed to other countries in the bloc.
Spanish Foreign Minister José Manuel Albares said Friday that EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen and EU Council President Charles Michel will visit a temporary camp at the Torrejón de Ardoz military airport near Madrid on Saturday.
Albares told Spanish public broadcaster RTVE that Spain is receiving evacuated Afghans who have worked for EU bodies or EU member nations.
The evacuees are expected to spend several days at the camp for health and security screening before moving to reception centers ahead of their journeys to other European countries.
ISLAMABAD — Pakistan’s state-run airline has resumed special flights for Kabul, in order to evacuate Pakistanis and foreigners stranded in Afghanistan.
Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry in a tweet said Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) will send its two planes to the Afghan capital on Friday to evacuate 350 passengers.
Chaudhry says Pakistan’s interior ministry is also facilitating the evacuation of Pakistanis and foreigners from Afghanistan through border crossings.
The latest development comes days after PIA halted all flights to Kabul to protect passengers, the crew and the planes after consulting the Afghan civil aviation authorities.
Pakistan’s government has been trying to evacuate its citizens and foreigners by air and land routes since the Taliban took over Kabul.
For this purpose, Pakistan is issuing visas upon arrival to all diplomats, foreigners and journalists who want to leave Kabul over security concerns.
BERLIN — Germany says it has flown out more than 1,600 people from Kabul this week.
The Defense Ministry on Friday said that the German military has carried out 11 evacuation flights so far, with more planned.
The German government has pledged to help bring all citizens and local Afghan staff who worked for the German military, aid groups or news organizations out of the country.
Senior German officials have also said efforts will be made to help Afghans who are particularly vulnerable to reprisals from the Taliban, such as human rights defenders.
But Germany’s commanding officer in Kabul, Gen. Jens Arlt, said the evacuation has been hampered by the large number of people outside Kabul airport hoping to get onto planes out of Afghanistan.
COPENHAGEN, Denmark — A plane with people who have been evacuated from Afghanistan landed Friday at the Oslo airport in Norway.
Norway’s Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Soereide told Norwegian news agency NTB that onboard were citizens from the Scandinavian country, family members to local employees and “some other European citizens.” Eriksen Soereide didn’t give any figures or elaborate.
Among the group were reporters for Norway’s TV2 and NRK television channels.
The plane arrived from Tbilisi, Georgia.
On Wednesday, a plane with 13 Norwegian citizens, mostly diplomats, arrived in Copenhagen, Denmark.
CANBERRA, Australia — More than 160 Australian and Afghan citizens have been evacuated from Kabul after a third rescue flight, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Friday.
Morrison said 60 Australians and Afghans who helped Australia during the 20-year war were flown to the United Arab Emirates overnight.
The first Australian flight carrying 94 evacuees touched down in the Australian west coast city of Perth on Friday, he said.
Australia could not evacuate parts of Afghanistan beyond the Kabul airport, he added.
“The situation in Kabul does remain chaotic,” Morrison said. The government has not commented on media reports that Australia plans to evacuate 600 Australians and Afghans.