“Unfortunately for my teammates, my culinary skills do not match my nationality. At least Shane and Oleg with whom I have already lived were warned this time. Creation so French today: chocolate crepe, strawberries, (how’s that a tortilla?),” the translated tweet said.
The 43-year-old first shared the video Monday and as the floating disc of dough made its rounds on social media, comments varied with some hailing the snack as hilarious and original, to others calling it dismal and disappointing.
Although the recipe may not be Le Cordon Bleu-worthy, Pesquet gets serious points for creativity and credit for the first known crepe served in space.
(LONDON) — Princes William and Harry, who have reportedly been estranged for over a year, made a rare appearance together Thursday to honor their mother, the late Princess Diana.
William and Harry, the only children of Diana and Prince Charles, were both present as a much-anticipated statue of Princess Diana was installed in the Sunken Garden of Kensington Palace on July 1, which would have been Diana’s 60th birthday.
“Today, on what would have been our Mother’s 60th birthday, we remember her love, strength and character — qualities that made her a force for good around the world, changing countless lives for the better,” the brothers shared in a joint statement. “Every day, we wish she were still with us, and our hope is that this statue will be seen forever as a symbol of her life and her legacy.”
The princes also thanked the statue’s sculptor, Ian Rank-Broadley, and the garden designer, Pip Morrison, for their “outstanding work” as well as shouted out “all those around the world who keep our mother’s memory alive.”
Also in attendance at the event were Diana’s siblings: The Earl Spencer, The Lady Sarah McCorquodale and The Lady Jane Fellowes.
Not in attendance were the brothers’ wives as well as their father, Prince Charles, and their grandmother, Queen Elizabeth.
The statue itself, which is 1.25 times life size and bronze, aims to “reflect the warmth, elegance and energy” of the late Princess of Wales and shows her surrounded by three children meant to represent “the universality and generational impact” of her work, according to Kensington Palace.
“The portrait and style of dress was based on the final period of her life as she gained confidence in her role as an ambassador for humanitarian causes and aims to convey her character and compassion,” the palace continued.
The base of the statue features Diana’s name and the date of its unveiling. In front of it is a paving stone engraved with an extract from the poem “The Measure of a Man.”
The statue was commissioned by William, 39, and Harry, 36, in 2017 to mark the 20th anniversary of their mother’s death.
Diana died in August 1997 after a car crash in the Pont D’Alma Bridge in Paris. William and Harry were 15 and 12, respectively, at the time.
“It has been 20 years since our mother’s death and the time is right to recognize her positive impact in the UK and around the world with a permanent statue,” the brothers said in a joint statement in 2017. “Our mother touched so many lives. We hope the statue will help all those who visit Kensington Palace to reflect on her life and legacy.”
Just one year after the 20th anniversary of Diana’s death, in 2018, Prince Harry wed his wife, Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex.
The couple, who now live in California, stepped down from their roles as senior, working members of the royal family last year amid family tensions that they went on to reveal in a tell-all interview with Oprah Winfrey in March.
In the interview, Harry described himself and William as being on “different paths.”
“The relationship is space at the moment, and, you know, time heals all things, hopefully,” Harry said. “I love William to bits. He’s my brother. We’ve been through hell together, and we have a shared experience, but we were on different paths.”
William and Harry grew up at Kensington Palace and Diana lived there until her death.
Harry and Meghan, who just welcomed their second child, a daughter named Lilibet Diana, at one point also lived in Kensington Palace near William and Kate, who still have their main residence there with their three children.
In 2019, Harry and Meghan moved from the palace to a new home in Windsor and also left the household they shared with William and Kate, a split that author Robert Lacey said was due to an “explosive argument” between the brothers.
Citing palace insiders, Lacey wrote in his new book, “Battle of Brothers,” that Harry reportedly hung up the phone on William, who then went to address him in-person about the way Meghan was reportedly treating palace staff.
After the argument, William reportedly instructed a royal aide to “start the process of dividing their two households immediately,” according to the book.
William and Harry’s first in-person reunion in over a year happened in April, when the royal family came together for the funeral of the brothers’ grandfather, Prince Philip.
Their wives, Kate and Meghan, have not seen each other in person in over a year.
