Ian Morton / NPR
CIA Director William Burns met Monday with Taliban leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar in Kabul, Afghanistan, a U.S. official familiar with the subject said.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said on Tuesday that his group would accept “no extension” of the August 31 deadline set by President Biden to end an air transport operation in Kabul, the Associated Press reported. reported.
The Burns-Baradar meeting marks a top-level meeting between the Biden administration and the Taliban since the group took office in Afghanistan on August 15th.
The CIA declined to comment. There was no talk of where they met in Kabul or what they talked about. But the most urgent question is whether the US air transport operation at Kabul airport will continue beyond the August 31 deadline.
The president says that is still the goal, but he left open the possibility of its extension. The Taliban say a continued U.S. presence would cross the “red line” and there would be undefined consequences.
Although the news of the Burns-Baradar meeting was a surprise, the US and the Taliban are in regular contact and have to resolve a number of issues.
The Pentagon says it is in daily contact with the Taliban at Kabul airport, where armed Taliban members effectively control the mass at the airport.
Meanwhile, the international community shunned the Taliban during its harsh rule over Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001. This time, they are seeking international legitimacy, although the United States and its allies are deeply skeptical that the group has changed its fundamental principles.
Also, Afghanistan’s weak economy depended heavily on aid from the United States and other Western countries. The cessation of this aid could lead the country into a downward economic spiral.
The United States and Baradar have a history.
A joint CIA-Pakistan operation led to Baradar’s capture in Pakistan in 2010. He was released from prison in Pakistan in 2018, and then participated in the US-Taliban negotiations in Doha, Qatar.
In February 2020, the Trump administration and the Taliban signed an agreement calling on all US troops to leave Afghanistan by May this year.