The Latest: UK soldiers’ families shocked by Taliban blitz

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A U.S. Chinook helicopter flies over the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, Sunday, Aug. 15, 2021. Helicopters are landing at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul as diplomatic vehicles leave the compound amid the Taliban advanced on the Afghan capital. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The latest on Afghanistan where the Taliban have seized power, two weeks before the U.S. is set to complete its troop withdrawal after a costly two-decade war:

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LONDON — Families of British soldiers who died in Afghanistan have expressed dismay at the sudden fall of the country to the Taliban.

Graham Knight, the father of 25-year-old Ben Knight who was killed when his Nimrod aircraft exploded in Afghanistan in 2006, said the British government should have moved more quickly to get civilians out.

The 69-year-old said the Taliban made their intent “very clear that, as soon as we went out, they would move in.”

He said the evacuation process should have started about a week ago and voiced worry that “some hothead American, or British hothead, will decide that the Taliban isn’t behaving how they want, shoot at them and that will be it.”

Ian Sadler, whose 21-year-old son Jack died when his Land Rover struck a mine in Afghanistan in 2007, was surprised that the U.S. and its allies had so much confidence in the Afghan national army.

The 71-year-old said it was left “without any direction” after the sudden withdrawal of allied forces.

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MORE ON THE CRISIS IN AFGHANISTAN:

— Taliban take over Afghanistan: What we know and what’s next

— Chaos as thousands flee Afghanistan after Taliban takeover

— Concerns over US terror threats rising as Taliban hold grows

— Biden team surprisedby rapid Taliban gains in Afghanistan

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

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MOSCOW — The Uzbek authorities said the Afghan military plane that crashed in Uzbekistan on Sunday with only two pilots on board was downed by the country’s air defense system.

Uzbekistan’s Defense Ministry told Russia’s state RIA Novosti news agency that the country’s air defense system “averted an attempt by an Afghan military plane to illegally cross Uzbekistan’s air border.”

The incident took place in the Surkhandarya region in southeastern Uzbekistan on Sunday and was first reported by local media. Uzbekistan’s Defense Ministry initially said it was studying the reports of the crash, then confirmed the crash took place without offering any details, and only later on Monday revealed the plane was downed.

According to RIA Novosti, two pilots of the plane survived the crash and have been hospitalized in serious condition.

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GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — The Islamic militant group Hamas has congratulated the Taliban for their swift takeover of Afghanistan and the end to the United States’ 20-year presence in the country.

In a statement on Monday, Hamas welcomed “the defeat of the American occupation on all Afghan land” and praised what it said was the Taliban’s “courageous leadership on this victory, which was the culmination of its long struggle over the past 20 years.”

Hamas, a Palestinian group that opposes Israel’s existence, has governed the Gaza Strip since taking over the area in 2007, a year after it won a Palestinian election. Hamas is considered a terrorist group by Israel, the U.S. and the European Union.

It wished the people of Afghanistan future success and said the ouster of the American troops proves “that the resistance of the peoples, foremost of which is our struggling Palestinian people, is due for victory.”

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VILNIUS, Lithuania — The Baltic country of Lithuania is trying to evacuate 30 Afghan interpreters who helped the country’s troops during peacekeeping missions in Afghanistan, an official said Monday.

“The possibilities for transporting them are decreasing fast,” deputy minister Margiris Abukevicius told reporters. Lithuania estimates that when the family members are included, the figure is of 100 people.

The Baltic country depends on other nations, he said. “The only option is one of partners’ military transport as Lithuania currently has no troops or other personnel of Afghanistan soil” he added.

Vilnius chiefly had troops in the southern Ghor province. The Baltic country joined the multinational operation in Afghanistan in 2002

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BERLIN — Germany’s defense minister says the country’s military will airlift as many people as possible out of Afghanistan as long as it is possible.

Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer told reporters that three A400M military transport planes had left for Kabul on Monday.

The defense minister said: “For the army it’s clear: as long as possible — and this depends extremely on the support by the Americans — we will make as many rounds as we can out of Kabul.”

She added that in addition to German and local staff at the embassy in Afghanistan, Germany is also considering flying out people who had been supportive of the Germans. She said she could not give a concrete figure of how many people were affected.

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ROME — An Italian military flight carrying 70 embassy staff, Afghan employees and Italian nationals has landed at Rome’s Leonardo Da Vinci Airport.

