The Latest: Top Republican says Taliban holding Americans

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A Taliban fighter takes a rest inside the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, Sunday, Sept. 5, 2021. (AP Photo/Mohammad Asif Khan)

WASHINGTON — The top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee says some Americans who have been trying to get out of Afghanistan since the U.S. military left are sitting in airplanes at an airport ready to leave but the Taliban are not letting them take off.

Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas says there are six airplanes at the Mazar-e-Sharif airport with American citizens on board, along with their Afghan interpreters, and the Taliban are “holding them hostage” right now.

A worker at the Mazar-e-Sharif airport confirmed several aircraft he believes were chartered by the U.S. are parked at the airport. Taliban have prevented them from leaving, saying they wanted to check the documents of those on board, many of whom do not have passports or visas. The airport official did not want to be identified because of the sensitivity of the subject.

McCaul, speaking on “Fox News Sunday,” says the Taliban have made demands. He gave no specifics but said he’s worried “They’re going to demand more and more, whether it be cash or legitimacy as the government of Afghanistan.”

He said the aircraft have been at the airport for “the last couple days.”

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MORE ON AFGHANISTAN:

— Over 24 hours in Kabul, brutality, trauma, moments of grace

— US: Afghan evacuees who fail initial screening Kosovo-bound

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— US expectsto admit more than 50,000 evacuated Afghans

— Afghan women demand rights as Taliban seek recognition

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— Find more AP coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/afghanistan

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

BERLIN — Germany’s chancellor says the country must engage with the Taliban in order to help evacuate Afghans who had worked for them.

Angela Merkel told reporters on Sunday that “we simply have to talk to the Taliban about how we can get the people who used to work for Germany out of the country and to safety.” She added: “They are the ones one needs to talk to now.”

She said it was also in Germany’s interest to support international aid organizations who are helping improve the humanitarian conditions in Afghanistan. She called it a good signal that the airport in Kabul was re-opened, allowing medical aid into the country again.

Some western countries have been reluctant about talking with the Taliban.

Merkel’s remarks came after a spokesman for the Taliban told a German newspaper that his group was ready for full diplomatic relations with the Germans, and had “forgiven” them their past cooperation with the Americans in the country.

Merkel did not refer to his remarks, nor did she talk about establishing any kind of official diplomatic relations.

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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Qatar has sent a plane carrying food and medical goods to Kabul, part of an effort to provide badly needed supplies to Afghanistan as the country faces a halt in most Western aid.

Qatar’s Foreign Ministry said the plane had landed at Kabul airport on Sunday with 26 tons of medical and food aid, the second such shipment in as many days.

The tiny Gulf state of Qatar has taken an outsized role in evacuation efforts as U.S. forces completed their withdrawal from the country last week. It’s also expected to play an important political role in what comes next for Afghanistan.

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BERLIN — The head of the International Committee of the Red Cross, or ICRC, has arrived for a three-day visit in Afghanistan.

Peter Maurer arrived Sunday and plans to visit medical facilities, rehabilitation centers for victims of violence and disease as well as ICRC staffers.

The relief group said in a statement that Maurer also plans to meet with local Afghan authorities.

Maurer said: “Afghans have suffered from 40 years of conflict and they now face years of work to heal and recover. The International Committee of the Red Cross is dedicated to staying here to help that recovery.”

The ICRC president also stressed that the future of Afghans relies on the continued “investment from the outside world.”

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VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis is encouraging countries to welcome Afghan refugees who are seeking a new life.

During his appearance to the public in St. Peter’s Square on Sunday, Francis also prayed that displaced persons inside Afghanistan receive assistance and protection.

“In these tumultuous moments, in which Afghans are seeking refuge, I pray for the most vulnerable among them, I pray so that many countries welcome and protect all those seeking a new life,” Francis said.

The pope didn’t cite the Taliban or their policies, but added: “may young Afghans receive an education, which is essential for human development.”

He concluded by expressing hope that all Afghans, whether in their homeland, in transit, or in countries taking them in, may be able to “live with dignity, in peace, in brotherhood with their neighbors.”

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BERLIN — Angelina Jolie has expressed concern about the situation of women and girls in Afghanistan.

The actress, who is also a special envoy to the U.N.’s high commissioner for refugees, told a German newspaper Sunday she doesn’t think the incoming government in Afghanistan could simply turn back the clock so that everything would be like 20 years ago. But she still has big worries about the situation for women there.

Jolie told the weekly Welt am Sonntag: “I’m thinking of all the women and girls who don’t know now if they can go back to work or school. And I’m thinking of the young Afghans who are worried that they will lose their freedom.”

Taliban fighters captured most of Afghanistan last month and celebrated the departure of the last U.S. forces after 20 years of war. The insurgent group must now govern a war-ravaged country that is heavily reliant on international aid.

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BERLIN — A Taliban spokesperson has told a German newspaper that his group wants to establish diplomatic relations with Germany.

Zabihullah Mujahid tells the weekly Welt am Sonntag that “we want strong and official diplomatic relations to Germany.”

The newspaper reported Sunday that the Taliban also hope for financial support from Germany as well as humanitarian aid and cooperation regarding Afghanistan’s health care system, education and agriculture.

The German government has been reserved about establishing official ties with the Taliban. Officials say talks are needed to get the remaining former Afghan staffers who worked for the Germans out of the country.

According to the newspaper, Mujahid said it was unfortunate Germany had cooperated with the Americans during the war “but that has now been forgiven.”

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KABUL, Afghanistan — Some domestic flights have resumed at Afghanistan’s international airport in Kabul, with the state-run Ariana Afghan Airline operating flights to three provinces.

Shershah Stor, the airline’s station manager at the airport, told The Associated Press on Sunday that the flights took place Saturday to western Herat, southern Kandahar and northern Balkh provinces. He said the flights were conducted without a functioning radar system at the airport.

Stor said three more flights are scheduled Sunday to the same provinces.

A team of Qatari and Turkish technicians arrived in Kabul last week to help restart operations at the airport, which the U.N. says is crucial to providing the country with humanitarian assistance. It remains to be seen, however, whether any commercial airlines will be willing to offer service.

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WASHINGTON — The top U.S. military general has thanked members of the 10th Mountain Division for their service in Afghanistan during the evacuation of Americans, Afghans and others over the past several weeks.

Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, met with military police soldiers at the Rhine Ordnance Barracks in Germany on Saturday.

Standing outside talking to a group, he asked them, “You were there for the bombing?” Heads nodded and a chorus of voices answered, “yes, sir.”

A suicide bombing by the Islamic State group near a gate at the Kabul airport more than a week ago killed 13 U.S. service members as well as 169 Afghans who were crowded around the entry, desperate to get on flights out of Afghanistan.

“You guys did an incredible job, all of you — Army, Navy, Marines, the Air Force — flying out 124,000 people. That’s what you saved,” Milley told the soldiers. He said they “showed enormous courage discipline and capability, working together. It’s something you should always be proud of… This will be a moment that you’ll always remember.”

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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