CIA Director William Burns met with the current Taliban leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar Monday in Kabul, the highest-level meeting with the group since it seized Kabul just over a week ago, according to the Washington Post and Fox News.
Burns flew to Kabul Monday in secret for the meeting, reported the paper, with Baradar, who acted as the Taliban’s top negotiator in talks with the Trump administration to set the terms of the American withdrawal agreement.
Burns, a respected diplomat, is the highest-ranking US official to meet with the Taliban since last weekend’s abrupt collapse of the US-backed Afghan government of President Asraf Ghani, that saw Kabul rapidly fall to the Taliban and forced a massive US led military evacuation from Kabul’s airport that has so far removed over 30,000 people from the country.
A close confidant of Taliban founder Mullah Mohammed Omar, Baradar was arrested in Pakistan in 2010 in a joint operation between the CIA and ISI – Pakistan’s intelligence agency – and held for eight years at the American prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba before being released in 2018. In 2020, he personally negotiated the final steps of the peace deal between the US and the Taliban with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the two men were photographed together.
With tens of thousands more foreign citizens and Afghans granted humanitarian visas waiting to escape Taliban rule, Burns can be expected to have discussed the promised August 31 deadline to withdraw that the Taliban have thus far refused to extend, among multiple urgent subjects.
With thousands of visa holders and citizens of their own still at large in the country, Britain, France and other US allies in the region have requested an extension until the airport, which would return to Taliban military control on the 1st of September, can be fully cleared of people fleeing. Thousands more Afghans, many of whom worked as interpreters or served in the Afghan military, have thronged the airport gates, which are guarded by a confusing mix of Taliban, Afghan National Army, and foriegn military forces.
Biden is said to be considering a decision on extending the mission into September and could make an announcement as soon as Tuesday, according to American media reports.