CIA director meets Taliban leader in Kabul

Meanwhile, UN human rights chief warns that she has credible reports of ‘summary executions’ in areas of Afghanistan under Taliban control

CIA Director William Burns visited Kabul on Monday to meet with the Taliban’s top political leader, a US official said.

The official told The Associated Press the meeting between Burns and Abdul Ghani Baradar came amid the ongoing evacuations at the Kabul airport.

The Washington Post first reported Burns’ meeting with Baradar. The US official confirmed the report on condition of anonymity.

Burns visited Jerusalem and met with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Mossad director David Barnea earlier this month.

The senior US military commander at the Kabul airport, Rear Adm. Peter Vasely, has been communicating daily with Taliban commanders in an effort to facilitate the evacuation, but the last known contact between the military and Baradar was when Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, flew to Doha, Qatar, to meet with him and other Taliban officials last December.

Milley tried to persuade the Taliban to reduce their attacks against Afghan forces, ultimately to no avail.

Earlier Tuesday, UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet warned that she had credible reports of “summary executions” and restrictions on women in areas under Taliban control in Afghanistan, fueling fears of what their rule might hold a week before US forces are set to withdraw.

Bachelet urged the Human Rights Council to take “bold and vigorous action” to monitor the rights situation in Afghanistan in the wake of the Taliban’s stunning takeover, as she sought to ensure that international attention on the country doesn’t wane.

Taliban leaders have promised to restore security and tried to project an image of moderation, but many Afghans are skeptical and are racing to the leave the country, leading to chaos at Kabul’s international airport. Amid scattered reports, it has been difficult to determine how widespread abuses might be and whether they reflect that Taliban leaders are saying one thing and doing another, or if fighters on the ground are taking matters into their own hands.

Leaders from the Group of Seven nations plan to meet later Tuesday to discuss the burgeoning refugee crisis and the collapse of the Afghan government amid wrangling over whether the full US withdrawal of troops could be extended beyond the end of the month to allow more time to evacuate those desperate to leave.

US administration officials have refused to be pinned down about whether an extension is likely or even possible given that a Taliban spokesman has warned that August 31 is a “red line” and that extending the American presence would “provoke a reaction.”

In the meantime, tragic scenes at the airport have transfixed the world. Afghans poured onto the tarmac last week and some clung to a US military transport plane as it took off, later plunging to their deaths. At least seven people died that day, and another seven died Sunday in a panicked stampede. An Afghan solider was killed Monday in a gunfight.

Days earlier, a Norway-based private intelligence group said it obtained evidence that the Taliban have rounded up Afghans on a blacklist of people they believe worked in key roles with the previous Afghan administration or with US-led forces. Several Afghans are in hiding, saying they fear such reprisals.

When the Taliban last ruled Afghanistan in the late 1990s, the group largely confined women to their homes, banned television and music, chopped off the hands of suspected thieves and held public executions.

Bachelet noted that Taliban leaders have recently pledged to respect the rights of women, girls and ethnic minorities and refrain from reprisals.

“The onus is now fully on the Taliban to translate these commitments into reality,” she told the 47-member-state council, which is the UN’s top human rights body.

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