U.S. President Joe Biden dispatched the nation's top spy to secretly meet the head of the Taliban on Monday, in the highest level diplomatic encounter since the militant group took over Afghanistan's capital, the Washington Post reported on Tuesday.
The Post, citing unnamed U.S. officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said CIA Director William Burns met Taliban Leader Abdul Ghani Baradar in Kabul on Monday as the Biden administration continues efforts to evacuate U.S. citizens and other allies amid chaos at the airport in Kabul.
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Reuters could not immediately verify the report. Representatives for the Central Intelligence Agency and the White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Meanwhile, Western forces at Kabul airport are working flat out to get people out of Afghanistan before an August 31 deadline, as Biden faces growing pressure to negotiate more time for the airlift of thousands of stranded people.
Widespread chaos punctuated by sporadic violence has gripped Kabul's airport, with Western troops and Afghan security guards driving back crowds desperate to flee following the Taliban's takeover of the Afghan capital on August 15.
Countries that have evacuated some 50,000 people over the past 10 days are trying to meet the deadline agreed earlier with the Taliban for the withdrawal of foreign forces, a NATO diplomat told Reuters.
"Every foreign force member is working at a war-footing pace to meet the deadline," said the official, who declined to be identified.
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Leaders of the Group of Seven (G7) countries - Britain, Canada, France Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States - will meet virtually later on Tuesday to discuss the crisis.
Biden, who has said U.S. troops might stay beyond the deadline, has warned the evacuation was going to be "hard and painful" and much could still go wrong.
Democratic U.S. Representative Adam Schiff, chairman of the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee, told reporters after a briefing on Afghanistan by intelligence officials that he did not believe the evacuation could be completed in the eight days remaining.
"I think it's possible but I think it's very unlikely given the number of Americans who still need to be evacuated," Schiff said.
A Taliban official said on Monday an extension would not be granted, though he said foreign forces had not sought one. Washington said negotiations were continuing.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said ahead of the G7 meeting: "I will ask our friends and allies to stand by the Afghan people and step up support for refugees and humanitarian aid."
"The Taliban will be judged by their deeds and not their words," he said on Twitter.
Britain's defense minister, Ben Wallace, told Sky News he was doubtful there would be an extension "not only because of what the Taliban has said but also if you look at the public statements of President Biden, I think it is unlikely".