Many see today’s event as a chance for the brothers to bridge the gap between them.
“I think there’s been a lot of hope that an event like this would bring the brothers back together, and it’s certainly true that their mother’s memory and honoring her memory is pretty much one of the only things that really unites them right now,” Victoria Murphy, ABC News royal contributor, said.
Robert Jobson, another ABC News royal contributor, said he hopes William and Harry will be able to reconnect, adding that the presence of Diana’s sisters and close members of the family might help.
“Just standing there and looking at that statue … in the Sunken Gardens where they used to play as kids with her looking over them, maybe that just might be the catalyst to start the end to this rift,” Jobson added.
While he said the relationship between the brothers is still “extremely complicated,” ABC News royal contributor Omid Scobie said he understands “it is still a case of distance” and “they’re simply not talking at the moment.”
“This is really going to be the first time where they have a proper opportunity to chat to each other,” Scobie said. “And maybe being here in the presence of the memory of their mother will be a reminder of the importance of love and family.”
(PARIS) — After a four-day search, a woman was arrested Wednesday as part of the investigation into a large crash at the Tour de France earlier last week, according to local prosecutors.
The 30-year-old suspect turned herself into police and expressed feelings “of shame, of fear, in the face of the consequences of her act,” public prosecutor Camille Miansoni said Thursday. She is “distressed by the media coverage of what she calls ‘her blunder,'” added Miansoni.
Prosecutors said police would take measures “proportionate to the seriousness of the facts and to the personality of the author.”
The woman is accused of causing a large crash by holding a sign in front of cyclists in the opening stage of the competition on Saturday. She had allegedly left the scene before authorities arrived. Her cardboard sign read “allez opi-omi,” meaning “go grandma-grandpa” in German.
After the crash, three riders withdrew from the race due to their injuries, according to the Tour’s organizers, including German cyclist Jasha Sütterlin of Team DSM.
“Following the crash, he was taken to hospital for examinations which revealed no broken bones, but a severe contusion to his right wrist that will require further examinations back at home,” Team DSM said in a statement about Sütterlin, who admitted he was “so disappointed.”
Tony Martin, a member of top Tour contender Primoz Roglic’s Jumbo Visma squad, hit the woman on the right side of the road, causing a domino effect for riders inside the peloton.
The first fall was followed by another, which injured four-time Tour de France winner Chris Froome.
Riders briefly halted the race on Tuesday to protest against the danger caused by spectators who were too close to the road.
“Following the crashes during the third stage of the Tour de France, the riders have been discussing how they wish to proceed to show their dissatisfaction with safety measures in place and demand their concerns are taken seriously,” the riders’ union, the Cyclistes Professionnels Associés, said in a statement. “Their frustration about foreseeable and preventable action is enormous.”
The local chief of police Nicolas Duvinage on Thursday called for calm in a press conference, saying the suspect was trying to send a message on TV to her grandparents and that it is “wise not to carry out a media lynching.”
Fearing a backlash, Tour de France organizers decided to drop their suit against the fan in question and withdrew their complaint “for the sake of appeasement … in the face of the excitement on social media,” said Tour director Pierre-Yves Thouault. “We don’t want to look like we are flogging a dead horse. But we remind you of the safety rules.”
(MOSCOW) — Russia’s President Vladimir Putin used his annual marathon call-in show to try to persuade Russians to get vaccinated against the coronavirus, as the country faces a devastating third wave of the epidemic.
The show is a fixture of Putin’s two-decade rule and sees him take dozens of questions from ordinary citizens over around three hours while sitting on stage in front of phone banks where volunteers field calls.
Besides big questions of the day — around the economy or relations with Western countries — Putin also takes appeals from Russians asking him to help with local problems, down to fixing the pot-holed road in their town.
The heavily promoted and carefully choreographed show allows Putin to present himself as a leader in touch with even the smallest, everyday concerns of his people and able to solve any problem. After a question is put to Putin, local officials will usually scramble to fix the issue, making getting an appeal onto the show akin to winning the lottery.
Russian state television said around 2 million questions were sent in for Putin, who was on air for nearly four hours Wednesday.
Here are some of the key moments.
