C.I.A. Director Had Secret Talks With Taliban in Kabul


The C.I.A. director, William J. Burns, traveled to Kabul this week for talks with the Taliban leadership, according to American officials familiar with his visit — the highest-level in-person talks between a Biden administration official and the new de facto leadership of Afghanistan.

Mr. Burns, a longtime former diplomat, met on Monday with Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban leader who led diplomatic negotiations in Qatar with the U.S. government.

A key issue for the United States is getting the Taliban leadership to allow more time for evacuation operations from the Kabul airport. The United States is conducting a large airlift of people, including Afghans, Americans and others, out of Afghanistan. President Biden has set a deadline for that operation to be concluded by Aug. 31.

The United States has sent thousands of troops to secure the airport, and the pace of evacuations has stepped up in recent days. But getting Afghans from their homes to the airport in Kabul safely is becoming more difficult and dangerous, and it is not clear whether the U.S. government can maintain the pace of evacuations.

Former officials have said that the United States will need more time, perhaps until late September, to ferry out Afghans who have applied for special visas from the United States.

Suhail Shaheen, a spokesman for the Taliban in Qatar, said on Monday that any extension beyond Aug. 31 would be a “clear violation” of the United States’ agreement with the group on the withdrawal of troops.

Before being named as C.I.A. director, Mr. Burns had a long diplomatic career in which he specialized in delicate, secret communications. He titled his memoir “The Back Channel” and was responsible for the initial undisclosed discussions that ultimately led to the Iran nuclear talks in the Obama administration.

And with the fall of the American-backed government and the withdrawal of diplomats and troops from Afghanistan, the C.I.A. will bear much of the responsibility for monitoring Afghanistan going forward.

The C.I.A. and the National Security Council declined to comment. The Washington Post earlier reported Mr. Burns’ visit.

For now, the Taliban have allowed the operations to continue at the airport. Although some civilians have been harassed and beaten while trying to approach the airport, the Taliban have not overtly interfered with the American operations.

But U.S. officials worry about the prospects of attacks at the airport by the Islamic State and other groups.

American operations do not just need the passive support of the Taliban to allow the flights. They also need the group to actively stop ISIS and others from mounting attacks on Afghan civilians, including any suicide bombings outside the airport.

Despite the hard-line rhetoric, the Taliban have an incentive to cooperate. The acting government wants to secure international legitimacy and to try to avoid the isolation the group experienced in the 1990s, when it was last in power. Taliban leaders have urged international governments to maintain their embassies in Afghanistan.



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