interview with Radio Liberty this month, Gen. Oleksandr Pavlyuk, the commander of the Joint Operation Forces fighting the separatists, said the Javelins had already been deployed to military units in eastern Ukraine. A senior Ukrainian military official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive military issues, confirmed that Javelin missiles had been deployed to frontline military units a month ago, but had not yet been fired in battle.

“The Javelins are there, and if our enemies employ tanks they will be used,” the official said.

The Biden administration has remained vague about how else it might come to Ukraine’s defense in case of invasion.

In his video call with Mr. Putin on Tuesday, President Biden looked his counterpart in the eye and warned the United States would go beyond the economic punishments imposed on Russia after the 2014 seizure of Crimea should Mr. Putin decide to order military action, according to an account by Jake Sullivan, the president’s national security adviser. What those penalties might be were left unclear, though few expect the United States to commit significant military assistance beyond what has already been provided.

The lack of firm commitments from Ukraine’s Western backers are a source of consternation for Ukrainian officials.

“They need to decide, either we’re allies as they declare — and in that case allies help one another — or they need to say that this is not exactly the case,” said General Budanov, the military intelligence chief. “If the civilized world wants to avoid catastrophe — and this will be a catastrophe for everyone — we need military technical support now, not tomorrow, not the day after tomorrow, not in year. Now.”

Those who understand that such a level of support is unlikely have begun to speak darkly of popular armed resistance against any Russian occupation. In an interview, General Pavlyuk noted that Ukraine had up to half a million people with military experience. If the West does not come to Ukraine’s aid, he said, “we’ll start a partisan war.”

“Eight years have passed and there are very many people with military experience who are prepared with weapons in their hands to fight,” he said.

One senior Ukrainian military official who spoke on condition of anonymity said that if all else failed, the military would simply open its weapons depots and allow the Ukrainian people to take whatever they need to defend themselves and their families.

Eric Schmitt contributed reporting from Washington.

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Vaccine Hesitancy Hurts Covid Fight in Poorer Countries

JOHANNESBURG — The detection of the Omicron variant in southern Africa signals the next stage of the battle against Covid-19: getting many more people inoculated in poorer nations where vaccines have been scarcest in order to deter new mutations from developing.

But while world leaders sometimes talk about this as if it were largely a matter of delivering doses overseas, the experience of South Africa, at least, hints at a far more complex set of challenges.

Like many poor countries, South Africa was made to wait months for vaccines as wealthier countries monopolized them. Many countries still do not have anywhere near enough vaccines to inoculate their populations.

The problems have not ended as shots began arriving in greater numbers.

Neglected and underfunded public health infrastructure has slowed their delivery, especially to rural areas, where storage and staffing problems are common.

turned away shipments of doses from Pfizer-BioNTech and Johnson & Johnson, worried that their stockpile of 16 million shots might spoil amid insufficient demand.

Dr. Saad Omer, a Yale University epidemiologist, and they have had a deeper effect.

have said. In several countries, fewer than half say they intend to get vaccinated.

sometimes-violent resistance in rural communities. Vaccine hesitancy rates there approach 50 percent among those who have not completed high school. In some parts of the country, more than a third of doses spoil amid the low demand.

Still, many are eager to be vaccinated. When doses first became widely available in South Africa earlier this year, a third of the country’s adults swiftly got inoculated, a pattern that is repeating elsewhere.

allegations of corruption amid last year’s lockdown, have heightened public unease.

“There’s a lack of confidence in the public health system’s ability to provide vaccines,” said Chris Vick, the founder of Covid Comms, a South African nonprofit group.

The group has been holding vaccine information sessions, but overcoming skepticism is not easy. After a session in the Pretoria township of Atteridgeville, one 20-year-old who attended said she had not been persuaded.

briefly pause delivery of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, leading South Africa to delay its rollout to health care workers. Both countries decided to resume the shots after concluding that they were safe.

The South African government held regular briefings, but these were on television and in English, when radio remains the most powerful medium and most South Africans do not speak English as their mother tongue.

a recent study found. That is in part because of mistrust of the Black-led government, but also because American Covid conspiracists have found wide reach among white South Africans on social media, according to Mr. Vick of Covid Comms.

Covid pill from Merck for high-risk adults, the first in a new class of antiviral drugs that could work against a wide range of variants, including Omicron. The pill could be authorized within days, and available by year’s end.

The first modern, worldwide campaign, begun in 1959 against smallpox, provoked deep skepticism in parts of Africa and Asia, where it was seen as a continuation of colonial-era medical abuses. Some W.H.O. officials used physical force to vaccinate people, deepening distrust. The campaign took 28 years.

The effort to eradicate polio, which finally ramped up in poor countries in the 1980s and is still ongoing, has run into similar resistance. A study in the science journal Nature found that vaccine avoidance was highest among poor or marginalized groups, who believed that the health authorities, and especially Western governments, would never voluntarily help them.

In Nigeria in the early 2000s, amid a spike in religious tensions, unfounded rumors circulated that foreign health workers were using polio vaccines as cover to sterilize the country’s Muslim population. Boycotts and local bans led to a polio resurgence, with cases spreading to 15 other countries, as far as Southeast Asia.

survey by the Africa Center for Disease Control found that 43 percent of those polled believe Africans are used as guinea pigs in vaccine trials — a legacy of Western drug companies’ doing exactly this in the 1990s.

Even within their own borders, Western governments are struggling to overcome vaccine resistance. So it is hard to imagine them doing better in faraway societies where they lack local understanding.

Any appearance of Western powers forcing unwanted vaccines into African or Asian arms risks deepening the backlash.

“If the objective is to keep the U.S. and the rest of the world safe, it should be pretty obvious that the success of the domestic program depends on what happens internationally,” Dr. Omer said.

Declan Walsh contributed reporting from Nairobi.

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‘Today’s Outfit Is Confidence’: Atypical TikTok Star Enchants Mexico

MEXICO CITY — At 49 years old and under five feet tall, Martha Izquierdo doesn’t exactly fit the mold of a TikTok influencer. But having survived sexual abuse, kidnapping, two bouts with cancer and two heart attacks, conquering social media was practically a cinch for this Mexican journalist.

Ms. Izquierdo, who lives in a small town in southern Oaxaca state, has amassed more than 600,000 followers on the social media platform, with her videos accumulating some 24 million likes.

What’s the message that has made her so popular in a time of pandemic and in a country experiencing record levels of violence?

“I started talking about issues that had to do with seeing life in a positive way,” Ms. Izquierdo said. “Confronting your fears, making people understand that each one of us is unique, irreplaceable.”

award-winning journalist with decades of reporting experience, Ms. Izquierdo is relatively new to social media stardom. As the pandemic began its assault on Mexico in 2020, she decided to open a TikTok account, where she goes by @marthaizquierdooficial.

a devastating toll on public health and the economy, Ms. Izquierdo offers her fans a dose of pure delight. And in a digital era where everything is photoshopped glamour, Ms. Izquierdo’s very ordinariness, whether exercising, driving to work or dancing to cumbia music in her back yard, has made her extraordinary.

Her colorful outfits are part of her appeal, from traditional Oaxacan dresses to bikinis for the beach — the long scar from cancer surgery that slices across her belly proudly on display. But Ms. Izquierdo’s brand isn’t so much couture as confidence.

“If you have to start over, start over,” she said in one clip. “That’s what life is all about — never giving up.”

the world’s deadliest countries for journalists, reporting the news came with immense risks: Often, her work involved covering the cartel-fueled violence that has terrorized the country for decades.

In 2007, three newspaper sellers in a city near where she lived were killed, she recounted, by the violent Zetas cartel, whose assassins had mistaken their victims for journalists. When Ms. Izquierdo went to cover the killings, she received an ominous phone call saying she was next.

surrounded and detained by armed men. It was only when the army arrived that Ms. Izquierdo was released.

Still, despite continually confronting danger on the job, Ms. Izquierdo said her greatest challenge in life came when her partner of 18 years, who had been battling cancer and kidney problems, finally succumbed.

“I wanted to kill myself because I loved him so much that I stopped loving myself,” she said.

Then, in 2015, she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and given eight months to live. Again, she thought about giving up.

But her friends and family convinced her to keep fighting. She underwent chemotherapy and multiple surgeries, leaving her body scarred.