‘The only way to overcome the epidemic is with the help of vaccination’
A devastating third wave of the coronavirus pandemic is swamping Russia, left almost unchecked with few lockdown restrictions and a very slow pace of vaccination caused by widespread reluctance among Russians.
Only around 11% of Russians are currently fully vaccinated, and two-thirds are estimated to not want to get it. In the past two weeks, that has prompted Moscow and several other regions to introduce mandatory vaccinations for most public-facing workers — such as teachers and restaurant staff — making Russia the only country in the world to introduce large-scale obligatory vaccination.
Putin spent a significant part of the call urging Russians to get vaccinated, saying it was the way to avoid lockdowns. But while he said the mandatory vaccination in some regions was correct, he stopped short of giving his full-throated backing to the controversial decision, instead putting it on local authorities.
“I have said, as you know, that I don’t support mandatory vaccination. I continue to hold to that point of view,” Putin said. But he added it was necessary in some regions for it to be obligatory for “certain categories” of citizens to be vaccinated.
“It’s very well-known,” Putin said, “the only way to overcome the further spreading of the epidemic is with the help of vaccination.”
Throughout the pandemic, Putin has left announcing unpopular decisions, such as partial lockdowns, to regional authorities, which analysts say is to avoid taking backlash for them.
‘If I said I got the jab, that’s how it is’
Putin himself has faced criticism for refusing to say which of Russia’s three vaccines he has taken and, unusually, not releasing video of him getting vaccinated, even after he said he had received both shots early this year.
In the call-in, Putin for the first time said he received Russia’s primary vaccine, Sputnik V. He said he had hesitated between it and another Russian vaccine, EpiVacCorona made by the Siberian Vektor Institute, but opted for Sputnik V because it gave longer lasting immunity.
“I started from the basis that I need to be protected as long as possible, and so I took the decision for myself to get Sputnik V,” Putin said.
He said he briefly had a temperature of 37.2 Celsius overnight after getting the jab, but by morning it had passed.
Asked why he hadn’t shown himself getting the vaccine, Putin said he thought it wasn’t important.
“I hope that the majority of the citizens of country understand that if I said I got the jab, that’s how it is,” Putin said.
On confrontation with British warship near Crimea
Putin downplayed an incident last week where Russian fighter jets and ships confronted a British navy warship as it pointedly sailed through waters close to Crimea to demonstrate Western countries don’t recognize Russia’s occupation of the peninsula.
Putin called the incident a “provocation” from Britain and the United States, but dismissed a question asking if it had brought Russia close to World War III.
“Even if we had sunk that ship its difficult to imagine that the world would be on the edge of a third World War. Because those who are doing that know they won’t come out the winners in that war,” Putin said.
On social media platforms
Recently, Russia’s state censor threatened to block Twitter and other foreign social media platforms as the Kremlin has sought to bring Russia’s internet under tighter control amid a broader crackdown on dissent in the country.
Authorities have demanded the platforms remove “extremist” content — in reality often including calls to peacefully protest against Putin.
There has been growing speculation Russia might follow through in blocking platforms like Twitter, but in the call-in Putin said it did not plan to.
“We don’t intend to block anyone, but there are problems which consist in that they tell us to push off, when they don’t fulfil our demands and Russian laws,” Putin said.
He said foreign social media platforms must obey Russian laws to store data locally, saying to do otherwise was insulting to Russia.
‘Like the surface of Venus’
Putin made unusually strong warnings about the need to prepare for the impact of climate change on Russia. He frequently takes an ambiguous position on global warming, normally acknowledging it but also often questioning the role of humans in it, as might be expected from the ruler of a country reliant on exporting fossil fuels.
Asked by a viewer why “nature is going crazy,” Putin said the growing frequency of extreme weather was the result not just of humans but of “global processes.” He said humans must minimize their impact or “there might be irreversibly consequences.”
“Which might lead our planet to the state of Venus, where temperatures on the surface reach 500 degrees,” Putin said.
He noted that 70% of Russia’s territory was located in northern regions, large swathes of which are permafrost.
“If all that will melt, it will lead to very serious social and economic consequences. And we must, of course, be ready for that,” Putin said.
He said Russia will fulfil all its obligations to the Paris Climate Accord and that its government had prepared a strategy for handling the impact of climate change on key sectors of Russia’s economy.
