Susanna Reid takes on the Taliban: GMB host grills spokesman

Susanna Reid gave the Taliban a grilling this morning as she confronted a spokesman for the Islamist group over multiple reports of persecutions against Afghans who aided Britain during the intervention and the oppression of women and girls following the takeover.

Appearing on ITV’s Good Morning Britain from Doha, Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen rejected allegations of mass reprisals against former local aides and translators and repeated a commitment to giving amnesty to anyone who worked with the West.

But Ms Reid challenged Mr Shaheen’s claims, citing a leaked United Nations report which suggests that the Taliban has a ‘priority list’ of individuals across Afghanistan it wants to arrest and is threatening to kill.

The GMB presenter said: ‘A former Government’s spokesperson was killed by the Taliban a few weeks ago as punishment for his deeds. Sources have confirmed Taliban fighters a few weeks ago executed two senior police officials.

‘The former security police officer in the southwestern province of Farah was fatally shot. At least a dozen former provincial officials of the Ghani Government have been detained around the country.

‘How is that not retaliation and revenge for those who worked with the former Government or for those who worked with Western forces?’

Mr Shaheen rejected the allegations, telling GMB: ‘There is no retaliation, that is our policy. We have granted a general amnesty to all those who were working with foreign forces. And there is no hit list that is circulated or appears in the media.’ 

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Susanna Reid gave the Taliban a grilling this morning as she confronted a spokesman for the Islamist group over multiple reports of persecutions against Afghans

Susanna Reid gave the Taliban a grilling this morning as she confronted a spokesman for the Islamist group over multiple reports of persecutions against Afghans

Appearing on ITV's Good Morning Britain from Doha, Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen rejected allegations of mass reprisals against former local aides and translators and repeated a commitment to giving amnesty to anyone who worked with the West

Appearing on ITV's Good Morning Britain from Doha, Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen rejected allegations of mass reprisals against former local aides and translators and repeated a commitment to giving amnesty to anyone who worked with the West

Appearing on ITV’s Good Morning Britain from Doha, Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen rejected allegations of mass reprisals against former local aides and translators and repeated a commitment to giving amnesty to anyone who worked with the West

Ex-soldier Tom Tugendhat, Tory chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, said the Taliban is running 'a slick PR operation masking a vicious death cult'

Ex-soldier Tom Tugendhat, Tory chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, said the Taliban is running 'a slick PR operation masking a vicious death cult'

Ex-soldier Tom Tugendhat, Tory chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, said the Taliban is running ‘a slick PR operation masking a vicious death cult’

Britons left behind during Afghan airlift plead for help 

Two Britons left behind during the chaotic evacuation of Afghanistan have pleaded for help getting out.

One man – a pharmacist from south England – told Sky News that he was due to board an evacuation flight with his wife and two small children last week, but was unable to get through the crowds at Kabul airport.

The man and his children – a two-year-old and eight-month-old – are all British citizens, while his wife is Afghan with a British residence visa.

The family had gone to Afghanistan in June to see his wife’s family before getting trapped as the Taliban rapidly recaptured the country.

‘I have lost hope,’ he said. ‘I don’t know what is going to happen. I am just thinking someone’s going to come and kill us.’

Meanwhile another man, a cab driver from Liverpool, told the BBC that he is in hiding with his wife and children after fleeing the capital Kabul.

The man, who did not give his name for fear of being killed, is a British citizen but his wife and child are Afghans and live in the country.

He went there two weeks ago to help them escape after the country fell into Taliban hands, before getting trapped.

The 30-year-old said his family are ‘desperate’ to leave but at the moment can only go as far as 30 yards to the shop for their own safety.

‘We are in trouble. We need to go,’ he added.

The Taliban spokesman also claimed the Islamist group will not prevent Afghans seeking to leave the country but ‘urged’ them to remain in Afghanistan to ‘rebuild’ the wartorn nation. 

He said: ‘Every Afghan student, if he or she is intending to go abroad, to another country, and has the proper documents, they can go. And they can also come to Afghanistan. But we urge them to stay in Afghanistan as we’ve gained our independence.

‘It is time for every Afghan to build their country. Their capacities, their talents are direly needed at this crucial time in Afghanistan. But if they intend to go, to travel abroad, that is their right.’

Responding to Mr Shaheen’s interview on GMB, Tory MPs accused the spokesman of lying. Ex-soldier Tom Tugendhat, Tory chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, said the Taliban is running ‘a slick PR operation masking a vicious death cult’.

