Former US president George W Bush has slammed President Joe Biden's decision to withdraw from Afghanistan, saying women and girls will bear the biggest burden as the Taliban seek to regain control of the battered nation.
“I'm afraid Afghan women and girls are going to suffer unspeakable harm … They are going to be left behind to be slaughtered by these very brutal people and it breaks my heart,” Mr Bush told German broadcaster Deutsche Welle in an interview shown on Wednesday.
Asked whether he thought the withdrawal was a mistake, Mr Bush replied: “Yes, I think it is.”
Mr Bush was speaking before German Chancellor Angela Merkel's visit to Washington, where she will meet Mr Biden on Thursday.
Germany has maintained a troop presence in Afghanistan since shortly after the US invaded the country in 2001, and Mr Bush told Deutsche Welle he believes Ms Merkel “feels the same way” about the US withdrawal.
Mr Biden in April ordered the withdrawal of all US forces from Afghanistan by September, following through on plans initially laid by his predecessor Donald Trump. Nato forces, including Germany, are leaving too.
The pace of the US pullout has left many Afghans worried that hard-won social gains such as the right for girls to go to school will be quickly quashed by the Taliban, who are quickly snatching up territory across Afghanistan.
The hardliners were known for their brutal repression of women when they ruled much of Afghanistan during the late 1990s until the US-led invasion.
About 350 Afghans fled into Tajikistan on Wednesday from northern Afghanistan to escape Taliban attacks, the Tajik news agency Khova reported. It said the refugees, a majority of them girls, had “fled from the Taliban to save their lives”, and added that two babies had died during the border crossing.
Meanwhile, Washington said thousands of interpreters and others who aided US and Nato forces in Afghanistan will be removed beginning in late July.
In what the White House has called Operation Allies Refuge, the interpreters and their families are likely to be taken first to American overseas military bases before resettlement in the US or elsewhere.
Many are looking to leave the country due to fears of retaliation by the Taliban, who are seeking to regain control of the government in Kabul after the departure of US troops.
Some estimates say there are around 18,000 people who would qualify for evacuation and who, with their families, could take the total number of evacuees to as many as 100,000.
The news came as the US military pushed forward with the final tasks of withdrawing from the country, and as the Taliban captured Spin Boldak — the border crossing on the main highway between Kandahar and Quetta, Pakistan.
Hours after the crossing fell, an AFP reporter on the Pakistani side saw around 150 Taliban fighters riding on motorcycles, waving flags and demanding to be allowed to cross into Afghanistan.
Spin Boldak was the latest in a string of border crossings and dry ports seized by the insurgents in recent weeks as they look to choke off revenue much needed by Kabul while also filling their own coffers.
In another sign western governments were rapidly reassessing the situation, British Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said the UK was prepared to work with the Taliban if they enter into a power-sharing government.
“Whatever the government of the day is, provided it adheres to certain international norms, the UK government will engage with it,” he told The Daily Telegraph.
“All peace processes require you to come to terms with the enemy. Sometimes, that's what it is.”