‘Petitioning the tsar’
The call-in show plays heavily on an old trope in Russia of petitioning the tsar, where ordinary people plead with Putin to solve their local problems, from settling employment disputes to poor gas supplies.
Putin usually promises to look into the issues and local officials jump into action, with the implicit threat that those who fail to will face punishment. It creates the impression of Putin as a benevolent but severe ruler, dispensing justice and righting the wrongs of lower-level officials if only he can be reached.
Elena Kalinina from the Siberian region of Kemerovo appealed to Putin for help getting the crumbling roof of her grandson’s school repaired. She said after she sent her appeal, local education officials threatened her to withdraw it.
Putin promised the woman the school would be included in a renovation program and said, menacingly, “those who are threatening you would be better looking at their own problems.”
Kemerovo’s governor within hours ordered local officials to look into the state of the school’s roof and to find out who had threatened Kalinina.
The show is an attempt to portray Putin as “tsar of the Russias, defender of the nation, masterful chief exec with all the facts at his fingertips and stern and loving father of his people,” Mark Galeotti, an expert on Russian politics and an associate fellow at the Royal United Service Institute, wrote on Twitter before the show.
On his potential successor
Putin last year changed Russia’s constitution to allow him to potentially remain in office until at least 2036, having already been president for four terms. Although the move was partly aimed at heading off possible succession fights, speculation over how Putin might handle his eventual exit from power hasn’t gone away.
One caller asked Putin if there was anyone he trusted to handover power to.
“On the one hand, there are no sacred places and there are no irreplaceable people,” Putin answered. “On the other hand, of course, my responsibility consists in giving recommendations to those people who will pretend to the position of the president. Of course, when the time comes, I will be able to say who, in my opinion, is worthy to head Russia.”
(KABUL, Afghanistan) — This moment in history is not lost on 22-year-old U.S. Army Spc. Jaida Thompson as she helps the U.S. military withdraw from Afghanistan, a place where American troops have been since she was a toddler.
“I feel like it’s a big mission, and I’m very grateful to be a part of it,” she told ABC News at Bagram Air Base, the U.S. military’s main hub for the removal of 2,500 troops and most of their equipment from Afghanistan.
“It’s like crazy that I get to be here to close it down and be a part of something that was here before I was even brought up,” she told ABC News Chief Global Affairs Correspondent Martha Raddatz during an exclusive visit to the air base to see the withdrawal operations taking place nearly 20 years after the Sept. 11 attacks.
“I’m glad that I get to help finish something that I didn’t get to be a part of at the start,” Thompson said.
The base is abuzz with activity as logistical troops load gear onto as many as 15 C-17 cargo flights a day, part of the 896 C-17 flights that U.S. Central Command says have removed military equipment and personnel from Afghanistan in the last two months.
A U.S. official has told ABC News that the U.S. troop withdrawal will be completed in July, months ahead of the Sept. 11 deadline set by President Joe Biden earlier this year.
While the pace of activity at the base is constant, for some service members who have spent time at Bagram over the years it is a strange experience to see it transformed. Living areas that once housed as many as 20,000 troops are now empty and the American fighter jets that took off from the base have already left the country.
“It’s a little surreal to see things very bare and empty,” said Col. Erin Miller, the commander of the Resolute Support sustainment brigade who is helping to oversee the withdrawal.
Miller, who is on her third deployment to Afghanistan, described the withdrawal operation as “bittersweet” because “you’ve had a connection to this country for 19, 20 years and now we’re taking everything out and leaving our partners here and then leaving Afghanistan, most likely for good.”
Getting all of the equipment out of Afghanistan has required a lot of effort from service members that has not gone unnoticed.
Gen. Austin Scott Miller, the top commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan to Bagram, recently awarded the Bronze Star to 23-year-old Army Reserve Spc. Abigail Lopez who is on her first deployment.
“I put a lot of work in dedication and encouragement and I’m a very hard worker,” she told Raddatz as to why Miller presented her with the award.
Like Thompson, Lopez was also a toddler when 9/11 happened and she appreciates the history she and her fellow troops are making with the withdrawal, as well as what hundreds of thousands of American service members have accomplished before her service.
