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The Latest: UN wants aid workers free to reach needy Afghans

UNITED NATIONS — The U.N.’s humanitarian chief says a top Taliban leader pledged to let aid workers operate safely and independently and reach the millions of Afghans in need. Now, the U.N. is aiming to get the promises in writing and put them into action.

In a video news briefing Tuesday, Martin Griffiths said a key humanitarian priority is getting safe and dependable access to the Kabul airport and road routes from neighboring countries.

Griffiths met over the weekend with Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, a longtime Taliban leader. He was named Tuesday to a Cabinet post in their interim government.

Griffiths said he also broached women’s rights with Baradar and his advisers and was heard out, but the topic “needs further work.”

The Taliban have said they will rule inclusively and more moderately than they did from 1996 to 2001, but many Afghans, especially women, are deeply skeptical. Taliban special forces shut down a women’s rights protest march in Kabul on Saturday by firing guns into the air.

Griffiths says the Taliban leaders appear more willing to engage with the international community than they were in the 1990s, when he also discussed humanitarian work with the Islamic militants. But he says the challenge is “the process of the next many months, when the people of Afghanistan will be learning to live with their new rulers, and so will we.”

The U.N. was already striving to provide humanitarian aid to an estimated 18 million needy Afghans before the Taliban took over the drought-stricken country last month.

The U.N. is urgently appealing for $606 million for food, health care and other aid to Afghans for the rest of this year.

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MORE ON AFGHANISTAN:

Taliban name caretaker Cabinet that pays homage to old guard

US-built databases a potential tool of Taliban repression

Blinken and Austin to visit Gulf to address postwar stresses

Taliban say they took Panjshir, last holdout Afghan province

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

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

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

WASHINGTON — The top U.S. military officer is telling troops who participated in the massive and chaotic evacuation from Afghanistan to hold their heads high and ignore the criticism swirling around about the war and how it ended.

In blunt talk to military air crews at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey on Tuesday, Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the war in Afghanistan didn’t end the way many wanted.

“This is not the outcome any of us wanted, but it is the outcome that we have,” Milley told troops who flew evacuees out of Afghanistan. “And know that at the tail end here, what you did as individuals and collectively was something enormously heroic and honorable and noble. You can always hold your heads high.”

Milley spent much of the weekend traveling through Europe, speaking to U.S. service members who participated in the evacuation. The effort got more than 124,000 Americans, Afghans and others out of the country in the wake of the government’s collapse amid a violent and swift Taliban takeover. The Biden administration has been criticized for the turbulent evacuation that left many at-risk Afghans behind, and killed 13 U.S. troops in a suicide bombing at a Kabul airport gate as they were screening Afghans desperate to get out.

Milley’s messages to the troops has been a thank you, punctuated by a heavy pep talk.

Milley’s audience included the aircrew of the C-17 that took off from Kabul with 823 people crowded on board. In the early days of the evacuation, Afghans frantically climbed onto the aircraft. Rather than force some to get off, the crew decided to take off with what Milley said was three times their normal load of people. Photos of the jammed plane went viral on social media.

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MAZAR-E-SHARIF, Afghanistan — An Afghan employee of an American organization in Afghanistan says the Taliban are blocking her and hundreds of other people from boarding charter evacuation flights out of Afghanistan.

The woman spoke to The Associated Press anonymously Tuesday, saying she feared for her safety if she is singled out by the Taliban.

The U.S. organization, Ascend, has worked for years with Afghan women and girls. The woman is among several hundred people, reportedly including American citizens and green card holders, who say they have been waiting in large residence halls and hotels for more than a week for permission to board waiting charter flights out of the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif.

“We think we are in some kind of jail,” the woman told the AP.

She says the American citizens she has met in the group are vulnerable people in their 70s, parents of Afghan Americans in the United States.

Taliban officials say they will let people who have the proper passports and other documentation leave. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday denied claims from Republican lawmakers that the situation in Mazar-e-Sharif amounted to a hostage-taking, after the U.S. government pulled its last troops and diplomats from the country last week.

The Afghan woman who talked to AP says her group has proper passports and visas, but the Taliban are blocking them from entering the airport. She says she went fleeing to the women’s side of her hotel last week when word spread that the Taliban were searching the would-be evacuees, and had taken some away.

“I am scared if they split us up and not let us leave,” she said. “If we can’t get out of here, something wrong will happen. And I am afraid of that.”

— By Ellen Knickmeyer in Oklahoma City

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TEHRAN, Iran — Iran’s foreign minister in a phone conversation with former Afghan president Hamid Karzai said his country will keep its borders with Afghanistan open and will continue to trade with the country.

The Iranian Foreign Ministry’s website reported Tuesday that Hossein Amirabdollahian called for an Afghanistan free from war and terrorism.

The Iranian diplomat stressed the need for dialogue between all Afghan groups aimed at forming a government that reflects the country’s ethnicities.

