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Answers To The Latest Pressing Questions From Afghanistan

TAMARA KEITH, HOST:

Things are moving and changing very quickly in Afghanistan, so we will round this hour out with NPR correspondents Jackie Northam, Franco Ordoñez and Greg Myre. Hello to all of you.

JACKIE NORTHAM, BYLINE: Hello.

GREG MYRE, BYLINE: Hello.

FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: Hi, Tam.

KEITH: Let's start with you, Jackie. As you know it, what's the situation now at the U.S. embassy in Kabul? We hear that there are helicopters continually flying to ferry people to the airport.

NORTHAM: That's right, yes. It's been going on for several hours now. But, you know, the process of getting out had already been in place earlier this week, you know, where they're trying to destroy sensitive documents and computers and cell phones and getting personnel out that wasn't core to the mission there - so consular staff and, you know, working with these special visa applicants and that kind of thing. But, yeah, it's happening. I mean - and it's - probably, the speed has picked up since, you know, the Taliban encircled the city, you know, earlier today.

KEITH: Greg, where are U.S. troops focusing their efforts now? There are something like, by the end of this weekend, 5,000 there in Afghanistan.

MYRE: Right. So I think it's this short, little run between the Kabul airport and the U.S. embassy. They're just separated by a couple miles, with the airport at the northern end of the city and the embassy a little bit into the city. So I think they're at the airport, at the embassy and trying to get people back and forth, it seems mostly by helicopter. We don't know how many of these 4,000 troops that are coming in - started arriving Friday - they were - most were supposed to be there by the end of the day Sunday. We don't know if that plan has been disrupted. We don't know how many aircraft are there to start the airlifts. The Pentagon has said that the capacity was planned to be able to move thousands of people a day out of the airport. We don't know how much of that capacity is in place right now or, in fact, when flights out of Kabul might start.

KEITH: Franco, we have not yet heard from the president today. President Biden is at Camp David this weekend. He is, as we understand it, getting regular briefings and making decisions, but he is very much out of public view.

ORDOÑEZ: Yeah, there's no question about it. I mean, he's there out of public view - Camp David. You know, there's no access by reporters at Camp David. And there's obviously a lot of questions to be asked of the president. He has - he did issue a statement, though, last night defending this decision. He also blamed the former president, former President Donald Trump, for kind of putting him in this situation, saying that he left Biden with no options or little options but that he was not going to continue a war that he said, after 20 years, would not have made much of a difference. But as we heard from Ambassador Neumann - or former Ambassador Neumann, there's a lot of questions about the execution of how this has been handled.

KEITH: And with the Taliban at the gate, essentially, what are their leaders saying about their intentions? Jackie...

NORTHAM: Oh, do you want me to pick that up?

KEITH: ...Yeah, I think that's your ball.

NORTHAM: (Laughter) OK, thank you. What they want is a transition of power. And they're talking as soon as possible, sometime in the next few days. You know, there are a lot of negotiations going on right now in Afghanistan dealing with President Ashraf Ghani. And they're trying to get a transitional government going in that, but it's clear that Ashraf Ghani is probably going to - that he will resign. And after a certain amount of time, the Taliban will be back in power in Afghanistan after 20 years.

KEITH: NPR correspondents Jackie Northam, Franco Ordoñez and Greg Myre. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.