“I would cry in front of the mirror when I looked at myself because my body looked mutilated,” Ms. Izquierdo said. “I felt like Frankenstein.”

Eventually she defeated the cancer — but in 2017 it returned, this time in her stomach. In February of that year she had a heart attack.

After surviving a second heart attack months later, Ms. Izquierdo said everything changed. While unconscious, Ms. Izquierdo said she had a vision during which she heard her deceased partner’s voice telling her to go on living.

“If I came back to life it was for one purpose,” she said. “To keep living, to be happy, and to help other people with my life experience.”

It was that positive attitude that catapulted her to TikTok fame. But along with all the followers came the trolls, who called her overweight or unattractive. At first, the negative comments started getting to her; then, she decided to stop caring.

“When I was allowing myself to be affected by unfounded negative comments, I said to myself, ‘No — I love myself.’”

Before long, the number of negative comments started dropping, even as her followers increased. Watching haters change their attitude toward her, Ms. Izquierdo said, is what she considers one of the greatest achievements of her TikTok presence. That, and the messages she receives from fans telling her the effect she’s had on their lives.

A few weeks ago, one of those fans, Ms. Méndez, summoned the courage to contact her idol. The resulting phone conversation, she said, has turned her life around: She’s gone to see a specialist about losing weight and plans to start working out.

“I want to wake up dancing every morning like she does,” Ms. Méndez said. “She’s a woman worth her weight in gold.”

For Ms. Izquierdo, this kind of impact is the point of all her efforts.

“It’s all worth it if I can change someone who is facing a problem,” she said. “If I can make them smile.”

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Covid-19 Misinformation Goes Unchecked on Radio and Podcasts

On a recent episode of his podcast, Rick Wiles, a pastor and self-described “citizen reporter,” endorsed a conspiracy theory: that Covid-19 vaccines were the product of a “global coup d’état by the most evil cabal of people in the history of mankind.”

“It’s an egg that hatches into a synthetic parasite and grows inside your body,” Mr. Wiles said on his Oct. 13 episode. “This is like a sci-fi nightmare, and it’s happening in front of us.”

Mr. Wiles belongs to a group of hosts who have made false or misleading statements about Covid-19 and effective treatments for it. Like many of them, he has access to much of his listening audience because his show appears on a platform provided by a large media corporation.

Mr. Wiles’s podcast is available through iHeart Media, an audio company based in San Antonio that says it reaches nine out of 10 Americans each month. Spotify and Apple are other major companies that provide significant audio platforms for hosts who have shared similar views with their listeners about Covid-19 and vaccination efforts, or have had guests on their shows who promoted such notions.

protect people against the coronavirus for long periods and have significantly reduced the spread of Covid-19. As the global death toll related to Covid-19 exceeds five million — and at a time when more than 40 percent of Americans are not fully vaccinated — iHeart, Spotify, Apple and many smaller audio companies have done little to rein in what radio hosts and podcasters say about the virus and vaccination efforts.

“There’s really no curb on it,” said Jason Loviglio, an associate professor of media and communication studies at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. “There’s no real mechanism to push back, other than advertisers boycotting and corporate executives saying we need a culture change.”

Audio industry executives appear less likely than their counterparts in social media to try to check dangerous speech. TruNews, a conservative Christian media outlet founded by Mr. Wiles, who used the phrase “Jew coup” to describe efforts to impeach former President Donald J. Trump, has been banned by YouTube. His podcast remains available on iHeart.

Asked about his false statements concerning Covid-19 vaccines, Mr. Wiles described pandemic mitigation efforts as “global communism.” “If the Needle Nazis win, freedom is over for generations, maybe forever,” he said in an email.

The reach of radio shows and podcasts is great, especially among young people: A recent survey from the National Research Group, a consulting firm, found that 60 percent of listeners under 40 get their news primarily through audio, a type of media they say they trust more than print or video.

unfounded claim that “45,000 people have died from taking the vaccine.” In his final Twitter post, on July 30, Mr. Bernier accused the government of “acting like Nazis” for encouraging Covid-19 vaccines.

Jimmy DeYoung Sr., whose program was available on iHeart, Apple and Spotify, died of Covid-19 complications after making his show a venue for false or misleading statements about vaccines. One of his frequent guests was Sam Rohrer, a former Pennsylvania state representative who likened the promotion of Covid-19 vaccines to Nazi tactics and made a sweeping false statement. “This is not a vaccine, by definition,” Mr. Rohrer said on an April episode. “It is a permanent altering of my immune system, which God created to handle the kinds of things that are coming that way.” Mr. DeYoung thanked his guest for his “insight.” Mr. DeYoung died four months later.

has said his research has been “misinterpreted” by anti-vaccine activists. He added that Covid-19 vaccines have been found to reduce transmissions substantially, whereas chickens inoculated with the Marek’s disease vaccine were still able to transmit the disease. Mr. Sexton did not reply to a request for comment.

more than 600 podcasts and operates a vast online archive of audio programs — has rules for the podcasters on its platform prohibiting them from making statements that incite hate, promote Nazi propaganda or are defamatory. It would not say whether it has a policy concerning false statements on Covid-19 or vaccination efforts.

Apple’s content guidelines for podcasts prohibit “content that may lead to harmful or dangerous outcomes, or content that is obscene or gratuitous.” Apple did not reply to requests for comment for this article.

Spotify, which says its podcast platform has 299 million monthly listeners, prohibits hate speech in its guidelines. In a response to inquiries, the company said in a written statement that it also prohibits content “that promotes dangerous false or dangerous deceptive content about Covid-19, which may cause offline harm and/or pose a direct threat to public health.” The company added that it had removed content that violated its policies. But the episode with Mr. DeYoung’s conversation with Mr. Rohrer was still available via Spotify.

Dawn Ostroff, Spotify’s content and advertising business officer, said at a conference last month that the company was making “very aggressive moves” to invest more in content moderation. “There’s a difference between the content that we make and the content that we license and the content that’s on the platform,” she said, “but our policies are the same no matter what type of content is on our platform. We will not allow any content that infringes or that in any way is inaccurate.”

The audio industry has not drawn the same scrutiny as large social media companies, whose executives have been questioned in congressional hearings about the platforms’ role in spreading false or misleading information.

The social media giants have made efforts over the last year to stop the flow of false reports related to the pandemic. In September, YouTube said it was banning the accounts of several prominent anti-vaccine activists. It also removes or de-emphasizes content it deems to be misinformation or close to it. Late last year, Twitter announced that it would remove posts and ads with false claims about coronavirus vaccines. Facebook followed suit in February, saying it would remove false claims about vaccines generally.

now there’s podcasting.”

The Federal Communications Commission, which grants licenses to companies using the public airwaves, has oversight over radio operators, but not podcasts or online audio, which do not make use of the public airwaves.

The F.C.C. is barred from violating American citizens’ right to free speech. When it takes action against a media company over programming, it is typically in response to complaints about content considered obscene or indecent, as when it fined a Virginia television station in 2015 for a newscast that included a segment on a pornographic film star.

In a statement, an F.C.C. spokesman said the agency “reviews all complaints and determines what is actionable under the Constitution and the law.” It added that the main responsibility for what goes on the air lies with radio station owners, saying that “broadcast licensees have a duty to act in the public interest.”

The world of talk radio and podcasting is huge, and anti-vaccine sentiment is a small part of it. iHeart offers an educational podcast series about Covid-19 vaccines, and Spotify created a hub for podcasts about Covid-19 from news outlets including ABC and Bloomberg.

on the air this year, describing his decision to get vaccinated and encouraging his listeners to do the same.

Recently, he expressed his eagerness to get a booster shot and mentioned that he had picked up a new nickname: “The Vaxxinator.”

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ISIS Poses a Growing Threat to New Taliban Government in Afghanistan

JALALABAD, Afghanistan — Aref Mohammad’s war against the Islamic State ended earlier this fall when his unit of Taliban fighters was ambushed by the terrorist group in eastern Afghanistan. A bullet shattered his femur, leaving him disabled and barely able to walk, never mind fight.

But for the Taliban movement he served under, now the government of Afghanistan, the war against the Islamic State was just beginning.

