Taliban say US will provide humanitarian aid to Afghanistan

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The US has agreed to provide humanitarian aid to a desperately poor Afghanistan on the brink of an economic disaster, while refusing to give political recognition to the country’s new Taliban rulers, the Taliban said Sunday.

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The statement came at the end of the first direct talks between the former foes since the chaotic withdrawal of US troops at the end of August.

The US statement was less definitive, saying only that the two sides “discussed the US’ provision of robust humanitarian assistance, directly to the Afghan people.”

The Taliban said the talks held in Doha, Qatar, “went well,” with Washington freeing up humanitarian aid to Afghanistan after agreeing not to link such assistance to formal recognition of the Taliban.

The US made it clear that the talks were in no way a preamble to recognition of the Taliban, who swept into power Aug. 15 after the US-allied government collapsed.

State Department spokesman Ned Price called the discussions “candid and professional,” with the US side reiterating that the Taliban will be judged on their actions, not only their words.

“The US delegation focused on security and terrorism concerns and safe passage for US citizens, other foreign nationals and our Afghan partners, as well as on human rights, including the meaningful participation of women and girls in all aspects of Afghan society,” he said in a statement.

Taliban political spokesman Suhail Shaheen also told The Associated Press that the movement’s interim foreign minister assured the US during the talks that the Taliban are committed to seeing that Afghan soil is not used by extremists to launch attacks against other countries.

 A woman holds one of her two babies undergoing treatment at the malnutrition ward of the Indira Gandhi Children's Hospital in Kabul, Afghanistan, Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2021. (AP)
A woman holds one of her two babies undergoing treatment at the malnutrition ward of the Indira Gandhi Children's Hospital in Kabul, Afghanistan, Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2021. (AP)

On Saturday, however, the Taliban ruled out cooperation with Washington on containing the increasingly active ISIS group in Afghanistan.

ISIS, an enemy of the Taliban, has claimed responsibility for a number of recent attacks, including Friday’s suicide bombing that killed 46 minority Shia Muslims. Washington considers ISIS its greatest terrorist threat emanating from Afghanistan.

“We are able to tackle Daesh independently,” Shaheen said when asked whether the Taliban would work with the US to contain the ISIS affiliate. He used an Arabic acronym for ISIS.

Bill Roggio, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies who tracks militant groups, agreed the Taliban do not need Washington’s help to hunt down and destroy Afghanistan’s ISIS affiliate, known as the ISKP.

The Taliban “fought 20 years to eject the US, and the last thing it needs is the return of the US. It also doesn’t need US help,” said Roggio, who also produces the foundation’s Long War Journal. “The Taliban has to conduct the difficult and time-consuming task of rooting out ISKP cells and its limited infrastructure. It has all the knowledge and tools it needs to do it.”

The ISIS affiliate doesn’t have the advantage of safe havens in Pakistan and Iran that the Taliban had in its fight against the US, Roggio said. However, he warned that the Taliban’s longtime support for al-Qaeda make them unreliable as counterterrorism partners with the US.

The Taliban gave refuge to al-Qaeda before it carried out the 9/11 attacks. That prompted the 2001 US invasion of Afghanistan that drove the Taliban from power.

“It is insane for the US to think the Taliban can be a reliable counterterrorism partner, given the Taliban’s enduring support for al-Qaeda,” Roggio said.

During the meeting, US officials were expected to press the Taliban to allow Americans and others to leave Afghanistan. In their statement, the Taliban said without elaborating that they would “facilitate principled movement of foreign nationals.”

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