“A lot of Americans came out and did what they had to do and I feel like we accomplished that mission until now,” she told Raddatz.
Chief Warrant Officer 2 Jose Leal, who joined the Army a month before 9/11, described being in Afghanistan as the U.S. troop presence comes to an end as a “humbling experience.”
“This is part of history. And I’m pretty sure that what we’re doing here is going to go in the books,” said Leal.
He noted that pulling out of Afghanistan “was not an easy task. However, it needed to be done. And I’m very grateful and thankful for being part of it.”
Col. Mike Scarpulla, from the Army’s 10th Mountain Division who commands the base, agreed with Miller that the withdrawal operation is bittersweet but expressed confidence that Afghan security forces will be able to hold their own after U.S. troops leave.
“We’ve spent so much time here with our partners, working with them. They’re ready,” he said. “They can handle this. They’re quite capable of this.”
However, he acknowledged some hesitation that he likened to “the first time you see your child on a bike without training wheels.”
(CHICAGO) — The sister of the last American hostage being held by the Taliban made a desperate plea this week to President Joe Biden as the U.S. military completes its withdrawal from Afghanistan, telling ABC News in an exclusive interview, “I don’t think anybody can come home with their head held high until every stone has been turned.”
U.S. Navy veteran Mark Frerichs, 58, was abducted in Kabul in January 2020 after being lured to what he thought was a new business meeting — but which turned out to be a horrific ruse, family members and officials have said.
Frerichs’ sister, Charlene Cakora, said in an emotional interview that “it is almost too late now” to hope for either a negotiation or hostage rescue mission to secure her brother’s freedom from his Taliban captors, given the military’s hasty move to exit Afghanistan by July Fourth.
But she urged the commander-in-chief to pull out all the stops.
“President Biden,” she addressed the president during the ABC News interview at her home outside Chicago, “oh, please do everything you can to bring my brother home.”
“You have the power to bring my brother home, please get my brother home safely. We are relying on you,” Cakora pleaded, her voice cracking with emotion as she dabbed at tears on her cheeks. “He’s a good man. He deserves better. He does not deserve to be left behind. He’s an American citizen. And I know that you would not leave an American citizen behind, so please, I beg you, do everything you can to get my brother home.”
Cakora has not been given the opportunity to speak directly with either the former or current president.
Asked on Friday about Frerichs’ family’s concerns that their loved one will be left behind, the White House — without specifically naming Mark Frerichs — said they are working to free Americans in captivity.
“The president’s message is that he will continue to fight every day of his presidency to bring Americans home who are detained overseas, whether it’s in Afghanistan or any other country around the world,” said White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki. “Again, we will have a diplomatic presence on the ground. We will continue to work closely with the government, with security support, humanitarian support, and there needs to be continued, a continued political process, ongoing negotiations.”
As the U.S. military completes its withdrawal from Afghanistan after two decades of warfare following the 9/11 attacks, Cakora said she and her husband Chris feel like “our leverage is pretty much gone right now.”
Each week has brought the closing of another American base — Jalalabad and Kandahar, and this week Bagram Airfield — as the Taliban have waged an offensive against government forces, capturing dozens of districts countrywide.
“We can’t lose hope and we have to be strong for Mark, but it’s hard,” said Cakora, who said she’s been passing the time in her garden.
“I do a lot of weed pulling and I take all the frustration out with that,” she said. “And I try not to watch the news too much, as far as that. But it’s been really tough the past month due to the fact that our troops are coming home.”
U.S. officials and sources close to Frerichs’ family confirm that he is being held by a faction of the Taliban, the Haqqani network, known for abducting and holding Westerners captive inside Pakistan’s tribal areas. American diplomats have focused in recent weeks on engaging the government of Pakistan, whose intelligence services have a decades-long relationship with the Haqqani network.
In a statement to ABC News last week, the Pakistani government said there is “no evidence” that Frerichs is being held captive in their country, but pledged to assist in efforts to return him to his family.
Frerichs’ family, frustrated by the lack of progress, say they’re aggravated that it took almost a year and a half for U.S. officials to turn to Pakistan for help.