He later told Ms Reid and co-host Ben Shephard: ‘I’m afraid your viewers have just been lied to. It’s absolutely clear that groups who make up the Taliban… have been rounding up people in Lashkar Gah and Kandahar and hunting them down in Kabul and killing them.

‘Universities are being closed… women are being denied access to education, girls are being denied access to education, and civil servants, female civil servants, are being sent home.

‘What we’re seeing is a slick PR operation masking a vicious death cult.’

Former Minister Nusrat Ghani, Tory MP for Wealden, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that she does not believe the Taliban have changed since their time in power between 1996 and 2001.

‘Their ideology is the same. They’re engaged in a never-ending war against unbelievers and apostates, and their one desire, and their one desire only, is to establish a caliphate that has no room for women and girls,’ she said.

Ms Ghani said she is trying to help a number of women and girls and is currently focused on female MPs and judges. She said she was on the phone on Tuesday with a female parliamentarian who has been vocal in pushing back the Taliban’s ideology and fighting against extremism and corruption.

‘She’s been told that she will be killed if the Taliban get hold of her,’ she said, adding that she is in her third safe place and desperately running out of food and money.

It follows reports that MI6 chiefs have met with the Taliban to discuss the fate of hundreds of Britons left behind when RAF mercy flights out of the country stopped. 

Special envoy Sir Simon Gass, the chair or the Joint Intelligence Committee, met senior representatives of the group in Qatar to try to secure safe passage for those left behind.

That number is thought to include hundreds of British citizens and up to 9,000 Afghans who helped western forces in exchange for a promise of sanctuary.  

Officers from MI6 also met the militia group, while the head of MI6 Richard Moore flew to Islamabad for talks with the head of the Pakistani army. 

Mr Shaheen’s words jar badly with reports from the ground that fighters are going door to door executing anyone who is thought to have helped the west.

He also dismissed reports that women are being banned from the workplace, insisting that they are valued members of society who are being encouraged to work.

The Taliban spokesman also claimed the Islamist group will not prevent Afghans seeking to leave the country but 'urged' them to remain in Afghanistan to 'rebuild' the wartorn nation

The Taliban spokesman also claimed the Islamist group will not prevent Afghans seeking to leave the country but 'urged' them to remain in Afghanistan to 'rebuild' the wartorn nation

The Taliban spokesman also claimed the Islamist group will not prevent Afghans seeking to leave the country but ‘urged’ them to remain in Afghanistan to ‘rebuild’ the wartorn nation

Taliban are on the trail of revenge: Jihadis start hunt for translators as soon as Western troops exit Afghanistan

Within hours of Western troops leaving, triumphant Taliban fighters began raiding the homes of interpreters left behind in Kabul yesterday.

The terrified former translators hid as armed jihadis bent on revenge went knocking door-to-door.

Despite a promise of amnesty from the Taliban leadership, the insurgents wasted no time in hunting down the ‘traitors’ who helped the British.

One search party was said to have been led by an imam who is now a local Taliban commander. He knew ex-translator Kaleem, a veteran of five years on the front lines with British forces.

Kaleem told the Mail: ‘The mullah knew me from the mosque. Everyone knew that he was Taliban and he had been arrested by the Afghan government. But when all the prisoners were released, he was among them and he is leading the hunt for those who were the eyes of Western forces.’

Kaleem, 35, qualified for relocation to the UK but was among hundreds unable to board an evacuation flight because of chaos surrounding Kabul airport.

Former interpreters – many strangers to the capital – are moving hiding places regularly. They are purging phones of photos and numbers linking them to Britain.

That is despite Beheshta Arghand – a female news anchor who interviewed the Taliban – fleeing the country in fear of her life after fighters threatened her colleagues.

And, confronted with images that show al-Qaeda leader Amin al-Haq – Osama bin Laden’s former bodyguard who helped him flee the US invasion – arriving back in the country, Mr Shaheen feigned ignorance.

‘I don’t have details about who you said,’ he claimed, before adding: ‘[We are] not allowing anyone, any group, any individual to use Afghanistan against the United States, its allies in other countries.’

Downing Street confirmed ‘broad discussions’ with the Taliban had got under way.

A government source said: ‘The Prime Minister’s special representative for Afghan transition, Simon Gass, has travelled to Doha and is meeting with senior Taliban representatives to underline the importance of safe passage out of Afghanistan for British nationals, and those Afghans who have worked with us over the past 20 years.’