“If we knew where they were from, we would pursue them and destroy them,” Mr. Mohammed, 19, said from his hospital bed in Jalalabad, the capital of Afghanistan’s eastern Nangarhar Province where the Islamic State has maintained a presence since 2015.

In the two months since the Taliban took control of the country, the Islamic State affiliate in Afghanistan — known as Islamic State Khorasan or ISIS-K — has stepped up attacks across the country, straining the new and untested government and raising alarm bells in the West about the potential resurgence of a group that could eventually pose an international threat.

Islamic State fighters carried out a coordinated attack with gunmen and at least one suicide bomber on an important military hospital in the capital, killing at least 25 people.

This has placed the Taliban in a precarious position: After spending 20 years fighting as an insurgency, the group finds itself wrestling with providing security and delivering on its hallmark commitment of law and order. This has proved especially challenging for the Taliban as they try to defend themselves and civilians in crowded cities against almost daily attacks with an army that was trained for rural guerrilla warfare.

once working together with the Americans and the former government to contain the terrorist group in the east — is on the diplomatic stage.

their origin story and their record as rulers.

In 2015, the Islamic State in Khorasan was officially established in Afghanistan’s east by former members of the Pakistani Taliban. The group’s ideology took hold partly because many villages there are inhabited by Salafi Muslims, the same branch of Sunni Islam as the Islamic State. A minority among the Taliban, who mostly follow the Hanafi school, Salafi fighters were eager to join the new terrorist group.

The draw of young fighters to the Islamic State is especially pronounced in Jalalabad, where Salafi mosques have sprung up in growing numbers in recent years, providing ample recruiting grounds for the terrorist group.

The Taliban have made a show of openness to the Salafists, accepting a pledge of allegiance from some Salafi clerics earlier this month. But there is still widespread unease within their community, especially in Jalalabad.

At one Salafi religious school in the city, the Taliban cracked down on the ideology by forcing the school’s founder to flee. They have allowed boys to continue their Quranic studies but have banned Salafist works from the curriculum.

For Faraidoon Momand, a former member of the Afghan government and a local power broker in Jalalabad, the worsening economic situation in the country is also driving the Islamic State’s recruitment.

“In every society if the economy is bad, people will do what they have to do to get by,” Mr. Momand said.

As dusk fell over Jalalabad on a recent day in October, a unit of Taliban fighters belonging to the intelligence agency rode through the streets in a modified Toyota pickup, a machine gun mounted in its bed, as the streets filled with commuters and evening shoppers.

The Talibs pulled up at key intersections and checkpoints, jumping out and assisting with the screening of cars and the ubiquitous yellow three-wheeled rickshaws that jostle and honk as they throng streets. They poked their heads in, shining flashlights inside, questioning passengers, and waved them on.

“We have a court for every criminal,” said Abdullah Ghorzang, a Taliban commander. “But there is no court for ISIS-K. They will be killed wherever they are arrested.”

Victor J. Blue reported from Jalalabad, Afghanistan; Thomas Gibbons-Neff from Doha, Qatar, and Christina Goldbaum from Kabul. Reporting was contributed by Eric Schmitt from Washington; Safiullah Padshah from Jalalabad; and Sami Sahak from Los Angeles.

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In Submarine Deal With Australia, U.S. Counters China but Enrages France

PARIS — President Biden’s announcement of a deal to help Australia deploy nuclear-powered submarines has strained the Western alliance, infuriating France and foreshadowing how the conflicting American and European responses to confrontation with China may redraw the global strategic map.

In announcing the deal on Wednesday, Mr. Biden said it was meant to reinforce alliances and update them as strategic priorities shift. But in drawing a Pacific ally closer to meet the China challenge, he appears to have alienated an important European one and aggravated already tense relations with Beijing.

France on Thursday reacted with outrage to the announcements that the United States and Britain would help Australia develop submarines, and that Australia was withdrawing from a $66 billion deal to buy French-built submarines. At its heart, the diplomatic storm is also a business matter — a loss of revenue for France’s military industry, and a gain for American companies.

Jean-Yves Le Drian, France’s foreign minister, told Franceinfo radio that the submarine deal was a “unilateral, brutal, unpredictable decision” by the United States, and he compared the American move to the rash and sudden policy shifts common during the Trump administration.

“America-is-back” foreign-policy message, had promised to revive the country’s alliances, which were particularly undermined by Mr. Trump’s dismissiveness of NATO and the European Union. Hopes ran high from Madrid to Berlin. But a brief honeymoon quickly gave way to renewed tensions.

The French were disappointed that Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken did not make Paris, where he lived for many years, one of his first destinations in Europe. And they were angered when Mr. Biden made his decision on the American withdrawal from Afghanistan with scant if any consultation of European allies who had contributed to the war effort.

“Not even a phone call,” Ms. Bacharan said of the Afghan decision.

In his comments on Wednesday, Mr. Biden called France a key ally with an important presence in the Indo-Pacific. But the president’s decision, at least in French eyes, appeared to make a mockery of that observation.

The French statement on Thursday said that France was “the only European nation present in the Indo-Pacific region, with nearly two million citizens and more than 7,000 military personnel” in overseas territories like French Polynesia and New Caledonia in the Pacific and Reunion in the Indian Ocean.

Next week, Mr. Biden will meet at the White House with leaders of “the Quad” — an informal partnership of Australia, India, Japan and the United States — in what amounts to a statement of shared resolve in relations with Beijing. He will also meet with Mr. Johnson, apparently before the Quad gathering.

Given the Australian deal, these meetings will again suggest to France that in the China-focused 21st century, old allies in continental Europe matter less.

For Britain, joining the security alliance was further evidence of Mr. Johnson’s determination to align his country closely with the United States in the post-Brexit era. Mr. Johnson has sought to portray himself as loyal partner to Mr. Biden on issues like China and climate change.

London’s relations with Washington were ruffled by the Biden administration’s lack of consultation on Afghanistan. But the partnership on the nuclear submarine deal suggests that in sensitive areas of security, intelligence sharing and military technology, Britain remains a preferred partner over France.

Reporting was contributed by Helene Cooper and Eric Schmitt in Washington; Aurelien Breeden in Paris; Mark Landler in London; and Elian Peltier in Brussels.

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Reporters in Afghanistan Face an Intolerant Regime: ‘Everything Changed Overnight’

Beloved shows removed from the airwaves. A television station cutting from a news report a story about a pregnant police officer who was reportedly fatally shot by the Taliban. A radio editor telling his colleagues to edit out anti-Taliban cheers from coverage of demonstrations in the capital.

Afghanistan’s vibrant free press and media industry, once celebrated as a success story and labeled one of the country’s most important achievements of the past two decades, has abruptly been transformed after the Taliban takeover of the country. Now, its survival is threatened by physical assaults, self-censorship and a dwindling journalist population less than a month after the Taliban seized control of Kabul, the capital, and began enforcing their hard-line Islamist policies.

The Taliban’s crackdown on the free press was even more evident on Wednesday after two Afghan journalists were detained and violently assaulted for covering a protest in Kabul. Photos showed the backsides of both reporters covered with bruises and gashes from being whipped repeatedly with cables, sparking an international outcry.

“The situation of free media is very critical,” said Neda, an anchor for a local television station in Kabul, identified by her nickname to protect her identity. “No one dares to ask the Taliban about their past wrongdoings and the atrocities they have committed.”

the Taliban rounded up scores of demonstrators around Kabul and journalists covering the protests, subjecting them to abuse in overcrowded jails, according to journalists who were present. The crackdown on the demonstrations and the ensuing coverage followed a Taliban announcement Tuesday that protests would not be allowed without government approval. At least 19 journalists were detained on Tuesday and Wednesday, the United Nations said.

“You’re lucky you have not been beheaded,” Taliban guards told one detained journalist as they kicked him in the head, Ravina Shamdasdani, a spokeswoman for the United Nations human rights office in Geneva, told reporters.

Reporters with Etilaat e Roz described being detained at the protests, then brought to a nearby police station where they were tied up and beaten with cables.

Taqi Daryabi, one of the reporters, said about a half-dozen Taliban members handcuffed him behind his back when he was on the ground on his stomach, then began kicking and hitting him until he lost consciousness.

“They beat so much that I couldn’t resist or move,” he said. “They forced me to the ground on my stomach, flogging me on my buttocks and back, and the ones who were in the front were kicking me in the face.”

