Politics

Marines Prepare for Possible Evacuation of Americans in Afghanistan

Zalmay Khalilzad, the chief American envoy in talks with the Taliban, is leading the diplomatic effort for assurances from the Taliban that they will not attack the embassy. Two officials confirmed his efforts, which have not been previously reported, on the condition of anonymity to discuss the delicate negotiations.

Mr. Khalilzad is hoping to convince Taliban leaders that the embassy must remain open, and secure, if the group hopes to receive American financial aid and other assistance as part of a future Afghan government. The Taliban leadership has said it wants to be seen as a legitimate steward of the country, and is seeking relations with other global powers, including Russia and China, in part to receive economic support.

The State Department’s spokesman, Ned Price, declined to comment on Wednesday, but said funding would be conditioned on whether future Afghan governments would “have any semblance of durability.”

“Legitimacy bestows, and essentially is the ticket, to the levels of international assistance, humanitarian assistance for the Afghan people,” Mr. Price said.

Five current and former officials described the mood inside the embassy as increasingly tense and worried, and diplomats at the State Department’s headquarters in Washington noted a sense of tangible depression at the specter of closing it, nearly 20 years after Marines reclaimed the burned-out building in December 2001.

Several people gloomily revived a comparison that all want to avoid: the fall of Saigon in 1975, when Americans were evacuated from the embassy from a rooftop by helicopter.

“I don’t think people are yet at the point where they would say we need to get out the door, but they will be looking at the door a lot more often,” said Ronald E. Neumann, who was the American ambassador to Afghanistan from 2005 to 2007 and is now the president of the American Academy of Diplomacy in Washington.

Thomas Gibbons-Neff reported from Kabul, and Helene Cooper, Lara Jakes and Eric Schmitt from Washington.

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