CIA Director William Burns secretly met with the Taliban’s de facto leader, Abdul Ghani Baradar, in Kabul on Monday, The Washington Post is reporting.
The CIA declined comment on the meeting, the newspaper said. The talks came amid a frantic effort to evacuate people from Afghanistan and chaotic scenes from Kabul's international airport.
The meeting also came as President Joe Biden gets set to decide whether to push back the Aug. 31 deadline for U.S. troops to withdraw from Afghanistan.
Biden had warned on Sunday the evacuation was going to be "hard and painful," Reuters reported. He said troops might stay beyond the deadline to coordinate the evacuation. Biden was expected to decide on Tuesday.
The Post noted the Taliban have warned any extension of the deadline would cross a "red line." It has threatened the U.S. would face consequences on any delay," NBC News noted.
The news network pointed out Biden is facing criticism in the U.S., as well as abroad, for the chaotic evacuation.
NBC News said there are fears that if Biden tries to change the deadline, the Taliban will target Americans and other foreign nationals still in the country.
Meanwhile, the Post reported the irony of the Taliban’s Baradar meeting with the CIA director. Baradar had been arrested 11 years ago in a joint CIA-Pakistani operation that put him behind bars for eight years.
It said Baradar is a close friend of the Taliban’s founding supreme leader, Mohammad Omar.
Before the meeting between Burns and Baradar had been made public, State Department spokesman Ned Price had been asked on Monday about why senior officials had not talked with Baradar.
"Our discussions with the Taliban have been operational, tactical," Price said. "They have been focused largely on our near-term operations and near-term goals ... what is going on at the airport compound ... That is what we’re focused on at the moment."
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