Reporters working for Tolo News, Ariana News, Pajhwok News Agency and several freelance journalists have also been detained and beaten by the Taliban in the past three weeks, according to local media reports.

“The Taliban is quickly proving that earlier promises to allow Afghanistan’s independent media to continue operating freely and safely are worthless,” Steven Butler, Asia program coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists, said in a statement Wednesday. “We urge the Taliban to live up to those earlier promises, to stop beating and detaining reporters doing their job.”

On top of the dangerous environment, the flow of information from the government has slowed and become very limited. There used to be dozens of government spokesmen; now there are only a handful speaking for the new Taliban government, and they are less responsive than during the group’s insurgency.

In the late 1990s, the Taliban imposed strict restrictions on the media, banning television and using the state-owned radio and newspapers as propaganda platforms. But the group promised greater openness toward freedom of expression once it seized power last month.

“We will respect freedom of the press, because media reporting will be useful to society and will be able to help correct the leaders’ errors,” Zabihullah Mujahid, the acting deputy information and culture minister, told Reporters Without Borders last week. “We declare to the world that we recognize the importance of the role of the media.”

Many Afghan journalists said those promises are just “words” by Taliban’s leaders, citing recent assaults on reporters in Kabul and elsewhere.

“Press freedom is dead in Afghanistan,” said Mr. Quraishi, the media advocate. “And the society without a free press dies.”

Jim Huylebroek contributed reporting from Kabul, Afghanistan. Nick Bruce contributed from Geneva.

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Why You Might Not Be Returning to the Office Until Next Year

Postponing gives the workers who are responding to new requirements sufficient time to become fully vaccinated. And it gives companies more time to set up the logistics that accompany vaccination mandates, such as processes for tracking vaccination status and, soon, who has received a booster.

“Within a company, a C.E.O. can say: ‘Our company, our culture, our business. We need to be together, we need to be in the office, this is the date,’” said Mary Kay O’Neill, a senior health consultant at Mercer Consulting Group. “And then our friends in H.R. are like, ‘How are we going to do that?’”

For some organizations, negotiations with unions are also a factor. A spokeswoman for NPR, which has not set a date for returning to the office, said the public radio network was working “with key stakeholders, including our unions, to evaluate the best approaches to keeping our staff safe and maintaining our operations.”

With new logistics around vaccine mandates, continued uncertainty around variants, and increasingly vocal employee demands, some companies, including The New York Times and American Airlines, have opted out of setting return dates.

The agility of technology companies, alongside industries like consulting and media, is in many ways unique. CVS Health is still eyeing a fall return, albeit with a degree of flexibility worked in. And many employees never went home at all — with a good portion of workers at companies like General Motors, Ford Motor and Chevron having worked on-site throughout most of the pandemic.

Many companies that did send employees home remain eager to bring them back. The longer workers stay out of the office, the harder it may be to cajole their return. And real estate costs are difficult to justify if offices are left empty.

In finance, which traditionally puts a priority on in-person apprenticeship and hustling, the prominent firms have made being in the office a recruiting tool. Goldman Sachs brought back its employees in June and JPMorgan Chase in July. The rise of the Delta variant didn’t slow those plans down, but it did seemingly expedite measures to prevent the spread of the virus. Goldman said last month that it would require anyone who entered its U.S. offices, including clients, to be fully vaccinated.

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Taliban Quash Afghanistan Protests, Tightening Grip on Country

The Taliban cracked down on protests that erupted in at least four cities in Afghanistan on Thursday and rounded up opponents despite promises of amnesty, even as fearful workers stayed home and thousands of people continued a frenzied rush to leave the country.

Even as the Taliban moved to assert control, hundreds of protesters took to the streets for a second day to rally against their rule, this time marching in Kabul, the capital, as well as other cities. Again, the Taliban met them with force, using gunfire and beatings to disperse crowds. And again the actions of Taliban foot soldiers undermined the leadership’s suggestions that, having taken power, they would moderate the brutality they have long been known for.

The police officers who served the old government have melted away, and instead armed Taliban fighters are operating checkpoints and directing traffic, administering their notions of justice as they see fit, with little consistency from one to another.

according to witnesses and a security assessment prepared for the United Nations. Though the Taliban have said there would be no reprisals, there have been arrests, property seizures and scattered reports of reprisal killings.

city after city with remarkable speed once most U.S. forces had withdrawn, brushed aside the demoralized and disorganized Afghan security forces, and swept into Kabul on Sunday. Now they are learning that while conquest may have been swift, governing a vibrant, freethinking society is not so easy.

The anti-Taliban protests have been a remarkable display of defiance of a group that has a long history of controlling communities through fear and meeting dissent with lethal force. The protests also offered evidence that while tens of thousands are now seeking escape, some of those left behind would try — for now, at least — to have a voice in the country’s direction, despite the growing crackdown.

independence from Britain in 1919. It was not clear whether the victims had been shot or had died in a stampede.

There were even demonstrators waving the flag in Kandahar, the southern city that is considered the birthplace of the Taliban. In the southeastern city of Khost, the group imposed a curfew, a day after demonstrations and clashes there. The protests on Thursday in Kabul included one near the presidential palace, and another that drew about 200 people before the Taliban used force to break it up.

The events, led primarily by young men and women, were a wholly new experience for Taliban insurgents who have spent the last 20 years mostly in the mountains and rural districts of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan — the same name they used a generation ago.

The tricolor flag flown by the collapsed government, taken down by the Taliban and replaced by their own banner, has become a repeated flash point, with people in multiple cities beaten for displaying it. On Wednesday, the Taliban fired on demonstrators waving the flag in the eastern city of Jalalabad, with reports of two or three people killed.

she said on Twitter.

She added that after the Taliban spokesman’s first news briefing, held on Tuesday, when he insisted that the rights of the media and women would be respected, she had not expected much good to come.

“I had low expectations but now it has become clear that there is a gap between action and words,” Ms. Atakpal said.

Residents of Kabul were feeling their way under the new regime gingerly. The streets were quiet, largely empty of traffic, interrupted by occasional bursts of gunfire and the roar of American military planes patrolling and conducting the round-the-clock evacuation.

their origin story and their record as rulers.

One woman complained that popular Turkish television serials were no longer airing, after cable companies closed down their services. The Taliban, which banned all television during their previous time in power, have since embraced media as a propaganda tool, and cable companies were already anticipating new rules on morally acceptable content in accordance with the militants’ strict interpretation of Islamic law.

Mr. Shesta said he was deleting photos from his cellphone of him meeting with the former president, Ashraf Ghani, and other government officials, many of whom have fled the country. Mr. Ghani left the capital on Sunday, and several of his senior officials traveled to Turkey on Monday.

At the Kabul airport, which is still controlled by U.S. troops, the Taliban are in charge outside its blast walls and used force and intimidation to control access, beating people back and firing their rifles.

Norwegian Center for Global Analyses, cited multiple reports that the Taliban had a list of people to question and punish, as well as their locations. Military and police personnel and people who worked for investigative units of the toppled government were particularly at risk, according to the document, which was dated Wednesday.

Already, the Taliban were going door to door and “arresting and/or threatening to kill or arrest family members of target individuals unless they surrender themselves to the Taliban,” said the document, which was seen by The New York Times.

It contained a reproduced letter dated Aug. 16 from the Taliban to an unnamed counterterrorism official in Afghanistan who had worked with U.S. and British officials and then gone into hiding.

The letter instructed the official to report to the Military and Intelligence Commission of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan in Kabul. If not, it warned, the official’s family members “will be treated based on Shariah law.”

Victor J. Blue, Helene Cooper and Jim Huylebroek contributed reporting.

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Afghanistan Live Updates: 20-Year U.S. War Ending as It Began, With Taliban Ruling Afghanistan

announced on Twitter that he was forming a coordinating council together with Abdullah Abdullah, chairman of the Afghan delegation to peace talks, and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the leader of the Hesb-i-Islami party, to manage a peaceful transfer of power. Mr. Karzai called on both government and Taliban forces to act with restraint.

But the Taliban appeared to ignore his appeal and advanced into the city on its own terms.