Sources declined to comment further on the talks. But ministers have made clear that future aid payments and the unfreezing of assets will depend on the Taliban’s willingness to facilitate safe passage and respect human rights.

Talks with the group are likely to be controversial however, given the radical group’s record and the threats to many Afghan translators who worked with British forces.

It comes as the Home Office said around 10,000 refugees from Afghanistan who risked their lives to help British forces would be allowed to live and work indefinitely in the UK.

The talks, which marks a significant moment for the UK, come after Dominic Raab said the number of British nationals left behind in Afghanistan is in the ‘low hundreds’.

Last night it emerged discussions had also taken place between senior British intelligence officers and Taliban leaders in both Kabul and Doha amid increasing fears that Afghanistan could become a base for terrorists plotting attacks against the West.

The talks saw officers from the British embassy in Kabul speak with members of the militia group before the embassy was evacuated.

It is understood the discussions, which have taken place in the past two weeks, saw Britain stress how future foreign aid would be reliant upon the new rulers of Kabul ending any connections with terrorist groups.          

A source told The Telegraph: ‘It’s what we’ve always been most worried about. That’s a red line for dealing with them: any sign of attack planning.’ 

The chief of MI6, Richard Moore, also flew to Islamabad for talks with the leader of Pakistan’s army General Qamar Javed Bajwa regarding the collaboration between both nations. 

With talks under way, Sir William Patey, former British ambassador to Afghanistan, told the BBC: ‘[The Taliban] know they can’t run this country without help.

‘If the Taliban are going to run a government and hold onto power as they want to do, they’re going to have to engage as well. So we have some cards.’

The talks come as Mr Raab said the number of Brits still in the country is ‘now down at a very low level’ after 5,000 were brought home since April this year. 

Boris Johnson's special representative for Afghan transition, Simon Gass (pictured), entered talks with senior Taliban leaders

Boris Johnson's special representative for Afghan transition, Simon Gass (pictured), entered talks with senior Taliban leaders

The chief of MI6, Richard Moore, also flew to Islamabad for talks with the leader of Pakistan's army

The chief of MI6, Richard Moore, also flew to Islamabad for talks with the leader of Pakistan's army

Boris Johnson’s special representative for Afghan transition, Simon Gass (pictured), entered talks with senior Taliban leaders 

Dominic Raab said the number of Brits still in Afghanistan is 'now down at a very low level' after 5,000 were brought home since April this year

Dominic Raab said the number of Brits still in Afghanistan is 'now down at a very low level' after 5,000 were brought home since April this year

Dominic Raab said the number of Brits still in Afghanistan is ‘now down at a very low level’ after 5,000 were brought home since April this year

Ex-MI6 boss: Taliban victory in Afghanistan will ‘inspire’ terrorists to attack the West 

A former head of MI6 today warned the Taliban’s victory in Afghanistan could ‘inspire’ terrorists to launch attacks on the West amid a growing backlash at Joe Biden’s handling of the US withdrawal from the country.

Sir John Sawers said there is ‘no doubt’ the Taliban’s success is being ‘celebrated’ by extreme Islamist groups and ‘that raises the risk of them being inspired to more violence in Western countries’.

Sir John said the chaos in Afghanistan means terror groups are likely to move there because they will have ‘some operating space’, with the US and UK now in a ‘much weaker position’ to combat the threat they pose.

His comments came as the former professional head of Britain’s armed forces launched a direct attack on Mr Biden over the West’s Afghanistan ‘defeat’, as the transatlantic alliance was placed under further strain.

Lord David Richards, an ex-chief of the defence staff, accused the US President and other politicians of letting down Britain and their Afghan allies in their rush to escape Kabul.

The peer, who served in Afghanistan, said ‘we’ve been defeated by the Taliban’ as he attacked America and the UK Government over their handling of the pull out.

 

However, it remains unclear how many Afghan citizens who worked for the British Government are stranded after the withdrawal of Western forces was completed. 

Ministers had suggested last week that approximately 1,000 Afghans who were eligible to come to the UK may not make it out.  But Whitehall sources told The Guardian that the figure could actually be about 9,000. 

The Government has not given a concrete figure, with Foreign Office Minister James Cleverly saying yesterday that it was ‘impossible’ to put a number on how many people have been left behind. 

