WASHINGTON (AP) — One of America’s top military commanders met face-to-face with senior leaders of the Taliban, urging the longtime enemy not to interfere with the massive evacuation at the Kabul airport as the United States withdraws from Afghanistan, a U.S. official told The Associated Press.
Meanwhile, the U.S. was rushing thousands of troops back into Afghanistan on Monday to try to secure the airport for some of the tens of thousands of Americans, Afghans and others seeking to flee ahead of Taliban rule. Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said there were now 2,500 American forces at the airport.
Gen. Frank McKenzie, head of U.S. Central Command, warned the Taliban officials that the U.S. military would respond forcefully to defend the airport if necessary, a U.S. official said separately, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive talks not yet announced publicly.
McKenzie’s session Sunday in Doha, Qatar, the base for long-running talks among senior Taliban political officials, Americans and others, underscored the swift rise in power of the Taliban, America’s opponent in 20 years of fighting, after a weeklong push in which the group captured control of Afghanistan.
The Taliban takeover comes two weeks before the date President Joe Biden had set to withdraw the last U.S. combat troops from Afghanistan and end the U.S. role in the war there. Emboldened by that withdrawal, the Taliban entered Kabul on Sunday, setting off chaotic scenes as foreign diplomats and Afghans rushed to the airport, one of the last avenues of escape.