The Taliban’s lead negotiator in talks with the government, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, congratulated all of Afghanistan for the victory. “Now it will be shown how we can serve our nation,” he said. “We can assure that our nation has a peaceful life and a better future.”

Mr. Baradar made the comments in a video posted on social media, surrounded by other members of the Taliban delegation to the talks in Doha, Qatar.

“There was no expectation that we would achieve victory in this war,” he said. “But this came with the help of Allah, therefore we should be thankful to Him, be humble in front of Him, so that we do not act arrogantly.”

Al Jazeera reported that it had interviewed Taliban fighters who were holding a news conference in the presidential palace in Kabul, the capital. The fighters said they were working to secure Kabul so that leaders in Qatar and outside the capital could return safely. Al Jazeera reported that the fighters had taken down the flag of Afghanistan.

As it became clear that Taliban fighters were entering Kabul, thousands of Afghans who had sought refuge there after fleeing the insurgents’ brutal military offensive watched with growing alarm as the local police seemed to fade from their usual checkpoints. The U.S. Embassy warned Americans to not head to the airport in Kabul after reports that the facility was taking fire, and said that the situation was “changing quickly.”

Late in Kabul’s evening, President Ghani released a written statement on Facebook saying he had departed the country to save the capital from further bloodshed.

“Today I was presented with a hard choice,” he wrote. “I should stand to face the armed Taliban who wanted to enter the presidential palace or leave the dear country that I dedicated my life to protecting the past twenty years.”

“If I had stayed, countless countrymen would have been martyred and Kabul city would have been ruined,” he added, “in which case a disaster would have been brought upon this city of five million.”

At 6:30 p.m. local time, the Taliban issued a statement that their forces were moving into police districts in order to maintain security in areas that had been abandoned by the government security forces. Taliban fighters, meeting no resistance, took up positions in parts of the city, after Zabiullah Mujahid, spokesman for the Taliban, posted the statement on Twitter.

“The Islamic Emirates ordered its forces to enter the areas of Kabul city from which the enemy has left because there is risk of theft and robbery,” the statement said. The Taliban had been ordered not to harm civilians and not to enter individual homes, it added. “Our forces are entering Kabul city with all caution.”

As the sun set behind the mountains, the traffic was clogged up as crowds grew bigger, with more and more Taliban fighters appearing on motorbikes, police pickups and even a Humvee that once belonged to the American-sponsored Afghan security forces.

Earlier in the afternoon, Interior Minister Abdul Sattar Mirzakwal announced that an agreement had been made for a peaceful transfer of power for greater Kabul, and that his forces were maintaining security.

“The city’s security is guaranteed. There will be no attack on the city,” he said. “The agreement for greater Kabul city is that under an interim administration, God willing, power will be transferred.”

Mr. Mirzakwal later announced a 9 p.m. curfew in the capital, and called on its residents to go home.

Mr. Ghani left Kabul in a plane with his wife, Rula Ghani, and two close aides, and arrived in Uzbekistan, according to a member of the Afghan delegation in Doha, Qatar, that has been in peace negotiations with the Taliban since last year. The official asked not to be named because he did not want to be identified speaking about the president’s movements.

It could not be confirmed that Mr. Ghani was in Uzbekistan, and there were reports that he had gone to other countries.

In a Facebook video, Mr. Abdullah, former chief executive of the Afghan government, criticized Mr. Ghani for fleeing.

“That the former president of Afghanistan has left the country and its people in this bad situation, God will call him to account and the people of Afghanistan will make their judgment,” Mr. Abdullah said in the video.

In negotiations being managed by Mr. Abdullah, Mr. Ghani had been set to travel to Doha on Sunday with a larger group to negotiate the transfer of power, but flew instead to Uzbekistan, the peace delegation member said.

Mr. Ghani had resisted pressure to step down. In a recorded speech aired on Saturday, he pledged to “prevent further instability” and called for “remobilizing” the country’s military. But the president was increasingly isolated, and his words seemed detached from the reality around him.

With rumors rife and reliable information hard to come by, the streets were filled during the day with scenes of panic and desperation.

“Greetings, the Taliban have reached the city. We are escaping,” said Sahraa Karimi, the head of Afghan Film, in a post shared widely on Facebook. Filming herself as she fled on foot, out of breath and clutching at her headscarf, she shouted at others to escape while they could.

“Hey woman, girl, don’t go that way!” she called out. “Some people don’t know what is going on,” she went on. “Where are you going? Go quickly.”

Wais Omari, 20, a street vendor in the city, said the situation was already dire and he feared for the future.

“If it gets worse, I will hide in my home,” he said.

Christina Goldbaum, Thomas Gibbons-Neff, Carlotta Gall, Ruhullah Khapalwak, Sharif Hassan, Jim Huylebroek, Najim Rahim, and Lara Jakes contributed reporting.

Leaving Kabul, the Afghan capital, on Sunday as the Taliban looked set to take over.
Credit…Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times

Panic gripped the Afghan capital, Kabul, Sunday as Taliban fighters started arriving in the city, inmates broke out of the main prison on the east side of the city, and the American-backed government appeared to crumble.

By the afternoon, President Ashraf Ghani was reported to have fled. And as American forces focused their energies on evacuation flights for embassy staff and other personnel, Afghan government officials were shown in video footage accepting a handover of power to their Taliban counterparts in several cities.

Early in the day, senior Afghan politicians were seen boarding planes at Kabul airport. Bagram Air Base was taken by Taliban forces midday Sunday as was the provincial town of Khost in eastern Afghanistan, according to Afghan media reports. The fall of Khost was part of a domino-like collapse of power of astonishing speed that saw city after city fall in just the last week, leaving Kabul as the last major city in government hands.

Interior Minister Abdul Sattar Mirzakwal announced in a video statement in the early afternoon that an agreement had been made for a peaceful transfer of power for greater Kabul and sought to reassure residents, saying that the security forces would remain in their posts to ensure security in the city.

“As the minister of interior, we have ordered all Afghan National Security Forces divisions and members to stabilize Kabul,” he said in a video statement released on the Facebook page of the ministry at 2 p.m. local time. “There will be no attack on the city. The agreement for greater Kabul city is that under an interim administration, God Willing, power will be transferred.”

But residents seemed unconvinced by their leaders’ assurances. In the center of the city people were pictured painting over advertisements and posters of women at beauty salons, apparently preparing for a takeover by the fundamentalist Taliban who do not allow images of humans or animal life, and have traditionally have banned music and the mixing of the sexes.

Residents confirmed that police had abandoned many of their posts or changed into civilian clothes. The Taliban denied rumors that their chief negotiator, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, was already in the capital and preparing to take over control at the Interior Ministry.

Throughout the day, surreal scenes played out as it appeared ever more clear the Taliban were taking over.

The insurgency has long had its own power structure of shadow governors appointed for every province, and Sunday it was clear who was in control in strategic areas. The governors and tribal and political leaders who had been in power were shown in videos formally handing control to their Taliban counterparts in the strategic cities of Kandahar, the main stronghold of the south, and in Nangarhar, the main city of the east.

But in Kabul fears of the city being overrun were running high after a breakout of prisoners, many of them members of the Taliban, from the main prison at Pul-i-Charkhi.

“Look at this, the whole people are let free,” a man said as he filmed a video footage of people carrying bundles walking away from the prison, posted on Facebook. “This is the Day of Judgment.”

The breakout seems to have been by the prisoners from the inside, rather than an attack by Taliban forces from the outside.

Some Afghans still found room for humor amid the chaos: “Taliban have reached Kabul airport … their speed is faster than 5G,” one resident of Kabul posted on Facebook.

But others fled, though it is unclear where they could go with the Taliban in control of so much of the country.

“Greetings, the Taliban have reached the city. We are escaping,” said Sahraa Karimi, the head of Afghan Film, in a post shared widely on Facebook. Filming herself as she fled on foot, out of breath and clutching at her head scarf, she called on passers-by to get away.

The former president Hamid Karzai and other leaders tried to step into the vacuum, and announced they were not leaving. Mr. Karzai, who has been involved in discussions with the Taliban for an interim government, posted a video on his Facebook page of himself with his daughters in his garden as helicopters sounded overhead.

“My dear residents of Kabul, I want to say that I and my daughters and family are here with you,” he said. “We are working with the leader of the Taliban to resolve the difficulties of Afghanistan in a peaceful way.”