“They’re not using right methods,” Cakora said. “There’s capabilities, there are stones unturned I firmly believe, and I don’t think anybody can come home with their head held high until every stone has been turned.”
U.S. Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad cut an initial armistice deal with Taliban leadership in Doha, Qatar, last year — a month after Frerichs was kidnapped — but Khalilzad did not mention Frerichs publicly for several more months.
Cakora told ABC News that last fall, Taliban leaders in Doha said they were holding Frerichs hostage and had provided him with medical treatment — a startling admission she said Khalilzad shared with her.
“He [Khalilzad] said that he is healthy and well,” Cakora said of her brother. “And that’s pretty much it — he’s healthy and well and he has had some high blood pressure issues, and so he’s seeing the doctor for that, he’s taken medication for that.”
As ABC News has previously reported, Khalilzad has insisted in recent months that he has raised Frerichs’ captivity directly with his counterpart in Doha, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar. He has not disclosed what response he has received, but sources say the Taliban chief has not denied that the group’s Haqqani faction has held the American.
“In my meetings with the Taliban, I have demanded his release,” Khalilzad told the House Foreign Affairs Committee on May 18.
It remains unclear why the Taliban kidnapped and continue to hold Frerichs. In the past, hostages such as American Caitlan Coleman and U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl were used as political bargaining chips for the Taliban to demand prisoner releases.
No Taliban were released in exchange for Coleman, who was freed with her three children in 2017 after pressure was put on Pakistan by the Trump administration. Bergdahl, however, was traded for five Taliban who were being held at the Guantanamo prison, in a controversial decision by President Barack Obama.
Taliban negotiators in Doha have been seeking the release from a U.S. federal penitentiary of convicted heroin trafficker Hajji Bashir Noorzai, who was an early bankroller of the extremist group — but the Taliban has never specifically promised Frerichs’ freedom in exchange for Noorzai.
U.S. Department of Justice officials under the Obama, Trump and Biden presidencies have resisted freeing Noorzai from his two life sentences, officials have told ABC News.
Cakora is imploring all involved to free a man who has had no involvement in the “forever war.”
“I just want to tell anybody, the people who are holding Mark, I just want to let you know that Mark’s my brother and I want him home safe,” she said. “And wouldn’t you want your brother home if you were in the same situation?”
Barring the mercy of the Taliban, Cakora said that Biden should do whatever it takes to get the former Navy diver back to his hometown of Lombard, Illinois.
“I think I feel that if they leave a man behind that served this country for six years, I would think that, how could they sleep at night, you know? I mean, how are they sleeping at night knowing that they left a U.S. citizen behind — a U.S. veteran?” Cakora said. “They’re pretty cold if they’re not doing their job, because that’s their job.”
Prince George and his parents, Prince William and Duchess Kate, were photographed at London’s Wembley Stadium on Tuesday, where they watched England take on Germany as part of the European Football Championship.
For the occasion, the 7-year-old wore a suit with a striped tie, which seem to have been perfectly coordinated with the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s outfits.
Prince George seemed to bring some luck to his country’s soccer team, too: they won 2-0.
As president of England’s Football Association, Prince William, 39, often attends games. Prince George had been photographed wearing an England soccer jersey in 2019. He has also been spotted playing the sport with his siblings, Princess Charlotte, 6, and Prince Louis, 3.
Unsurprisingly, the royals appeared to have a great time at the game, tweeting afterward: “Incredible performance @England!”
(KABUL, Afghanistan) — The top U.S. general directing the full withdrawal of all 2,500 American troops from Afghanistan acknowledged in an exclusive interview with ABC News chief Global Affairs correspondent Martha Raddatz that the security situation in the country is “not good” and that the Taliban’s push to seize parts of the country is “concerning.”
Gen. Austin Scott Miller said he stands by his belief that there cannot be a military victor in Afghanistan, but he told Raddatz that as the Taliban continues with its military operations across the country, while also engaging in peace talks, “you’re starting to create conditions here that doesn’t — won’t look good for Afghanistan in the future if there is a push for a military takeover” that could result in a civil war.
“I think what you’re seeing — just if you look at the security situation — it’s not good,” Miller told Raddatz. “The Afghans have recognized it’s not good. The Taliban are on the move.”