All were undergoing COVID tests before being allowed to leave the airport after the overnight flight from Kabul.

Francesca Mannocchi, an Italian journalist who was among those evacuated, said 20 were Afghan employees and their families, including women and children, who have been evacuated for their safety.

The airlifts come as thousands packed into the Kabul airport on Monday, rushing the tarmac and pushing onto planes in desperate attempts to flee the country after the Taliban overthrew the Western-backed government. U.S. troops fired warning shots as they struggled to manage the chaotic evacuation.

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MILAN — The Italian right-wing is sharply critical of the West’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, citing the renewed threat of terrorism, while more centrist parties opened the door to self-criticism.

Far-right opposition leader Giorgia Meloni lashed out on Monday, saying the West’s handling of Afghanistan “could not have been worse,” and will “foment extremists, which will have serious repercussions for our security.”

She took specific aim at the United States, saying “Let’s give a welcome back to the cynical Obama-Clinton-Biden doctrine: ‘If you can’t win, create chaos’.”

Right-wing political leader Matteo Salvini criticized Western governments for “their cowardly flight,” from Afghanistan, and decried the abandonment of Afghan women and children “in the hands of Islamic cutthroats.” The leader of the League, which is part of the Draghi government, also said that the ascent of the Taliban would encourage “terrorism, violence, fear and illegal immigration.”

Italy had one of the largest contingents active in Afghanistan over the last two decades, deploying 50,000 servicemen and women to Herat and Kabul. Former Premier Matteo Renzi called the withdrawal from Afghanistan an error. And the head of the Democratic Party, Enrico Letta, said that the last two decades in Afghanistan “were full of bad choices, of which we unfortunately also took part. The West comes out in pieces. And we are only at the start of the count of disasters.”

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WASHINGTON — U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan says the failure of the Afghan military is to blame for the Taliban’s swift takeover of Afghanistan.

Sullivan said Monday that President Joe Biden didn’t want the U.S. to enter a “third decade of conflict” in Afghanistan and believed it was time for the Afghan army to defend the country two decades after billions of dollars of investment and training by the U.S.

But Sullivan said, “we could not give them the will and ultimately they decided that they would not fight for Kabul.”

He added that the “worst-case scenario” for the U.S. would be to send thousands of troops to fight in a civil war when the Afghan army “wasn’t prepared to fight itself.”

Sullivan says Biden faced “bad choices” on the subject. The president ultimately opted to bring U.S. troops home and leave the Afghans to fight for themselves.

He says “it’s heartbreaking” to see what’s happening in Kabul but that Biden “stands by” his decision.

Sullivan spoke Monday on ABC’s “Good Morning America” and NBC’s “Today.”

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DUBAI — Doctors Without Borders says its operations across Afghanistan have not been affected by the recent developments in Kabul.

While many foreigners have fled the country, the group — known by its French initials, MSF — continues to have some international staff on the ground. It also has more than 2,300 Afghan colleagues spread out across five Taliban-held provinces: Kandahar, Herat, Kunduz, Khost and Helmand.

Filipe Ribeiro, MSF’s country representative in Afghanistan, told The Associated Press that the group’s female medical practitioners in these provinces have resumed work and were already veiled or in the sky-blue burqas before the Taliban takeover, in line with local norms and customs.

“We do not face any impediments with regards to female staff coming to work,” he said, referring to MSF-run projects in those provinces.

As the Taliban pushed to takeover Helmand and Kunduz, MSF staff tended to large numbers of people wounded in the fighting, he said.

Speaking from his base in Kabul, Ribeiro said the capital’s streets were quiet and calm on Monday, despite scenes of chaos unfolding at the airport.

The group halted its main operation in Kabul after May 2020 following an attack on a maternity ward that was blamed on the Islamic State group.

Ribeiro said the focus remains on supporting Afghanistan’s welfare.

“We have to keep in mind the health system was already dysfunctional beforehand, and nowadays it’s important to keep supporting the Afghan population and to guarantee that the medical services will continue,” he said.

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BERLIN — Leading German opposition members have expressed criticism of what they perceive to be a slow and uncoordinated evacuation of German and local Afghan embassy personnel from Kabul and other parts of the country.