Abdullah Abdullah, who has led recent talks with the Taliban also made a video statement from his garden.

“The last few days have been very hard for our countrymen all over the country,” he said. He called on the Taliban to negotiate “so that the security situation does not deteriorate and our people do not suffer further.”

As news broke that the president had left the country, Vice President Amrullah Saleh, a former head of intelligence who has been fighting against the Taliban from the 1990s, tweeted that he would not surrender.

Yet the Afghan security forces seemed to be melting away. Abdul Jabar Safi, head of the Kabul Industrial Park, an area of hundreds of factories and businesses, said business owners were trying to fend off looters with a few pistols and rifles left them by the government guards.

“We want the Taliban to reach us as soon as possible so they can secure the area,” he said when reached by telephone. “We are in touch with the Taliban and they have assured us that until they reach the industrial park we must keep the security of the park by ourselves.”

Officials at the National Museum of Kabul on the western side of Kabul also appealed through a western official for help, saying that police guards had abandoned their post outside the museum and that they feared the museum, which was badly looted in the 1990s, would fall prey again to thieves.

The entrance to the United States embassy in Kabul after staff were evacuated to the airport on Sunday.
Credit…Wakil Kohsar/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

KABUL, Afghanistan — The U.S. embassy warned Americans not to head to the airport in Kabul because of a situation that was “changing quickly” after the Taliban entered the city on Sunday.

Witnesses at the civilian domestic terminal said they had heard occasional gunshots and said thousands of people had crammed into the terminal and filled the parking lots, desperately seeking flights out.

“The security situation in Kabul is changing quickly including at the airport,” the embassy said in a statement. “There are reports of the airport taking fire; therefore we are instructing U.S. citizens to shelter in place.”

Late Sunday, the State and Defense Departments issued a statement saying the U.S. was working to secure control of the airport and to speed up the evacuation using civilian and military flights.

“Tomorrow and over the coming days,” the statement said, “we will be transferring out of the country thousands of American citizens who have been resident in Afghanistan, as well as locally employed staff of the U.S. mission in Kabul and their families and other particularly vulnerable Afghan nationals.”

The Taliban entered Kabul on Sunday, completing the near total takeover of Afghanistan two decades after the American military drove them from power. A frenzied evacuation of U.S. diplomats and civilians kicked into high gear last week, while Afghans made a mad dash to banks, their homes and the airport. Crowds of people ran down the streets as the sound of gunfire echoed in downtown Kabul.

Helicopter after helicopter — including massive Chinooks with their twin engines, and speedy Black Hawks that had been the workhorse of the grinding war — touched down and then took off loaded with passengers. Some shot flares overhead.

On Saturday, President Biden accelerated the deployment of 1,000 additional troops to Afghanistan to aid in the evacuation. On Sunday, orders went out to deploy another 1,000, temporarily bringing the U.S. presence there to 6,000, according to a Pentagon official who was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and was granted anonymity.

Those being evacuated over the weekend included a core group of American diplomats who had planned to remain at the embassy in Kabul, according to a senior administration official. They were being moved to a compound at the international airport, where they would stay for an unspecified amount of time, the official said.

The runway of the airport was filled with a constellation of uniforms from different nations. They joined contractors, diplomats and civilians all trying to catch a flight out of the city. Those who were eligible to fly were given special bracelets, denoting their status as noncombatants.

For millions of Afghans, including tens of thousands who assisted the U.S. efforts in the country for years, there were no bracelets. They were stuck in the city.

Hundreds of people swarmed to the civilian side of the airport in the hopes of boarding planes out, but by evening scores were still waiting inside the terminal and milling around on the apron amid the constant roar of planes taking off from the adjacent military air base. A long line of people waited outside the check-in gate, unsure if the flights they had booked out of the country would arrive.

While President Biden has defended his decision to hold firm and pull the last U.S. troops out of Afghanistan by Sept. 11, his administration has become increasingly worried about images that could evoke a foreign policy disaster of the past: the fall of Saigon at the end of the conflict in Vietnam in 1975.

Fahim Abed, Fatima Faizi, Thomas Gibbons-Neff, Christina Goldbaum, Sharif Hassan, Jim Huylebroek, Najim Rahimand Lara Jakes contributed reporting.

The white Taliban flag flying above a Coca-Cola advertisement at a roundabout in Kabul on Sunday.
Credit…Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times

A conference call between members of Congress and the Biden administration’s top diplomatic and military leaders on Afghanistan turned contentious on Sunday, as lawmakers pressed the administration on how intelligence on the Taliban could have failed so badly and how long the military will secure the Kabul airport.

Lawmakers said the 45-minute call with Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III and Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was not particularly revelatory.

“It was, I would say, a rote exercise in telling us what we had already learned from the media and social media,” said Representative Peter Meijer, Republican of Michigan and a former Army reservist who did conflict analysis in Afghanistan.

The questioning was pointed and at times contentious. Much of it centered on which Afghans the United States would get out of Afghanistan — and how.

Representative Tom Malinowski, a New Jersey Democrat who was a State Department official in the Obama administration and a former leader of Human Rights Watch, pressed for answers on how long the U.S. military would be able to keep its hold on the Kabul airport, so that charter and commercial flights can continue.

Lawmakers also asked whether the Afghans that Americans are trying to help leave would go beyond those who worked for the embassy, interpreters for the military and others with special immigrant visas. The briefers assured them that the United States would try to help a broader group, including human rights and women’s rights activists, journalists and students at the American University of Afghanistan.

“I want to make sure we don’t pick up and leave when all the Americans and S.I.V.’s are out,” Mr. Malinowski said, referring to the special visa holders.

But there is no guarantee that all Afghans who want to get out will be able to do so.

“It is overwhelmingly clear to me that this has been a cascade of failures at the Defense Department, with the intelligence community and within our political community,” Mr. Meijer said. “And nothing on the call gave me the confidence that even the magnitude of the failures has been comprehended.”

A rally outside the White House on Sunday.
Credit…Tom Brenner for The New York Times

As their homeland fell once again into the hands of the Taliban, more than 300 Afghan Americans went to the White House on Sunday to make their frustrations known.

Demonstrators, some with young children and babies in strollers, spilled into Lafayette Square, wielding signs that read “Help Afghan kids” and “America betrayed us.”

Some held up the flag of Afghanistan. Others draped it over their shoulders. They stood in a circle around organizers who used bull horns to get their message out.

“We want justice,” they declared.

Among those attending the three-hour protest was Sohaila Samadyar, a 43-year-old banker in Washington, who was there with her 10-year-old son. Ms. Samadyar, who immigrated to America in 2000, said she wanted to raise awareness about Afghans still stuck in the country, like her brother and sister in Kabul.

Ms. Samadyar said that she voted for President Biden in November, but that she now regretted that decision, “disappointed” in his handling of the war.

“He has basically disregarded the Afghan community,” she said. “It’s unbelievable how fast everything has changed.”

Yasameen Anwar, a 19-year-old sophomore in college, drove about three hours from Richmond, Va., with her friends and sister to attend the protest. Ms. Anwar said she was concerned about the future of women and children in Afghanistan.

“Before, when America was in Afghanistan, there was hope in that we were fighting the Taliban and that they could finally be defeated after 20 years,” Ms. Anwar said. “But by the Biden administration completely stepping out, it’s giving them no hope anymore.”

A first-generation Afghan American, Ms. Anwar said she had always dreamed of visiting her family’s home country. She now doubts that she will be able to go.

“It just seems like we’re never going to get peace,” Ms. Anwar said.

Taliban fighters greeting bystanders as they drive through Kabul in an Afghan Police vehicle on Sunday.
Credit…Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times

As the U.S. raced to evacuate personnel from its embassy in Kabul, human and refugee rights groups sharply criticized the Biden administration for not moving faster to relocate America’s Afghan allies from a country where they are at risk of lethal Taliban reprisals.

“The Biden administration has taken too long to create a process that ensures safety for Afghans who served with American military and civil society actors,” Jennifer Quigley, senior director for government affairs at Human Rights First, said in a statement. “As Afghanistan’s military and political leaders abandon their posts, the United States risks abandoning allies who stood with us, who translated for and protected our troops.”

