CIA Director William Burns held a secret meeting in Kabul with Taliban leader Abdul Ghani Baradar on Monday, marking the highest-level face-to-face meeting between the administration and the militant group, The Washington Post reports.
It’s unclear what the two men discussed but the conversations were likely focused on negotiations surrounding the impending August 31 deadline that President Joe Biden set to withdraw troops from Afghanistan.
The United Kingdom, France, and other allies have pressured the US to extend the deadline because more time is necessary to evacuate everyone.
Baradar, who was arrested by the CIA 11 years ago and held in prison for eight years, has served as the Taliban’s lead negotiator in peace talks with the US in Qatar that led to a deal with the Trump administration to withdraw this year.
Burns previously made an unannounced trip to Afghanistan in April.
Taliban rejects extension:
The Taliban has said that August 31 is the “red line” for the US to withdraw from the country.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said at a press conference there would be “no extensions.”
“It was the American plan,” Mujahid said. “They have the opportunity. They have all the resources. They can take all the people that belong to them.”
But he said that the Taliban would not allow Afghans to evacuate.
“The road to Kabul airport is closed for locals and open to foreigners,” he said. “We are not in favor of allowing Afghans to leave.”
Biden expected to keep deadline:
Biden has privately decided to keep the August 31 deadline in place, according to CNN, over concerns about security risks if the military stays in the country longer.
Biden has also asked for contingency plans in the event that the US does need to stay longer.
But the evacuations have picked up tremendous pace with more than 20,000 people evacuated from the Kabul airport on Monday.
More than 50,000 people have now been evacuated since the Taliban takeover.
Though there have been few issues, Biden advisers are worried about attacks targeting troops if they remain past August 31.
"We believe that we have time between now and the 31st to get out any American who wants to get out," national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters Monday.