The Latest: Security Council to keep focus on Afghanistan

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Taliban fighters arrive inside the Hamid Karzai International Airport after the U.S. military's withdrawal, in Kabul, Afghanistan, Tuesday, Aug. 31, 2021. The Taliban were in full control of Kabul's airport on Tuesday, after the last U.S. plane left its runway, marking the end of America's longest war. (AP Photo/Khwaja Tawfiq Sediqi)

UNITED NATIONS — The president of the U.N. Security Council says the U.N.’s most powerful body will not take its focus off Afghanistan this month and “the real litmus test” for the new Taliban government will be how it treats women and girls.

Ambassador Geraldine Byrne Nason of Ireland said Wednesday that the protection and promotion of human rights for women “must be at the very heart of our collective response to the crisis.”

Under the Taliban’s previous rule from 1996 to 2001, women were not allowed to go to school, work outside the home or leave homes without a male escort. Though they faced many challenges in the country’s male-dominated society after the Taliban’s ouster, Afghan girls were not only educated but over the last 20 years women increasingly stepped into powerful positions in numerous fields including government, business, health and education.

Bryne Nason said: “My question is, will the Taliban be different, and that’s the real question. We haven’t seen any evidence of that.”

She said the international community has clout because whatever form of government emerges in Afghanistan needs international support -- and human rights and respect for international law “are red line issues.”

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MORE ON AFGHANISTAN:

Afghans face hunge r crisis, adding to Taliban’s challenge

Biden defends departure from ‘forever war,’ praises airlift

UN chief urges countries to help Afghans in ‘hour of need’

Victorious Taliban focus on governing after US withdrawal

New Taliban rulers face tough economic, security challenges

— Analysis: War is over but not Biden’s Afghanistan challenges

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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 — Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, says it’s “possible” the U.S. will have to coordinate with the Taliban on any future counterterrorism strikes in Afghanistan against Islamic State militants or others.

Milley spoke at a Pentagon news conference Wednesday, two days after the final U.S. troops left Afghanistan at the close of a turbulent and deadly evacuation of more than 124,000 American citizens, Afghans and others. He said it’s hard to predict how the future of the Taliban will unfold.

Milley called the Taliban a ruthless group and “whether or not they change remains to be seen.” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said he will make no predictions now on how the U.S. relationship with the Taliban will look like in the future.

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KABUL, Afghanistan — A senior Taliban official has told the people of Afghanistan’s Panjshir province that the group’s efforts to find a political solution to a dispute with militias there have produced no results.

Amir Khan Motaqi on Wednesday in an audio message posted on social media urged residents of Panjshir to convince those that want war to instead join the Islamic Emirate, promising them it will be a home for all Afghans.

Motaqi says: “We still want to prevent war and find a political solution.”

The Panjshir Valley is the last region not under Taliban control following their blitz across Afghanistan. A spokesman for the resistance movement, Fahim Dashti, said in video handout to the media Wednesday that its fighters have so far held off an offensive by the Taliban.

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MOSCOW — The U.S. Embassy in Tajikistan has announced a project to help build a new border guard facility on the country’s border with Afghanistan.

The embassy said in Wednesday’s statement that the project to be launched early next year envisages the construction of new quarters for a border guard detachment in Ayvoj. The embassy said the new facilities will provide housing for the Tajik border guards and help them deploy more quickly to border areas in response to threats.

U.S. Ambassador John Pommersheim said “this border detachment project is just another example of our shared commitment to the security and sovereignty of Tajikistan and Central Asia.”

The embassy said that since 2002 the U.S. has provided over $300 million in security assistance to Tajikistan and renovated or rebuilt 12 border outposts, nine border checkpoint facilities, and three training centers for border guards to help combat security threats.

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KABUL, Afghanistan — A senior U.N. official has warned that food in Afghanistan could run out this month, threatening to add a hunger crisis to the challenges facing the country’s new Taliban rulers as they endeavor to restore stability after decades of war.

Ramiz Alakbarov said Wednesday that about one third of the country’s population of 38 million is facing “emergency” or “crisis” levels of food insecurity. Alakbarov is the local U.N. humanitarian coordinator. With winter coming and a severe drought ongoing, more money is needed to feed the population.

He said the U.N.’s World Food Program has brought in food and distributed it to tens of thousands of people in recent weeks. But of the $1.3 billion needed for aid efforts, only 39% has been received.

Alakbarov said: “Without additional funding, food stocks will run out at the end of September.”

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KABUL, Afghanistan — A Taliban spokesman says a joint team of technicians from Turkey and Qatar has arrived in Kabul.

Bilal Karimi says they're there to provide technical and logistics services for reconstruction of Hamed Karzai International Airport.

Karimi said in response to a query from The Associated Press that efforts have already begun Wednesday to get the airport ready for the return of normal flights.

The development comes after Afghanistan’s civil aviation authority said earlier Wednesday its technical team was busy at the airport working to reactivate the airport’s radar system

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LONDON — Britain’s foreign secretary says he's heading to the region around Afghanistan for talks about the evacuation of British citizens and Afghan allies left behind in Kabul.

Dominic Raab told lawmakers he was leaving for the area Wednesday but did not provide any details, citing security reasons. British media have reported that his diplomatic efforts will focus on how to get Afghans and Britons out of the region through third countries, and that talks will likely include Pakistan.