“Unless there is a swift and meaningful effort to evacuate the thousands of allies and their families to the United States or a U.S. territory, we will have broken our promise to leave no one behind,” she added.

Congress this year created the Special Immigrant Visa program to allow Afghans who worked with the Americans over the past 20 years to relocate to the United States. The State Department has given eligibility to tens of thousands of people and their families, and some have been flown out of Afghanistan.

But the rate of evacuation has not matched the speed of the Afghan government collapse. “If evacuation flights continue at their current pace, it would take until March 2023 to evacuate all the eligible Afghans out of the country,” Ms. Quigley said.

Earlier this month, the Biden administration announced that Afghans who are not eligible for the program — including ones who worked for U.S.-based media organizations and nongovernmental organizations — could apply for high-priority refugee status.

But U.S. officials said those Afghans, who may number in the tens of thousands, must first leave the country under their own auspices merely to begin an application process that can take more than a year. With the Taliban in control of cities, highways and border crossings, it may now be too late for many of them to leave.

Taliban fighters roared into the city on motorbikes and in police pickup trucks.
Credit…Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times

The fall of Kabul follows days in which one urban center after another fell to the insurgents with astonishing speed, often with little or no resistance, leaving the government in control of nothing but fast-shrinking pockets of the country.

The insurgents took Mazar-i-Sharif, in the north, late on Saturday, only an hour after breaking through the front lines at the city’s edge. Soon after, government security forces and militias — including those led by the warlords Marshal Abdul Rashid Dostum and Atta Muhammad Noor — fled, effectively handing control to the insurgents.

On Sunday morning, the Taliban seized the eastern city of Jalalabad. In taking that provincial capital and surrounding areas, the insurgents gained control of the Torkham border crossing, a major trade and transit route between Afghanistan and Pakistan. They took over Bagram Air Base, which had been the hub of U.S. military power in the country until the Americans handed control of it back to Afghan forces six weeks earlier.

Later on Sunday, Taliban fighters began taking up positions in Kabul, the capital — the last major city that had been under government control — as government forces melted away and the president fled the country.

The Taliban offensive, which started in May when the United States began withdrawing troops, gathered speed over the past week. In city after city, the militants took down Afghan government flags and hoisted their own white banners.

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken acknowledged on Sunday that the offensive had moved faster than U.S. officials had expected.

Despite two decades of war with American-led forces, the Taliban have survived and thrived, without giving up their vision of creating a state governed by a stringent Islamic code.

After the Taliban took control of Afghanistan in the 1990s, movie theaters were closed, the Kabul television station was shut down and the playing of all music was banned. Schools were closed to girls.

Despite many Afghans’ memories of years under Taliban rule before the U.S.-led invasion in 2001, the insurgents have taken control of much of the country in recent days with only minimal resistance.

Their rapid successes have exposed the weakness of an Afghan military that the United States spent more than $83 billion to support over the past two decades. As the insurgents’ campaign has accelerated, soldiers and police officers have abandoned the security forces in ever greater numbers, with the cause for which they risked their lives appearing increasingly to be lost.

The speed of the Taliban’s advance has thrown exit planning into disarray. While many analysts had believed that the Afghan military could be overrun after international forces withdrew, they thought it would happen over months and years.

President Biden has accelerated the deployment of an additional 1,000 troops to Afghanistan to help get American citizens out. He made it clear that he would not reverse his decision to withdraw all combat forces.

“I was the fourth president to preside over an American troop presence in Afghanistan — two Republicans, two Democrats,” Mr. Biden said on Saturday afternoon. “I would not, and will not, pass this war onto a fifth.”

With their seizure of Jalalabad on Sunday, and its entry into Kabul, the Taliban effectively took control of Afghanistan. Planes departing the airport in Kabul, the capital, were filled with people fleeing the city.

Taliban members at the entrance to the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul on Sunday.
Credit…Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times

The United Nations Security Council scheduled an emergency meeting for Monday morning after the Taliban appeared to take control of Afghanistan, where the U.N. has maintained an extensive aid operation since the early days of the American-led occupation two decades ago.

Secretary General António Guterres, who had repeatedly condemned attacks on Afghan civilians and implored the Taliban and government representatives to negotiate a peaceful settlement, was expected to speak at the emergency meeting. On Friday, as it was becoming increasingly clear that the Afghan government was collapsing as Taliban fighters walked into city after city, Mr. Guterres said the country was “spinning out of control.”

It remains unclear how the Taliban would be regarded by the United Nations should the militant movement declare itself the legitimate power in Afghanistan. Many countries in the 193-member organization have condemned the Taliban’s brutality and would most likely not recognize such a declaration.

The United Nations employs roughly 3,000 employees who are Afghan and about 720 international staff members in Afghanistan, but roughly half of the international staff have been working outside the country since the pandemic started last year.

U.N. officials have repeatedly said there were no plans to evacuate any staff members from the country. But Mr. Guterres’s spokesman, Stéphane Dujarric, told reporters last week that the organization was evaluating the security situation “hour by hour.”

The Taliban have pledged not to interfere in United Nations aid operations. But on July 30, a U.N. office in the western city of Herat was attacked by the Taliban, and a local security official guarding the office was killed.

The main U.N. mission, based in Kabul, is known as the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, or Unama, and was established in 2002 to help create a government following the American-led invasion.

Taliban fighters in Kunduz last week.
Credit…Abdullah Sahil/Associated Press

It was his first day as the Taliban-appointed mayor of Kunduz, and Gul Mohammad Elias was on a charm offensive.

Last Sunday, the insurgents seized control of the city in northern Afghanistan, which was in shambles after weeks of fighting. Power lines were down. The water supply, powered by generators, did not reach most residents. Trash and rubble littered the streets.

The civil servants who could fix those problems were hiding at home, terrified of the Taliban. So the insurgent-commander-turned-mayor summoned some to his new office, to persuade them to return to work.

But day by day, as municipal offices stayed mostly empty, Mr. Elias grew more frustrated — and his rhetoric grew harsher.

Taliban fighters began going door to door, searching for absentee city workers. Hundreds of armed men set up checkpoints across the city. At the entrance to the regional hospital, a new notice appeared on the wall: Employees must return to work or face punishment from the Taliban.

The experience of those in Kunduz offers a glimpse of how the Taliban may govern, and what may be in store for the rest of the country.

In just days, the insurgents, frustrated by their failed efforts to cajole civil servants back to work, began instilling terror, according to residents reached by telephone.

“I am afraid, because I do not know what will happen and what they will do,” said one, who asked not to be identified for fear of retaliation by the Taliban. “We have to smile at them because we are scared, but deeply we are unhappy.”

Nearly every shop in Kunduz was closed. The shopkeepers, fearing their stores would be looted by Taliban fighters, had taken their goods home. Every afternoon the streets emptied of residents, who feared airstrikes as government planes buzzed in the sky. And about 500 Taliban fighters were stationed around the city, manning checkpoints on nearly every street corner.

At the regional hospital, armed Taliban were keeping track of attendance. Out of fear, the health worker said, female staff wore sky-blue burqas as they assisted in surgeries and tended to wounds from airstrikes, which still splintered the city each afternoon.

American and Afghan soldiers attended a handover ceremony at a military camp in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, in May.
Credit…Afghan Ministry of Defense, via Associated Press

With the Taliban on the verge of regaining power in Afghanistan, President Biden has defended his decision to leave the country after two decades of U.S. military involvement.

In a statement on Saturday, Mr. Biden said that the United States had invested nearly $1 trillion in Afghanistan over the past 20 years and had trained and equipped more than 300,000 Afghan security forces, including maintaining the Asian country’s air force.

“One more year, or five more years, of U.S. military presence would not have made a difference if the Afghan military cannot or will not hold its own country,” Mr. Biden said. “And an endless American presence in the middle of another country’s civil conflict was not acceptable to me.”

Mr. Biden’s statement came hours after the Taliban seized Mazar-i-Sharif, in northern Afghanistan, but before the group captured the eastern city of Jalalabad on Sunday, The group entered Kabul, the capital, on Sunday as President Ashraf Ghani fled.

Mr. Biden partly blamed President Donald J. Trump for the unfolding disaster in Afghanistan, saying that the deal made with the Taliban in 2020 had set a deadline of May 1 this year for the withdrawal of American forces and left the group “in the strongest position militarily since 2001.”