Annalena Baerbock, the Green Party’s candidate for chancellor in national elections next month, said Monday that “all those people and employees who have supported the NATO troops on the ground in recent years, whether as interpreters, engineers, freelance journalists, who have reported on the situation in Afghanistan, or women’s rights activists who have campaigned on the ground for girls to be able to go to school, must fear for their lives.”

She called for their quick evacuation and said that “it is more than overdue that the German government finally does everything to evacuate the people.”

Sevim Dagdelen, a senior lawmaker with the opposition leftist Die Linke party said in a statement Monday that “the government has completely failed when it comes to the crisis in Afghanistan and apparently, in a misjudgment of the real condition, not made any emergency plans for evacuations.”

Dagdelen added that: “It is a shame that after weeks of inactivity and blockades now thousands of helpers are being left behind in Taliban-controlled regions and must fear for their lives.”

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BRUSSELS — European Union foreign ministers will hold emergency talks Tuesday to discuss the crisis in Afghanistan, after the president fled and the Taliban seized control of the capital, Kabul, over the weekend.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said in a tweet Monday that he decided to convene the extraordinary videoconference so the ministers can make “a first assessment” of developments.

Borrell says that “Afghanistan stands at a crossroad. Security and wellbeing of its citizens, as well as international security are at play.”

European nations have been caught by surprise at the speed of the takeover. They’ve been evacuating embassies and leaving the strife-torn country in recent days. The EU has small diplomatic mission in Kabul. It’s one of Afghanistan’s biggest aid donors.

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GENEVA — The U.N. humanitarian aid coordination agency says it and partners “are staying and delivering to people in need” despite a complex security situation in Afghanistan following a sweep by Taliban forces across the country.

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Aid, or OCHA, says in a note: “The humanitarian community — both the U.N. and nongovernmental organizations — remains committed to helping people in the country.”

OCHA said thousands of internally displaced people who have been identified in recent weeks have received assistance including food, cash, health care, water, and sanitation support.

“While the security environment is highly complex, humanitarian agencies are staying and delivering to people in need,” OCHA said.

Even before the upheaval, some 18.4 million people were in need of humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan, OCHA said, and its $1.3 billion humanitarian response plan for the country is only 38% funded.

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BERLIN — The German government has called on the Taliban to show restraint, protect the lives of the Afghan people and make sure needed humanitarian aid can reach them.

A spokesman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel also said Monday that Germany “is concerned about the fates of individual Afghans as well as the development of the entire country.”

Steffen Seibert said Monday that “these are bitter developments, when looking at them against the background of the years-long missions of the western community of states.”

The government also said it is personally contacting all embassy staff, including local hires, whom they are trying to evacuate out of Kabul. A spokesman for the country’s foreign ministry warned people not to independently try to reach the airport because of the volatile and dynamic situation there.

Christofer Burger told reporters Monday that the embassy is calling and emailing everyone who is on evacuation lists and giving them personal instructions.

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COPENHAGEN, Denmark – The staff with the Finnish Embassy in Kabul have fled to a neighboring country.

The Finland daily Helsingin Sanomat reported Monday that the country’s armed forces took part in the evacuation and according to the newspaper’s sources, the staff flew out on an American plane.

In Denmark, Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said that Danes “are working round the clock. We are in the process of evacuating,” adding the work was done “in extremely difficult conditions.”

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MOSCOW — Moscow will decide whether to recognize the new Taliban government based on its conduct, the Kremlin envoy on Afghanistan said in an interview Monday.

Zamir Kabulov told the Ekho Moskvy radio station that “no one is going to rush” the decision. “Recognition or non-recognition will depend on the conduct of the new authorities,” Kabulov said.

Russia labeled the Taliban a terrorist organization in 2003, but has since hosted several rounds of talks in Afghanistan, most recently in March, that involved the group. Moscow, which fought a 10-year war in Afghanistan that ended with Soviet troops’ withdrawal in 1989, has made a diplomatic comeback as a mediator, reaching out to feuding Afghan factions as it has jockeyed with the U.S. for influence in the country.

Kabulov said Monday the Taliban was “deservedly” declared a terrorist group in Russia two decades ago. “The Taliban have learned this lesson well. If they haven’t learned it in full, they will have to face great difficulties in relations not only with Russia, but with the entire global community,” Kabulov said.

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BRATISLAVA, Slovakia – Slovakia’s Prime Minister Eduard Heger says his country will give asylum to 10 Afghan nationals who have intensively cooperated with European Union member states in recent years.