The Taliban on Tuesday announced a caretaker Cabinet that paid homage to the old guard of the group, giving top posts to Taliban personalities who dominated the 20-year battle against the U.S.-led coalition and its Afghan government allies.

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ISTANBUL — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has given a cautious response to the Taliban’s new government.

He said at a news conference with Democratic Republic of Congo President Felix Tshisekedi in Ankara: “It’s difficult to call it permanent but an interim Cabinet has been announced.”

“We do not know how long this interim cabinet will continue. It is our duty to follow this process carefully at this time,” he said.

Turkey has expressed its desire to help Afghanistan after decades of conflict. Turkish and Qatari technicians are working to return Kabul airport to full operations. However, Turkey’s call for it to provide security for the airport has been turned down by the Taliban.

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KABUL, Afghanistan — The Taliban have fired gunshots to disperse a rally on Tuesday in Kabul and arrested several Afghan journalists who were covering the demonstration, witnesses and Afghan media outlets said.

The protest began outside the Pakistan Embassy in the Afghan capital to denounce what the demonstrators allege as Pakistan’s interference in Afghanistan, especially Islamabad’s alleged support for the latest Taliban offensive that routed anti-Taliban fighters in Panjshir province.

Posts on social media demanded the release of the arrested reporters.

An Afghan journalist who was among those detained and who was later freed told The Associated Press he was punished by the Taliban. “They made me rub my nose on the ground and apologize for covering the protest,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity for fears for his safety. “Journalism in Afghanistan is getting harder,” he added.

Afghanistan’s TOLOnews TV channel said its cameraman Wahid Ahmadi was among those arrested.

Since taking control of Afghanistan last month, there have been reports of Taliban beating and threatening journalists. In one known case, the German broadcaster Deutsche Welle said Taliban fighters going door to door in a hunt for one of its journalists shot and killed a member of his family and seriously injured another.

— By Tameem Akhgar in Istanbul

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KABUL, Afghanistan — Afghans with valid visas and passports stranded in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif and waiting to take chartered evacuation flights out of the country will be allowed to leave, a Taliban official at the city’s international airport said Tuesday.

Mawlawi Hafiz Mansour said the majority of Afghans waiting to take one of four evacuation flights have neither valid visas nor passports. The Taliban have said only Afghans with passports and valid visas would be allowed to leave.

Mansour did not provide a breakdown of the numbers of those with valid documents and those without.

Speaking from Qatar, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken also said the Taliban have given assurances of safe passage for all seeking to leave Afghanistan with proper travel documents. He said the United States would hold the Taliban to that pledge.

The U.S. is under pressure to help the remaining Americans and green card holders leave Afghanistan, and it has promised to work with the Taliban to do that.

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SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea’s Foreign Ministry says Seoul is willing to work with a new Afghanistan government led by the Taliban if it follows “international convention, respects basic human rights and refuses to provide refuge for terrorism.”

Ministry spokesman Choi Young-sam spoke at a briefing on Tuesday where he addressed comments by Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen, who in an interview with South Korean broadcaster SBS called for Seoul to reopen its embassy in Kabul, saying that the safety of South Korean diplomats would be ensured.

“The (Seoul) government will closely monitor the changes in the internal political situation of Afghanistan and will closely coordinate with the international community in responding to the matter,” Choi said.

South Korea last month closed its embassy in Kabul and sent two military planes to evacuate nearly 400 Afghans, including those who had worked for the embassy and other South Korean-run facilities and their family members.

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DOHA, Qatar — U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken says the State Department is working with the Taliban to facilitate additional charter flights from Kabul for people seeking to leave Afghanistan after the American military and diplomatic departure.

Blinken was speaking on Tuesday at a joint news conference with Qatar’s top diplomats and defense officials. He said the U.S. has been in contact with the Taliban “in recent hours” to work out arrangements for additional charter flights from the Afghan capital.

Blinken said the Taliban have given assurances of safe passage for all seeking to leave Afghanistan with proper travel documents. He said the United States would hold the Taliban to that pledge.

Blinken said the United States believes there are “somewhere around 100” American citizens still in Afghanistan who want to leave. The State Department had previously put that estimate at between 100 and 200.

Blinken and U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin are in Qatar to thank the Gulf Arab state for its help with the transit of tens of thousands of people evacuated from Afghanistan after the Taliban took control of Kabul on Aug. 15.

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DOHA, Qatar — U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin says the Biden administration will work with Persian Gulf allies on diplomatic approaches to security threats in the region, including what he called Iran’s support for extremists.

Austin spoke as a news conference with senior Qatari officials in Doha, where he and Secretary of State Antony Blinken thanked Qatar for assisting with the transit of tens of thousands of evacuees from Afghanistan.

Austin said Iran is supplying “increasingly lethal weapons” to what he called terrorist groups.