“I faced a choice — follow through on the deal, with a brief extension to get our forces and our allies’ forces out safely, or ramp up our presence and send more American troops to fight once again in another country’s civil conflict,” Mr. Biden said.

This year, a study group appointed by Congress urged the Biden administration to abandon the May 1 deadline and slow the withdrawal of American troops, saying that a strict adherence to the timeline could lead Afghanistan into civil war. Pentagon officials made similar entreaties, but Mr. Biden maintained his long-held position that it was time for Afghanistan to fend for itself.

Since international troops began withdrawing in May, the Taliban have pursued their military takeover far more swiftly than U.S. intelligence agencies had anticipated. On Saturday, Mr. Biden accelerated the deployment of 1,000 additional troops to Afghanistan to help ensure the safe evacuation from Kabul of U.S. citizens and Afghans who worked for the American government.

On Sunday, a decision was made to send another 1,000, temporarily bringing to 6,000 the number of American troops in the country.

In his statement, Mr. Biden warned the Taliban that “any action on their part on the ground in Afghanistan, that puts U.S. personnel or our mission at risk there, will be met with a swift and strong U.S. military response.”

Displaced Afghan women pleading for help from a police officer in Kunduz, Afghanistan, last month.
Credit…Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times

A high school student in Kabul, Afghanistan’s war-scarred capital, worries that she now will not be allowed to graduate.

The girl, Wahida Sadeqi, 17, like many Afghan civilians in the wake of the U.S. troop withdrawal and ahead of a Taliban victory, keeps asking the same question: What will happen to me?

The American withdrawal, which effectively ends the longest war on foreign soil in United States history, is also likely to be the start of another difficult chapter for Afghanistan’s people.

“I am so worried about my future. It seems so murky. If the Taliban take over, I lose my identity,” said Ms. Sadeqi, an 11th grader at Pardis High School in Kabul. “It is about my existence. It is not about their withdrawal. I was born in 2004, and I have no idea what the Taliban did to women, but I know women were banned from everything.”

Uncertainty hangs over virtually every facet of life in Afghanistan. It is unclear what the future holds and whether the fighting will ever stop. For two decades, American leaders have pledged peace, prosperity, democracy, the end of terrorism and rights for women.

Few of those promises have materialized in vast areas of Afghanistan, but now even in the cities where real progress occurred, there is fear that everything will be lost when the Americans leave.

The Taliban, the extremist group that once controlled most of the country and continues to fight the government, insist that the elected president step down. Militias are increasing in prominence and power, and there is talk of a lengthy civil war.

Over two decades, the American mission evolved from hunting terrorists to helping the government build the institutions of a functioning government, dismantle the Taliban and empower women. But the U.S. and Afghan militaries were never able to effectively destroy the Taliban, who sought refuge in Pakistan, allowing the insurgents to stage a comeback.

The Taliban never recognized Afghanistan’s democratic government. And they appear closer than ever to achieving the goal of their insurgency: to return to power and establish a government based on their extremist view of Islam.

Women would be most at risk under Taliban rule. When the group controlled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, it barred women from taking most jobs or receiving educations and practically made them prisoners in their own homes — though this was already custom for many women in rural parts of the country.

“It is too early to comment on the subject. We need to know much more,” Fatima Gailani, an Afghan government negotiator who is involved in the continuing peace talks with the Taliban, said in April. “One thing is certain: It is about time that we learn how to rely on ourselves. Women of Afghanistan are totally different now. They are a force in our country — no one can deny them their rights or status.”

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken this month at the State Department.
Credit…Pool photo by Brendan Smialowski

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said on Sunday that the defeat of Afghan security forces that has led to the Taliban’s takeover “happened more quickly than we anticipated,” although he maintained the Biden administration’s position that keeping U.S. troops in Afghanistan was not in American interests.

“This is heart-wrenching stuff,” said Mr. Blinken, who looked shaken, in an interview on CNN after a night that saw members of the Taliban enter the Afghan capital, Kabul, and the shuttering of the U.S. Embassy as the last remaining American diplomats in Afghanistan were moved to a facility at the city’s airport for better protection.

Mr. Blinken stopped short of saying that all American diplomats would return to the United States, repeating an intent to maintain a small core of officials in Kabul.

But he forcefully defended the administration’s decision to withdraw the military from Afghanistan after 20 years of war, saying it could have been vulnerable to Taliban attacks had the United States reneged on an agreement brokered under President Donald J. Trump for all foreign forces to leave the country.

“We would have been back at war with the Taliban,” Mr. Blinken said, calling that “something the American people simply can’t support — that is the reality.”

He said it was not in American interests to devote more time, money and, potentially, casualties, to Afghanistan at a time that the United States was also facing long-term strategic challenges from China and Russia. But, Mr. Blinken said, American forces will remain in the region to confront any terrorist threat against the United States at home that might arise from Afghanistan.

He also appeared to demand more conditions for the prospect of recognizing the Taliban as a legitimate government or establishing a formal diplomatic relationship with them.

Earlier, the Biden administration had said the Taliban, in order to acquire international financial support, must never allow terrorists to use Afghanistan as a haven, must not take Kabul by force and must not attack Americans.

On Sunday, Mr. Blinken said the Taliban must also uphold basic rights of citizens, particularly women who gained new freedoms to go to work and school after the Taliban were ousted from power in 2001.

There will be no recognition of a Taliban government “if they’re not sustaining the basic rights of the Afghan people, and if they revert to supporting or harboring terrorists who might strike us,” the secretary of state said.

Mr. Blinken’s comments were swiftly criticized by the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Representative Michael McCaul of Texas, who said the Taliban’s swift takeover of Afghanistan “is going to be a stain on this president and his presidency.”

“They totally blew this one,” Mr. McCaul said. “They completely underestimated the strength of the Taliban.”

“I hate to say this: I hope we don’t have to go back there,” he said. “But it will be a threat to the homeland in a matter of time.”

Lights in the windows of the United States embassy in Kabul on Sunday night.
Credit…Rahmat Gul/Associated Press

More than a hundred journalists employed by the American government’s own radio stations remain in Afghanistan as the Taliban take power, U.S. officials and Afghan journalists said Sunday.

“Journalists are being left behind,” said Rateb Noori, the Kabul bureau news manager of Radio Azadi, in a telephone interview from Kabul on Sunday.

The station, a branch of the U.S. government’s Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty services, formerly called Radio Free Afghanistan, broadcast through the day Sunday, including airing an interview with a Taliban spokesman. Its sister station, Voice of America, reported on Sunday that one of its reporters “was in the passport office when everyone was told to leave immediately and go home.”

The Afghans working for the U.S. government broadcasters in Kabul and around the country have long been targets of the insurgents, who killed a journalist with Radio Free Afghanistan in a targeted bombing in November. They are among the most exposed of hundreds of Afghans who have worked with American news organizations since the arrival of U.S. troops in 2001, and media organizations have been scrambling to help local employees evacuate. The U.S. government made journalists eligible for a visa program that could allow them to leave the country. They have yet to be evacuated and the window to do so is closing quickly.

The acting interim chief executive of the U.S. Agency for Global Media, which oversees the broadcasters, said in an email to staff Sunday that the agency is “doing everything in our power to protect” journalists and “will not back down in our mission to inform, engage, and connect Afghans in support of freedom and democracy.”

The president of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Jamie Fly, said in a text message that the service is “doing everything possible to make sure they can safely continue their work.”

Mr. Noori, who was awake late on Sunday because he was worried about looters at his home, said there was no protection and little certainty — including whether the stations will continue to broadcast Monday.

“Everybody is locked down in their homes, and no one knows what happens tomorrow,” he said.

Afghan journalists have little to do but rely on early Taliban promises that they will not attack members of the news media.

“Having experience last time of their role in Afghanistan, I think they cannot keep their promises — they cannot control their people,” he said. “I’m just hoping that we can survive for a while, and then let’s see if we have a way out to any neighboring country,” Mr. Noori said.

Mujeeb Angaar, who worked for Radio Free Afghanistan from 2010 to 2013 before fleeing the country, said in a telephone interview from his home in Canada that he was told by the Taliban at the time that he “should be killed, because you work for Jews, you work for the CIA.”

The American-backed services “will be the first target,” he said.

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