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Taliban Officials Encounter Challenges In Their Attempt To Govern


There is a humanitarian crisis looming in Afghanistan as the Taliban take over the country. There is no semblance of a government. Thousands continue to gather at Kabul airport in a desperate attempt to flee. And the country's troubles are only likely to worsen. NPR international affairs correspondent Jackie Northam has been following the developments. Jackie, a lot of the attention is on the airport, so how are things there? Are evacuations picking up speed?

JACKIE NORTHAM, BYLINE: They are. The U.S. says it has evacuated about 9,000 people since Saturday, and those are Americans and Afghans who work with the U.S. government and military. But, you know, that 9,000 is just a fraction of the number wanting to get out. There have been huge bureaucratic delays. And the State Department is bringing in more staff, consular officers to help process the paperwork for those trying to get out of the country. But, you know, it's still a very, very dangerous situation at the airport. You have thousands of Afghans trying to get to the airport. And social media is full of images of militants pushing and beating and whipping Afghans to try and control the surging crowds. The situation in the rest of the city seems to be calm, although the one thing to note is that there are very few women on the streets now.

MARTÍNEZ: Is there anything else the administration is worried about in Kabul?

NORTHAM: There is. There's growing concern about a group called ISIS K, which is connected to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. It's small but it's believed to have launched attacks in Afghanistan in the past. And the fear is that it may do so again given all the chaos that's going on. Here's the president Biden's national security adviser, Jake Sullivan. This is what he told NBC.


JAKE SULLIVAN: And we have to worry about all kinds of contingencies. One of the contingencies we are very focused on, laser focused on, is the potential for a terrorist attack by a group like ISIS K, which, of course, is a sworn enemy of the Taliban. So we will keep working to minimize the risks and maximize the number of people on planes.

NORTHAM: And, A, Sullivan insisted that they will get every American who wants to leave Afghanistan out of the country. But he's calling the entire evacuation process a risky operation. You know, there are still questions over whether the U.S. was really prepared for this. The Wall Street Journal says an internal State Department cable warned that Kabul would quickly fall after U.S. troops pulled out. And that cable was sent back in mid-July. One of the things - President Biden is getting another briefing this morning on what's happening on the ground in Afghanistan, and then he's going to deliver a public address this afternoon. And it'll be the second speech this week.

MARTÍNEZ: OK. Now, any sign that the Taliban is going to be able to establish a new government in Afghanistan soon?

NORTHAM: Oh, no. No sign of that yet, although there is still a lot of consultations going on. You know, one of the problems is the Taliban isn't a cohesive group. You've got the political leadership holding press conferences and trying to appear moderate. And then you have factions who, you know, have fought for a long time, two decades, and are more likely to be extreme. So the Taliban has to somehow bring these two sides together into a government.

MARTÍNEZ: And they haven't been in power for over two decades. Now, what are the challenges that it faces as it tries to run Afghanistan again?

NORTHAM: Well, and - yeah. The Taliban seized control even quicker than they anticipated. And, you know, there was no organized handover of power. On top of that, you know, there's COVID. There's a severe drought. Many aid agencies are pulling out because of the insecurity. And also, Afghanistan is heavily dependent on foreign aid. And the U.S., the IMF, European nations are freezing billions of dollars slated for the country until they see how the Taliban runs Afghanistan.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR international affairs correspondent Jackie Northam. Jackie, thanks.

NORTHAM: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jackie Northam is NPR's International Affairs Correspondent. She is a veteran journalist who has spent three decades reporting on conflict, geopolitics, and life across the globe - from the mountains of Afghanistan and the desert sands of Saudi Arabia, to the gritty prison camp at Guantanamo Bay and the pristine beauty of the Arctic.
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.