The Afghan government is prioritizing protecting its largest cities, like Kabul, against the Taliban’s advance to protect its most dense populations and civil services, says Afghanistan's ambassador to the U.S. Adela Raz. The U.S. withdrawal? “It’s an abandonment,” she says. Raz spoke with William Brangham about her nation’s critical status.
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We turn now to Ambassador Adela Raz. She is Afghanistan's envoy to the United States. She's just started here in Washington after several years as U.N. ambassador.
Ambassador Raz, thank you very much for being here. I know this is an incredibly trying time for your government.
As we have been hearing, the Taliban have seized an enormous amount of territory in your country. What is the government's plan on how to respond?
Thank you for having me today on the show.
I think it definitely is a difficult time for Afghanistan and for our allies and friends. And for us at this stage, the priority is our big cities, and that includes the city of Kabul. It's a city with the largest number of population. It's a city with — it's homing the IDPs that have arrived from those provinces of Afghanistan where their lives were threatened by overtake of Taliban of their households.
And it's a city that's housing a large number of journalists, civil society activists, women activists, human rights advocates, so — and also, strategically, it's extremely important for the government.
Ambassador, help me understand.
Why we have not heard anything from President Ghani or any of his ministers in Afghanistan? You are, frankly, the senior-most leader of the Afghan government that we have heard from in recent days.
President Ghani is speaking in the media. He is speaking in the local media, as well as our senior ministers, as well as our chief of army, as well as our brave commander of the special forces.
So, our senior officials are speaking. But I agree, they have not spoken to international media. I think the focus was a lot to speak with local media.
But they have come out, and there has been a statement by the president's office as well.
There is a great deal of pressure on President Ghani to resign and to leave the country.
And I'm curious. In your conversations with him and other members of his ministry, is that a consideration right now, that, to ease some transition to a more peaceful interim government, would he consider stepping aside now?
Look, you mentioned pressure on him to resign.
The pressure that we feel or the pressure or the call that we have heard from, it's so far from Taliban, not from the people of Afghanistan. But we have said from the first day and President Ghani has always said, if it is the will of people to ask that it's time to agree to a political settlement that ends the bloodshed, and the people elect the leader of the country, the way they would like — I think this was the first day where he had always come forward.
And our negotiating team in Doha has been saying this from day one, because the objective, when we sent our negotiating team to Doha, was to be able to come together with Taliban and agree to a settlement that ends a conflict in Afghanistan and brings peace.
But what we have seen, it's very disappointing, because Taliban have not genuinely engaged in the talks. And, vice versa, what's happened as a consequences of these talks, they have started to get their international legitimacy, and then they continue to kill and continue the massacre of civilians.
And we have seen that recently. They also have not committed to the agreement which they had made in Doha they will not attack the big cities when the U.S. troops starts to withdraw. But we see vice versa.
So, answering the question, pressure on President Ghani to resign, it's not the pressure by the public. It's not the pressure officially coming from any other element. It's an ask the Taliban has been saying from the first day. And the response from the government and from the negotiating team was that the negotiating team and the government is agreeing to a political settlement to end conflict, if the people decide who to elect.
Can you help us understand why it seems that Afghan forces and police have such a difficult time repelling the Taliban and why so many have seem to have given up their posts and melted away?
Look, there are many reasons. There's not only one reason. And I think it's not the reason. And it will be extremely unfair to say they didn't fight. It's going to be extremely unfair to their comrades, those veterans who trained them as well, that they did not do the right type of training.
There are multiple reasons. First, I think it's the level of confidence and morale, and then that is impacted a lot with what you and I are hearing even here in Washington, D.C. And I have to speak very frankly.
I think, despite how much we say that Afghanistan is not abandoned, with every element of the action, we say — we see right now it's an abandonment of the entire country. And I think that plays a role. There is also another element.
When the Soviet troops' withdraw, at the time, there were certain deals made by the government at the time with mujahideen to give certain provinces to mujahideen without even letting the security forces at the time to know or defend themselves.
So, I think that conspiracy is there. And there is also a very strong conspiracy that people assume, regular Afghan assume that probably there is a hidden deal made between the U.S. and Taliban that there has to be surrender of certain provinces. And I think that really adds a lot in the confidence.
And then the final element, which is a really, really practical element, it is that our security forces — and I think it was given, it was very clear that they were highly dependent on U.S. close air support. So, there are multiplying effects. But, still, we have seen strong evidence.
Herat, look, it's one of the cities that we hold, fight for quite some time. And a lot of time, the stories of this final handover or the final takeover is that either people run out of ammunition or it's in the close distance when the Taliban arrive.
The city of the Takhar, we hold for two-and-a-half months. And then there had to be a retreat. And even when the retreat happened, they took with themselves 1, 500 people retreated, and they took the armor, of course, with themselves, and they left no ammunition to Taliban.
I think there are brave stories and bravery stories of Afghan security forces. But nothing is helping. And since even last — or yesterday's announcement by the State Department, if you look at a single ticket in Afghanistan, commercial airline tickets, there is no ticket left. Everybody is trying to leave, because they assume it's a window of 48 hours or a few days that they have to secure themselves.
And, at the same time, it was just not two days ago that Washington posed something that the city will collapse in 30 days. So, what it all brings to, it's strongly impacting the morale.
And, also, it's a war — there is a battlefield in the front line that we are militarily fighting this war. And there is one psychological war. And I think — I always say the psychological part, we have lost long again. And I think that's with our allies and friends as well.
I think our allies here in the U.S. have also lost the psychological war. Despite how much we say we have not abandoned Afghanistan, but the assumption and the story back at home is, they are abandoned.
Ambassador Adela Raz, thank you very, very much for joining us on this very, very fraught day for your country. Thank you.