Afghan civilians gather around the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Monday. Photo by Bashir Darwish/UPI | License Photo
Aug. 17 (UPI) -- For the first time since retaking control of Afghanistan, the Taliban on Tuesday staged a news conference and sought to assuage widespread fears that their rule will lead to a rise in terrorism and a backslide on women's rights.
Speaking to reporters in Kabul, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said women's rights are "very important" to the militant group and to the world and said they will be protected -- at least as far as they fit within Islamic law.
"The Islamic Emirate is committed to the rights of women within the framework of Sharia," Mujahid said, according to The Guardian. "Our sisters have the same rights, will be able to benefit from their rights.
"They can have activities in different sectors and different areas on the basis of our rules and regulations, educational, health and other areas."
The Taliban, which have long practiced a fundamentalist form of Islam that limits the freedoms of women and girls, said women's involvement in the new era of the country will be dictated by religion.
The group said earlier Tuesday that they will grant "amnesty" to any opponents in the country who lay down their weapons -- and encourage women to join the government.
Tuesday's news conference came as thousands of frightened Afghan civilians and aides to the U.S. military were looking for flights out of the country after the Taliban returned to power on Sunday. Taliban officials said the U.S. war is over and they're moving to form a new government.
When the Taliban ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, women could not attend school, were forced to cover from head to toe, and could only leave home with a male escort.
Tuesday, the group seemed to signal that things will change.
"[Women] are going to be working with us, shoulder to shoulder with us, and the international community," Mujahid said. "If they have concerns, we would like to assure them that there is not going to be any discrimination against women, but of course within the frameworks that we have."
In the same vein, Mujahid also vowed press freedoms as long as reporters do not work against "Islamic values."
"Nothing should be against Islamic values when it comes to the activities of the media, therefore Islamic values should be taken into account when it comes to the activities of the media," he added. "[The media] should not work against national values, against national unity."
In the meantime, former Afghan Vice President Amrullah Saleh said Tuesday that he's now the "legitimate caretaker president" of the country in the absence of President Ashraf Ghani, who fled just before the Taliban arrived in Kabul.
"I am currently inside my country [and] am the legitimate caretaker president," Saleh said on Twitter. "[I] am reaching out to all leaders to secure their support and consensus."
A White House official said Tuesday that 1,100 U.S. citizens and their families had been evacuated from Afghanistan on 13 U.S. military flights.
More than 3,200 people have been evacuated and nearly 2,000 more Afghan special immigrants to the United States have been relocated.
Pentagon press secretary John Kirby told CNN earlier Tuesday there are were 5,000 to 10,000 U.S. residents "near Kabul" who have not made it to Hamid Karzai International Airport.
"We think there are certainly thousands of Americans," Kirby said. "We don't have an exact count. I would say somewhere best guess between 5,000 and 10,000 near Kabul. [The State Department is] advising those Americans about how to queue up and get to the airport. They can begin a movement to the airport for processing flights out."
Evacuations resumed Tuesday at the airport in Kabul, a day after they were suspended due to mass chaos. Civilians desperate to escape clung onto U.S. military planes on the tarmac and several people died.
National security adviser Jake Sullivan holds a press briefing to talk about the recent events in Afghanistan at the White House in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday. Photo by Ken Cedeno/UPI
National security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters Tuesday that the United States received assurances from the Taliban that civilians seeking to be evacuated from Kabul by the U.S. military would have "safe passage." He said the U.S. military is speaking with Taliban officials about reports of some civilians being prevented from reaching the airport in Kabul by violence.
Sullivan said it's also too early to determine whether the White House will recognize the Taliban as Afghanistan's legitimate government.
"Right now, there is a chaotic situation in Kabul where we don't even have the establishment of a governing authority," he said during a press briefing. "So it'd be really premature to address that question."
During the Taliban news conference, Mujahid sought to calm fears that the Taliban rule will once again create a safe harbor for terrorism.
"I would like to assure the international community, including the U.S., that nobody will be harmed in Afghanistan," he said, according to NBC News. "You will not be harmed from our soil."
Also Tuesday, the U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction said in a new assessment that several presidents failed to create the "necessary mindset, expertise and resources to develop and manage the strategy to rebuild Afghanistan."
"While there have been several areas of improvement -- most notably in the areas of healthcare, maternal health and education -- progress has been elusive, and the prospects for sustaining this progress are dubious," the SIGAR report states.
"If the goal was to rebuild and leave behind a country that can sustain itself and pose little threat to U.S. national security interests, the overall picture is bleak."
The SIGAR analysis, which was based on thousands of government documents and over hundreds of interviews, faulted the administrations of Biden and former Presidents Donald Trump, Barack Obama and George W. Bush for the failures. The United States spent hundreds of billions of dollars over the 20 years it attempted to reform Afghanistan, during which time more than 2,400 American soldiers died.