Miller explained that while the Taliban are participating in peace talks in Qatar with the government of Afghanistan and expressing sentiments favoring a political settlement “you have an offensive operation going on across the country by the Taliban.”
He has previously said neither side can win militarily in Afghanistan.
“I still stand by those words,” Miller said. “You’re starting to create conditions here that doesn’t won’t look good for Afghanistan in the future if there is a push for a military takeover.”
Miller said “we should be concerned” by reports of increasing Taliban violence as Taliban fighters have seized dozens of Afghan government district centers throughout Afghanistan.
“The loss of terrain and the rapidity of that loss of terrain has to be a concerning one,” Miller said, noting that it can lower morale among military forces and civilians. “So as you watch the Taliban moving across the country, what you don’t want to have happen is that the people lose hope and they believe they now have a foregone conclusion presented to them.”
Miller said Afghanistan’s new Defense Minister Bismillah Mohammadi “understands the gravity of the situation” and is moving to strategically consolidate Afghan security forces to maintain the fight against the Taliban and not necessarily defend every district center.
“They’re going to need to do that” Miller said, and “they’re going to have to choose where they want to fight the Taliban as they continue to move forward.”
Miller also said he understood concerns by residents in Kabul that the Taliban would like to attack Afghanistan’s capital in the future.
“If you go back to what the Taliban’s objectives are, they want to take over and so at some point that implies that at some point they are in Kabul,” he said. “And certainly some of them remember what it was like the last time under with the Taliban regime.”
ABC News accompanied Miller to the sprawling Bagram Air Base located 40 miles east of Kabul that is the main transportation hub for the hundreds of cargo flights that have taken out U.S. military equipment and personnel over the past two months.
“Where we’re standing right now is this equipment that’s waiting to get on aircraft and that will redeploy from Afghanistan as part of our order in retrograde,” Miller told Raddatz, using the military’s official term for the full withdrawal.
“What’s happening here is also happening at other airfields around the country, particularly in the north,” said Miller, who stressed that the objective is for a safe and orderly withdrawal that will protect American and coalition forces as they depart the country.
Ultimately Miller said that the base would be turned over to Afghan security forces, much as is happening with other U.S. inventory in the country.
“The idea is that there is equipment that stays here that supports them, certainly in a strategic airfield,” said Miller. “But again, we’re looking to make sure that they have the ability to absorb it and secure it as we go forward.”
More than half of the U.S. military equipment in Afghanistan has already been shipped out of the country as the U.S. forces quickly move towards pulling out all U.S. troops from Afghanistan by Sept. 11, as ordered by President Joe Biden. But it appears that the withdrawal could be completed much sooner than that with one U.S. official telling ABC News that it could be completed as soon as July.
The pace of the operations at Bagram has been eye-opening for the experienced logistics officers in charge of the operation.
“It’s a little surreal to see things very bare and empty,” said Col. Erin Miller, a logistics officer overseeing the withdrawal. “And as we continue to move forward with the retrograde, seeing the equipment leave out, it truly is surreal.”
With all the billions of dollars the United States has invested in training and equipping Afghanistan’s security forces, it will be up to them to maintain security.
“What we’ve said is this is Afghanistan, this is their country,” said Miller. “The Afghan security forces have to hold.”
The U.S. military will continue to provide Afghan forces with financial support and continued assistance for Afghan air force maintenance crews, but as the U.S. completes its withdrawal, there will not be a physical U.S. military presence in Afghanistan aside from the hundreds of personnel who will be stationed at the U.S. embassy in Kabul.
Americans will also continue to fly “over-the-horizon” reconnaissance missions and counterterrorism missions from countries in the Persian Gulf area focused on al-Qaida and the Islamic State group, not the Taliban.
While the U.S. is continuing to provide defensive airstrikes in support of Afghan ground troops during the withdrawal, U.S. Central Command’s Gen. Frank McKenzie has indicated that airstrikes later will only be directed against the two terror groups if they are planning to attack the American homeland or allies.
Miller praised the effectiveness of Afghanistan’s Air Force but indicated that the possibility of U.S. defensive airstrikes in the future will continue “to be discussed as we move forward.”
