Nearly two dozen California students and their families are stuck in Afghanistan

By Cheri Mossburg | CNN

About 20 San Diego students and their families who traveled to Afghanistan this summer are stranded in the country and unable to get to Kabul’s airport, school and congressional spokespeople told CNN Wednesday.

Six families, including about 24 children, became stuck in Afghanistan after traveling there to visit relatives, said Howard Shen, spokesperson for the Cajon Valley Union School District.

At least one of the stranded families was able to make it safely back to the US, Shen said Wednesday evening. The family has five children, four of whom are students in the district.

“They are stateside, and they are safe,” Shen said, noting it is unclear if they are currently in California or elsewhere.

“The hope is that all 24 students will be in school sooner rather than later,” Shen said.

The school district, which serves between 16,000 and 17,000 students from preschool through eighth grade, is home to a large immigrant and refugee population, mostly from Afghanistan and Iraq. District officials have reached out to US Rep. Darrell Issa for help getting the affected families back to the United States.

Issa and his staff “are aware of the location of several American citizens,” and are in direct and consistent contact with them, said Jonathan Wilcox, a spokesperson for the representative.

“They are scared, stranded and trapped in the Kabul area,” Wilcox said in a statement. “So far, they’ve been unable to reach the airport. I know the President and his Press Secretary have previously said this isn’t happening, but that’s dead wrong.”

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday there are about 1,500 people who may be Americans left in Afghanistan as evacuation operations continue. And while the pace of those evacuations has picked up significantly in recent days, Biden administration officials have voiced concern about security around Kabul’s airport.

The United States has evacuated at least 4,500 Americans since August 14 and more than 500 in the past day alone, Blinken said, adding that “over the past 24 hours we’ve been in direct contact with approximately 500 additional Americans and provided specific instructions on how to get to the airport safely.”

“For the remaining roughly 1,000 contacts that we had who may be Americans seeking to leave Afghanistan, we’re aggressively reaching out to them multiple times a day through multiple channels of communication,” he added.

Asked about the group of Southern California students at a White House briefing Wednesday afternoon, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said, “I certainly don’t have additional information on that.”

Wilcox said Issa and his staff are “in consistent contact” with the State Department and the Pentagon and others on the ground in Afghanistan.

“We have reason to believe that other California residents are very much in the same situation,” Wilcox said. “This is real.”

Shen, the district spokesperson, could not provide details on whether anyone from the group has been hurt amid the crowds of people who are hoping to flee the country, or whether the families are together.

“The situation is fluid, but we are expecting them to be back,” Shen said. “That is the hope.”

The-CNN-Wire™ & © 2021 Cable News Network, Inc., a WarnerMedia Company. All rights reserved.

Powered by WPeMatico

U.S.: Taliban’s ‘reduction of violence’ deal to start tonight, culminating with peace pact signing

By KATHY GANNON and MATTHEW LEE

ISLAMABAD — The seven-day “reduction of violence” deal promised by the Taliban will begin on Friday night, a senior U.S. State Department official said, without specifying the exact time. That will start the countdown to the signing of a peace agreement between the Taliban and the United States at the end of the month.

That peace agreement, to be signed in Doha, Qatar, on Feb. 29, will pave the way for a withdrawal of U.S. troops and intra- Afghan negotiations. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the peace agreement will also lead to an eventual permanent cease-fire.

“We are preparing for the signing to take place on February 29,” Pompeo said in a statement. “Intra-Afghan negotiations will start soon thereafter, and will build on this fundamental step to deliver a comprehensive and permanent ceasefire and the future political road map for Afghanistan.”

The State Department official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the deal.

But the road ahead is fraught with difficulties.

It’s still not clear who will represent Kabul at the negotiation table for the intra-Afghan talks, considered a key pillar in finding a lasting peace in the war-torn country. The Afghan election commission earlier this week declared President Ashraf Ghani the winner of the presidential elections held in September but his rivals quickly denounced his win.

The Taliban have refused to talk to Ghani’s government and also denounced the election results, saying they will talk to government representatives but only as ordinary Afghans

Pompeo’s statement did not say who would participate in the intra-Afghan negotiations from Kabul, saying only that “’intra-Afghan negotiations will start soon” after the signing in Doha “and will build on this fundamental step to deliver a comprehensive and permanent cease-fire and the future political road map for Afghanistan.”

The Taliban issued their own statement on the reduction of violence deal.

“Both parties will now create a suitable security situation in advance of agreement signing date, extend invitations to senior representatives of numerous countries and organizations to participate in the signing ceremony, make arrangements for the release of prisoners, structure a path for intra-Afghan negotiations with various political parties of the country and finally lay the groundwork for peace across the country with the withdrawal of all foreign forces,” the Taliban said in a statement Friday.

The Taliban added that they will not allow “the land of Afghanistan to be used against security of others so that our people can live a peaceful and prosperous life under the shade of an Islamic system.”

___

Lee reported from Washington.

Powered by WPeMatico