Taliban leader Baradar returns victorious as US ramps up Kabul evacuation

Taliban leader Baradar returns victorious as US ramps up Kabul evacuation
Mullah Abdul Ghani Bardar.Reuters photo

As Baradar’s supporters greeted with cheers in Kandahar, the birthplace of the Taliban, the evacuation of Western and Afghan personnel finally began. Two Dutch evacuation planes were also able to leave.

The return of Baradar, the movement’s number two, indicates that the Taliban will soon form a government to formally take power. He was busy discussing this with the rest of the Taliban leaders in Qatar, the Gulf state where the United States struck its withdrawal deal from Afghanistan.

Baradar was flown to Kandahar by the Qatar Air Force in a US-made C-17 transport plane. Just before his departure, Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed Al Thani Baradar called for “guaranteeing the progress made by the Afghan people in recent years.” Taliban leaders have stressed in recent days that they will protect women’s rights, but it remains unclear what this will mean in practice.

Attractive call

As his supporters chanted “Allahu Akbar,” Baradar was taken in a convoy to a safe haven in the city upon his arrival. It is not yet clear when he will go to Kabul. Earlier this week, a contented Baradar in the Qatari capital of Doha, along with other Taliban officials, watched footage of Taliban fighters storming the presidential palace on a laptop.

The Taliban leader fled Afghanistan to Pakistan after the 2001 US attacks. He had been in prison there since 2010, after the Americans finally tracked him down after years of searching. However, in 2018, Baradar was released at the request of the United States to begin negotiations for a political solution in Qatar, where he has remained ever since.

Nick Carter, the commander-in-chief of the British military, made a striking appeal on Wednesday as the world mired in darkness over how the Taliban will rule. Carter advocated giving the benefit of the doubt to Taliban leaders, who ruled Afghanistan mightily until 2001. “We have to give them space to form a government and show their credentials,” said the senior soldier. British Prime Minister Johnson later said in Parliament that London would judge the Taliban by their actions, not by what they shouted.

Intensification

The Americans want to significantly increase the evacuation of their embassy staff and Afghan citizens in the coming days, to about 5,000 to 9,000 per day. On Tuesday alone, 11 military transport planes flew out of the country about 1,100 US citizens and their families, as well as Afghans who have worked with the United States. The US is now said to have evacuated about 3,000 people.

President Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, said the Taliban had secured a “safe retreat” from civilians in the talks. The Pentagon confirmed that American officers hold several daily security meetings at the airport.

It was not yet clear when the Taliban would be ready to accept the evacuation flights. The supreme commander of US forces in the region and the Middle East, General Frank McKenzie, made a surprise visit to the airport on Tuesday. McKenzie also maintains contacts with the Taliban.