“I think we need to see how that how that lands,” he told Raddatz.
The withdrawal in Afghanistan after an almost 20-year presence has drawn comparisons to the 2011 U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, which created a security vacuum that led to the rise of ISIS and the eventual return of U.S. forces in 2014.
“Do you think about Iraq when we’re leaving here and what happened in Iraq when we left?” Raddatz asked Miller.
“Absolutely, I mean that’s on everybody’s mind,” said Miller. “These are judgments that we have to make balanced against our national interests.”
Friends in need
Miller first served in Afghanistan in December, 2001 as a special operations commander and has deployed at least eight other times to Afghanistan, Iraq and other locations.
As he prepares to leave Afghanistan for the final time Miller described mixed feelings both professionally and personally.
“On the professional side, what you’re seeing is a — what I would call — a historic retrograde being done under at least the threat of conflict,” said Miller. “So far, it has not been contested, at least to date. So you see that and you know the goodness that’s taking place there, watching our service members as well as our allies doing this as professionally as possible.”
He said that after 20 years he has developed friends in Afghanistan, but “I don’t like leaving friends in need and I know my friends are in need.”
“As we continue to move down the retrograde and withdraw forces, there’s less and less I can directly offer them in terms of assistance,” he said. “So that’s hard.”
For example, he said Afghan Defense Minister Mohammadi has asked him occasionally for some type of assistance — provided in years past — and “there’s points where I have to tell him I won’t be able to do that.”
“It’s a tough, tough business, it is tough,” said Miller.
“We knew we were going to have to leave at some point,” he continued. ” I don’t know that you could find a right time, but so know what you are trying to do is, as you depart, ensure that the security assistance that can continue does continue; that you keep those lines open. So even as we discuss — we call it ‘departure’ — it doesn’t mean a full break of the relationship.”
Gen. Haibatullah Alizai, the commander of the Afghan Army’s Special Operations Command acknowledged that there will be challenges ahead for Afghanistan’s military, but he expressed confidence that his forces and Afghanistan will be able to endure after all U.S. troops have left Afghanistan.
“Absolutely, we will survive,” said Alizai. “Afghanistan will survive.”
“We have learned a lot from our friends and partners in the last two decades,” he said. “Based on those lessons we are going to expand and extend and make our army great to make Afghanistan keep the situation in Afghanistan the same or better than today. “
“I’m really optimistic about this and we are really committed to this fight against terrorism and to keep Afghanistan safe for the future,” said Alizai.
(ROME) — Kicking off the ministerial meeting of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS in Rome on Monday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken called on countries to “repatriate, rehabilitate, and where applicable, prosecute their citizens” imprisoned in Syria fighting for ISIS.
The Syrian Democratic Forces have detained 10,000 ISIS fighters, a situation Blinken described as “untenable” in the long run.
“It just can’t persist indefinitely,” he said.
Great Britain, France and other countries have been reluctant to repatriate ISIS fighters, amid concerns about domestic terrorism and the unpopularity of doing so across Europe. (Former President Donald Trump threatened to “release” ISIS fighters into France two years ago.)
He noted the actions of several nations, singling out the host nation Italy as “one of the few Western European countries willing to return nationals from the region” — including a female fighter and her children.
Blinken also underlined the need for the coalition to expand its efforts in Africa and deny the terror group and its affiliates new recruits by “undermining its brand” and “sharing positive alternative narratives” online and on social media.
“We are seeing fighters of 13 and 14 years old, take up weapons to kill people, and we have to get at this from every possible angle,” he said.
Blinken announced plans for the United States to provide another $436 million in humanitarian aid to support Syrian refugees – bringing the total U.S. humanitarian response to the Syrian conflict to roughly $13.5 billion since 2011.
He also praised the group for its “significant achievements” in the fight against ISIS, noting that “the movement of foreign fighters into Syria and Iraq has virtually ceased.”
He announced new U.S. sanctions against a senior leader in ISIS Greater Sahara, the affiliate group operating in Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso.
Blinken closed by praising the partnership against ISIS in the Middle East and across the globe.
“We’ve made great progress because we’ve been working together, so we hope you’ll keep an eye on the fight, keep up the fight against this terrorist organization until it is decisively defeated,” he said.