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The Latest From The Ground In Kabul, Afghanistan

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

There are still many questions left about the Taliban in Afghanistan - what the rules will be under their reign, who their leaders will be, whether the Taliban has seized the last part of the country that they didn't control. The Taliban says they have, but rebel forces in the Panjshir Province contest that claim and say they'll continue fighting. Now, to bring us up to date, we spoke with Matthieu Aikins in Kabul. He reports for The New York Times.

I want to start with Panjshir Province because there are kind of conflicting reports about whether the Taliban has taken over the region. What do you know now?

MATTHIEU AIKINS: Well, it's a little difficult because the Taliban have cut communications with the valley. But we did see some videos of Taliban fighters speaking from the provincial capital in front of government buildings, so the Taliban have clearly captured that part of the provincial capital at least. I think that there is a lot of expectation and a lot of, maybe, hopes being projected onto what is actually a fairly small group of people in a small province.

CORNISH: We've also been hearing that the Taliban is going to set up its government. What have you learned, and can you give us a sense of kind of how this group can rule?

AIKINS: We were expecting a government last week. That didn't happen, and I think that speaks to both internal divisions within the movement and considerable outside pressure. So we don't really know what it's going to look like. I mean, we've really been assuming and hearing that there's going to be a supreme leader in a kind of theocratic position and that that would be Sheik Hibatullah Akhundzada, who is the current spiritual leader of the Taliban.

There is a definite regional difference, you know, between the southerners, like Kandaharies (ph), the Helmandies (ph). And then you have groups like the Haqqanis. You have other Taliban, you know, commanders and networks that have been brought in in more recent years from the north of the country. So the Taliban does actually reflect the diversity of the country.

And another fault line is there is, I think, an interesting generational aspect here. You have younger leaders. You know, there's been an incredible amount of Taliban fighters and commanders who've been killed. And that, I think, wiped out a lot of the older cadres, at least in the field. So there is a young group of Taliban that do represent the youth of the country in that sense.

CORNISH: Now, after U.S. forces left, we heard U.S. officials say that they'd still work to get Americans and Afghans who, you know, had worked with the U.S. who were left behind - right? - people who would be seeking asylum. Have you seen any movement on that front?

AIKINS: Well, I would say that probably the most interesting development is just that the airport is now operational. There's been domestic flights going. There have been some international military flights that have come in from the Qataris and Turkey. And the Taliban have said that they're going to let anyone who has proper visas and passports leave if they want. So it may very well be that this evacuation or relocation, resettlement, whatever you want to call it, will actually just be able to proceed through normal channels if the Taliban keep their word and the West keeps to its word, if the West actually makes visas and documents available to these people.

CORNISH: I know that the international community is very worried about, like, the ability to get aid into the country. Has the Taliban kind of addressed this or cooperated at all?

AIKINS: Yeah, I think they're looking at humanitarian aid as probably one of the first points of cooperation that they can start with the internationals. You know, they really want legitimacy. They want to be recognized. They need aid. There will be opportunity as well now that security concerns are gone. I mean, you're able now to travel around the rural areas of the country because the Taliban are in control. There may be less corruption if you have better oversight.

But the challenge is immense. There's a huge trust deficit, obviously, with the Taliban and internationals. And it's very urgent. People are, you know, suffering from drought, from hunger, from poverty all over this country.

CORNISH: And that's New York Times reporter Matthieu Aikins. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.