The Foreign Office said it hopes to find ‘practical solutions’ to help those in in Afghanistan attempting to enter neighbouring countries.   

Asked how many eligible people had been left in the country by the UK, Mr Raab told Sky News: ‘Look, of course, we lament the fact that anyone will be left behind.

‘I would just say that since April when we have been planning and instituting this, over 17,000 British nationals, Afghan workers, vulnerable special cases are out.

‘I know that the number of UK nationals, the particular responsibility of the Foreign Office, is now down at a very low level.’

Asked if he could be more specific on how many British nationals were still in the country, he said: ‘Well, low hundreds given that we have taken in total 5,000 out, and most of those are difficult cases where it is not clear around eligibility because they are undocumented.

‘We have now put in place the arrangements with third countries, or we are putting them in place.

‘I have spoken to some of the key third countries, so have other ministers, to make sure that we can make sure that we can have a workable route through for those outstanding cases.

He told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: ‘It’s very difficult to give you a firm figure. I can tell you that for UK nationals we’ve secured since April over 5,000, and we’re in the low hundreds (remaining).’ 

It is unclear how many of those British nationals who are still in the country have decided to stay of their own volition.  

Former Afghan government official, Ahmad, said he sent emails to British officials asking for help after he was left behind. 

He told The Times: ‘When I tried to pass through the Taliban checkpoints to get inside the airport the Taliban guards said they had instructions from the US not to allow anyone through who did not have a visa stamp in their passport or a foreign passport. I didn’t have those things.’

He added: ‘I want the UK government to clearly state it will honour its promise to those with evacuation notices – that those people who get to an embassy will be offered safe passage to the UK. 

‘Getting there will be incredibly dangerous.’      

The Government has suggested that eligible people could cross into a third country next to Afghanistan in order to get to Britain now the airlift operation out of Kabul has ended.    

It remains unclear how many Afghan citizens who worked for the British Government are stranded after the withdrawal of Western forces was completed

It remains unclear how many Afghan citizens who worked for the British Government are stranded after the withdrawal of Western forces was completed

It remains unclear how many Afghan citizens who worked for the British Government are stranded after the withdrawal of Western forces was completed

Thousands of Afghans have been evacuated to the US from Kabul airport after the Taliban took over the country

Thousands of Afghans have been evacuated to the US from Kabul airport after the Taliban took over the country

Thousands of Afghans have been evacuated to the US from Kabul airport after the Taliban took over the country 

Families evacuated from Kabul, Afghanistan, walk through the terminal before boarding a bus after they arrived at Washington Dulles International Airport, in Chantilly

Families evacuated from Kabul, Afghanistan, walk through the terminal before boarding a bus after they arrived at Washington Dulles International Airport, in Chantilly

Families evacuated from Kabul, Afghanistan, walk through the terminal before boarding a bus after they arrived at Washington Dulles International Airport, in Chantilly

But Mr Raab conceded that such journeys could be a ‘challenge’, telling Sky News: ‘Well, that is a challenge which is why we are holding very squarely the Taliban to their explicit assurances, they have made them bilaterally to us, they have made them to other countries… that they must allow safe passage, not just for our nationals but other Afghans, particularly vulnerable ones, who wish to leave.’

Joe Biden meanwhile delivered a defiant defence of the US pullout, claiming the evacuation had been ‘an extraordinary success’. 

In an address to the nation last night, the US President denied the withdrawal could have been achieved in a more orderly fashion and insisted he could not have extended ‘the forever war’. 

It also emerged yesterday that Britain will send just 15 extra staff to help process the claims of Afghans fleeing the clutches of the Taliban.

Downing Street yesterday said an unspecified number of ‘surge staff’ would be sent to neighbouring countries to process the claims of those Afghans who manage to make it to the border.

But the Foreign Office last night said this would amount to just 15 extra officials who will be sent to Pakistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.

Mr Raab said the further staff would ‘reinforce our embassy teams on the ground to help those in need’.

Sources said the officials had all been highly trained in ‘crisis response’.

However, the modest scale of the deployment is likely to raise eyebrows among those critical of the Government’s actions so far.

Mr Raab has faced questions about why he has failed to follow the lead of German counterpart Heiko Maas who has visited five of Afghanistan’s neighbours in recent days.

The EU is drawing up a £500million aid package for Afghan’s neighbours to help them deal with refugees arriving from the war-torn country, in the hope of preventing a new wave of asylum seekers heading to Europe.  

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