CIA Director William J. Burns met face-to-face with the top Taliban leader in Kabul on Monday, according to two US officials, as the US continues airlifting American citizens and its Afghan allies out of Afghanistan by a looming Aug. 31 deadline.
The Biden administration has been in regular contact with Taliban officials throughout the course of the evacuation process, both on the ground in Afghanistan and in Doha, Qatar.
But the covert meeting, first reported Tuesday by The Washington Post, between Burns and Taliban co-founder and deputy leader Abdul Ghani Baradar amounts to the highest-level direct exchange of views since the militant group took control of the capital, a US official briefed on the matter told CNN.
The meeting also underscores the view inside the administration that they need a clearer understanding of where the Taliban stands on several issues as the clock ticks towards the Aug. 31 deadline to withdraw troops from the country, the official said.
The US official told CNN that the meeting occurred at President Biden’s direction, which reflects the view inside the administration that Burns is the most seasoned and one of the most trusted veteran diplomats on Biden’s team.
Another official called the meeting “an exchange of views on what needs to happen to be done” by August 31.
The CIA declined to comment to CNN about the meeting.
CNN has reached out to the White House for comment.
Some more background: Baradar and then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo were among the witnesses for the US and Taliban’s signing of an historic agreement last year, which had set in motion the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan. Former President Trump and Baradar spoke over the phone shortly after the deal was signed.
After the Taliban retook control of Kabul, Baradar, who heads the group’s political committee, had returned to Afghanistan last week after having been out of the country for 20 years.
US President Biden will speak about Afghanistan at 12 p.m. ET Tuesday from the White House.
According to the White House, Biden will talk about the US’ “ongoing efforts in Afghanistan to evacuate American citizens, SIV applicants and their families, and other vulnerable Afghans, and his meeting with fellow G7 leaders on how our nations can come together in support of the Afghan people.”
Biden on Tuesday morning is also expected to meet with his national security team to hear intelligence, security and diplomatic updates on the evolving situation in Afghanistan.