Heger says his country is providing a military plane to transport them to Slovakia together with several Slovak nationals who have asked for it.

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BEIJING — China says its embassy remains open in Kabul and expressed a willingness to support its reconstruction.

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying did not answer explicitly when asked whether Beijing would recognize the Taliban as the new government but said that China would respect the choice of the Afghan people.

She noted the Taliban pledges to negotiate the establishment of an inclusive Islamic government and to ensure the safety of both Afghans and foreign missions. China, she added, hopes that would “ensure a smooth transition of the situation in Afghanistan.”

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LONDON — A leading British lawmaker from Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party is calling the mayhem at Kabul airport “Saigon 2.0,” comparing it to U.S. evacuation of South Vietnam’s capital in 1975.

Tobias Ellwood, a former defense minister and British Army captain. said the images of the mayhem Monday at Kabul airport echoed the evacuation of the South Vietnam capital after North Vietnamese troops entered the city.

The advance of the North Vietnamese prompted the U.S. to evacuate thousands of its nationals and troops as well as South Vietnamese civilians who had helped during the war. The most dramatic images involved the evacuation of people from the roof of the U.S. Embassy.

“If this is not Saigon 2.0, I don’t know what is,” Ellwood said. “Is this how we thought we’d depart Afghanistan? I repeat my call for a U.K. inquiry.”

U.S. President Joe Biden’s decision earlier this year to announce the timeline for the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan led the other nations in the NATO coalition, including the U.K., to announce their own departures, two decades after they first arrived in Afghanistan.

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TEHRAN, Iran — Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi on Monday called for national reconciliation in neighboring Afghanistan.

The official IRNA news agency quoted Raisi as saying Iran will support efforts to restore stability in Afghanistan as a first priority. He called Iran “a brother and neighboring nation” to Afghanistan. He also described the Americans’ rapid pullout as a “military failure” that should “turn to an opportunity for restoring life, security and stable peace.”

Iran shares nearly 600 miles of borders with Afghanistan and is home to about 800,000 registered Afghan refugees and more than two million undocumented Afghans. The influx began after Soviet forces entered Afghanistan in 1979.

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MOSCOW — Russia will evacuate some of its embassy staff in Kabul “in order not to create too big a presence,” the Kremlin envoy on Afghanistan said Monday.

Zamir Kabulov told the Ekho Moskvy radio station that some of roughly 100 Russian embassy staff “will be placed on leave or evacuated in some other fashion just in order not to create too big a presence.” Kabulov said that the Russian ambassador to Afghanistan Dmitry Zhirnov will meet a Taliban representative on Tuesday to discuss security for the diplomatic mission, adding that the outside perimeter of the embassy is already being guarded by the Taliban.

Kabulov also said that the Taliban’s swift takeover of the Afghan capital was “somewhat unexpected.” He said Russia was “too optimistic in our assessment of the quality of the armed forces trained by the Americans and NATO.”

Kabulov said of those forces, “They dropped everything at the first shot.”

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MOSCOW — The Uzbek Defense Ministry has confirmed that an Afghan military plane crashed in Uzbekistan on Sunday, but wouldn’t reveal the details of the accident.

Ministry’s spokesman Bakhrom Zulfikarov told Russia’s state news agency Tass on Monday that the plane crashed in the Surkhandarya region in southeastern Uzbekistan and that “the details of the accident are currently being studied, information about it will be revealed later.”

Uzbek media reported that the plane went down Sunday evening in the southeast of the country not far from the border with Afghanistan. At least one person was reported injured.

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CANBERRA, Australia — Australia is sending three transport and air-to-air refueling jets with 250 military personnel to repatriate more than 130 Australians and their families from Afghanistan, officials said on Monday.

Australia is also working to evacuate an undisclosed number of refugees, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said in a statement.

The support comes as the U.S. and other nations scramble to evacuate diplomats and Afghan employees and their families from Kabul. The Taliban a day earlier toppled the Western-backed government.

An Airbus A330 airliner modified for aerial refueling would support U.S.-led operations in Afghanistan later this week, Australia’s Defense Department said in a statement. Two C-17A Globemaster heavy transport aircraft would also be sent to the Middle East, the statement said.

Australia shut its Kabul embassy in May and withdrew the last of its troops from Afghanistan in June.

More than 39,000 Australian military personnel have served in Afghanistan since 2001, and 41 died there.

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