A senior official, Simon Gass, has already traveled to Qatar to meet with Taliban representatives for talks about allowing people to leave Afghanistan.

Raab was questioned by lawmakers over the British government’s handling of the evacuation and the Afghan crisis. He was grilled about the number of Britons and Afghans who helped U.K. forces who are left behind, but said he was unable to give a clear answer.

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KABUL, Afghanistan — Afghanistan’s civil aviation authority says its technical team is busy at Hamed Karzai International Airport working to reactivate the airport’s radar system so flights can resume.

The authority in a statement Wednesday says it is committed to solving all the problems in the airport to facilitate the resumption of civilian and commercial flights.

The Taliban did not immediately comment.

Video is circulating on social media of a Qatari plane landing at the airport that is assumed to be carrying a technical team to help in repairs at the airport.

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MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin has criticized the United States’ involvement in Afghanistan, charging that its 20-year military presence in the country has achieved “zero.”

Putin said Wednesday that for 20 years the U.S. military in Afghanistan “was trying ... to civilize the people who live there, to introduce their norms and standards of life in the broadest sense of the word, including the political organization of society.”

“The result is sheer tragedies, sheer losses, both for those who were doing that — the U.S. — and more so for the people who live in Afghanistan. A zero result, if not negative,” Putin said.

The Russian president added that “it’s impossible to impose something from outside” and that “if someone does something to someone, they should draw on the history, the culture, the life philosophy of these people in the broadest sense of the word, they should treat their traditions with respect.”

Moscow, which fought a 10-year war in Afghanistan that ended with the Soviet troops’ withdrawal in 1989, has made a diplomatic comeback in the country as a mediator over the past few years. Russia has reached out to the feuding Afghan factions, including the Taliban — even though it has labeled them a terrorist organization.

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MADRID — Pope Francis has criticized the West’s recent involvement in Afghanistan as an outsider’s attempt to impose democracy — although he’s done so by citing Russia’s Vladimir Putin while thinking he was quoting Germany’s Angela Merkel.

In a radio interview aired Wednesday, Pope Francis was asked about the new political map taking shape in Afghanistan after the United States and its allies withdrew from the Taliban-controlled country after 20 years of war. The pope said he would answer using a quote that he attributed to the German chancellor, who he described as “one of the world’s greatest political figures.”

“It’s necessary to stop the irresponsible policy of enforcing its own values on others and attempts to build democracy in other countries based on outside models without taking into account historic, ethnic and religious issues and fully ignoring other people’s traditions,” the pope said, using his own translation into Spanish.

But the quote was pronounced last month by the Russian president in the presence of Merkel, during her visit of the German to Moscow.

During the meeting on Aug. 20, Putin scathingly criticized the West over Afghanistan, saying that the Taliban’s rapid sweep over the country has shown the futility of Western attempts to enforce its own vision of democracy. Instead, Merkel urged Russia to use its contacts with the Taliban to press for Afghan citizens who helped Germany to be allowed to leave Afghanistan.

The interview with Spain’s Cadena COPE took place at the Vatican late last week. The radio station owned by Spain’s Catholic bishops’ conference aired the talk on Wednesday and said that its content had been vetted by the pope himself.

Francis also said there that “all eventualities were not taken into account” in the departure of Western allies from Afghanistan.

“I don’t know if there will be any revision (of what happened during the withdrawal), but there was much deceiving from the new authorities (of Afghanistan),” said the Pope. “Either that or just too much ingenuity. Otherwise, I don’t understand.”

Francis called for Christians across the world to engage in “prayer, penance and fasting” in the face of events in Afghanistan.

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WASHINGTON — The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff reflected on the Afghanistan war’s end and delivered an emotional tribute Tuesday to the 13 service members killed by a suicide bombing last week.

Gen. Mark Milley said the military’s counterterrorism efforts over the past 20 years and the evacuation of 124,000 people from Afghanistan in the last 20 days are the legacy of U.S. service members.

In his words, “We’re now closing a chapter in our nation’s history.”

Milley said the 11 Marines, one soldier and one Navy corpsman who died in the suicide bombing “gave their tomorrows for the tomorrows of 124,000 people.”

His comments came during the retirement ceremony for Gen. Robert Abrams, who most recently commanded U.S. Forces Korea. Both men commanded troops in Afghanistan.

Milley called it “an incredibly emotional day,” adding: “All of us are conflicted with feelings of pain and anger, sorrow and sadness, combined with pride and resilience. But one thing I am certain of, for any soldier, sailor, airman or Marine and their families, your service mattered. It was not in vain.”

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WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden says he chose to end the war in Afghanistan in order to focus the nation’s defenses on other security problems, including China and Russia.

Addressing the nation Tuesday from the White House on the day after the last U.S. troops left Afghanistan, ending a 20-year war, Biden said he will sharpen the focus of U.S. foreign policy by concentrating on threats such as cyberattack and the proliferation of nuclear weapon technologies.

He vows to continue counterterrorism operations, including against any threats emanating from Afghanistan. He says this can be done with forces based outside of Afghanistan.

The president also mentioned the Islamic State extremist group’s Afghanistan affiliate, which conducted a suicide bombing at the Kabul airport on Aug. 26 that killed 13 American service members and dozens of Afghan civilians. Biden said, “We are not done with you yet.”