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(NEW YORK) -- A suspected poacher was killed by a herd of breeding elephants that he encountered while fleeing from park rangers, according to South African officials.

Three people attempted to run away after they were spotted by rangers at the Kruger National Park, one of Africa's largest game reserves, on Saturday, South African National Parks officials said.

After one of the suspects was captured, he told park rangers the group had run into a herd of elephants, adding that he was not sure if his alleged accomplice had managed to escape, officials said.

Rangers later discovered the man "badly trampled" and dead from his injuries.

Investigators say they are still searching for the third suspect, who continued to flee after he suffered an injury to the eye.

The men are suspected of attempting to poach rhinos, according to officials. A rifle and axe were recovered amid the investigation, officials said.

"The campaign against poaching is the responsibility of all us; it threatens many livelihoods, destroys families and takes much-needed resources to fight crime, which could be used for creating jobs and development," Gareth Coleman, managing executive of Kruger National Park, said in a statement.

ABC News' Liezl Thom contributed to this report.

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(CAIRO) — A

Eleven people are dead and 98 are injured after a passenger train derailed in Banha, Egypt, on Sunday.

Video broadcast by local media showed several carriages overturned in the province of Qalyoubeya, about 18 miles north of Cairo.

Health Ministry officials said 14 people receiving treatment for minor injures have been discharged from the hospital.

The train was traveling from Cairo to al-Mansoura when it derailed.

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.

ABC News' Hatem Maher contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.



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(LONDON) — The pandemic is reaching deadly new heights across the world, the WHO warned this week, even as the focus in some countries, including the U.S., has shifted toward how quickly to ease restrictions as vaccination figures eke upward.

"Around the world, cases and deaths are continuing to increase at worrying rates," WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a press conference on Friday. "Globally, the number of new cases per week has nearly doubled over the past two months. This is approaching the highest rate of infection that we have seen so far during the pandemic. Some countries that had previously avoided widespread transmission are now seeing steep increases in infections."

The bulk of new infections have been seen in Brazil and India, the second- and third-worst-affected countries. Earlier this week, the nongovernmental organization Doctors Without Borders warned that Brazil's coronavirus response had driven the country into a "humanitarian catastrophe." The country failed to impose an effective, centralized response, and had accounted for more than a quarter of the world's COVID-19 deaths through last week, the group said.

Some experts have warned that social-distancing recommendations have gone ignored in India, and this week the government made a desperate plea for citizens to wear masks.

"If we, all of us, start wearing masks starting today or tomorrow, we will see an immediate dip in this," Vinod Kumar Paul, a member of the government's planning commission, said at a press briefing on April 13. "We should not crowd. We must maintain social distancing and hygiene, then this virus will definitely stop. And we have repeatedly said wearing a mask is an effective social vaccine, which we should start today."

Of the 1,185 daily deaths reported in India in the 24 hours preceding Friday, around a third were in the state of Maharashtra, home to Mumbai, which was placed under a lockdown this week.

Even so, the holy festival of Kumbh Mela has seen millions of Indians travel throughout the country, with footage showing devotees bathing in the Ganges with no respect for social distancing, and hundreds of positive cases have been associated with the festival, according to the BBC. In recent weeks, the country has reported well over 100,000 new confirmed cases on a daily basis.

With the country struggling to contain the spread of coronavirus, vaccine exports have been suspended at the country's Serum Institute, which produces the bulk of the AstraZeneca vaccine doses distributed by the COVAX program. India has vaccinated more than 100 million citizens so far, according to the country's health ministry.

And in Europe, where most countries have adopted lockdowns to deal with rising infection rates, WHO Regional Director Hans Kluge announced that more than 1 million COVID-19 deaths had been surpassed in the European Region.

"The situation in our region is serious -- 1.6 million new cases are reported every week," he said at a press conference on Thursday. "That's 9,500 every hour, 160 people every minute. It is only among the oldest that we are seeing declining incidence.”

On Monday, parts of the U.K. tentatively emerged from a monthslong lockdown, with outdoor dining in bars and restaurants, as well as shops, opening to customers. Now the country is reporting some of the lowest proportional number of cases and deaths in Europe, which Prime Minister Boris Johnson was keen to stress was the work of lockdowns -- not vaccinations.

"But it is very, very important for everybody to understand that the reduction in these numbers -- in hospitalizations and in deaths and infections -- has not been achieved by the vaccination program," he said this week. "People don't, I think, appreciate that it's the lockdown that has been overwhelmingly important in delivering this improvement.”

Even countries that were initially praised for their handling of the pandemic, such as Germany, are now struggling, according to Reuters. German doctors have demanded action to deal with worsening situations in hospitals, with Angela Merkel having secured new powers to impose local lockdowns if cases surpass a certain threshold.

And while Britain is relaxing its lockdown laws, France entered a national lockdown earlier this month. The country became the third country in western Europe -- after the U.K. and Italy -- to record more than 100,000 coronavirus deaths.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.



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(LONDON) -- As Britain's royal family gathers to remember the life of Prince Philip, who died at the age of 99, one family member will be notably absent from St. George's Chapel, the site of the funeral.

Duchess Meghan, the wife of Philip's grandson, Prince Harry, is pregnant with the couple's second child and was not cleared for travel to the United Kingdom by her physician at this stage in her pregnancy.

Meghan plans to watch the funeral from the couple's home in California, where they moved last year after stepping down from their official royal roles.

In her absence, Meghan sent a handwritten note and, with Harry, sent a wreath to be laid for Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh.

The wreath was handmade by Willow Crossley, a floral designer who also designed floral arrangements for Harry and Meghan's wedding and the christening of their son, Archie. At the request of Harry and Meghan, the wreath includes flowers that represent Prince Philip's Greek heritage, his service to the Royal Marines and June, the month of his birth.

Philip's funeral is taking place in the same chapel where Harry and Meghan wed nearly three years ago.

During her time in the royal family, Meghan grew especially close to Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip, according to ABC News royal contributor Omid Scobie. 

"We know that she’s supporting Harry in this very difficult week for him, but she’ll also be sad because this is also the loss of a family member for her," said Scobie. "She grew very close to the queen and Prince Philip over the recent years."

"It was probably her strongest relationship within the family and those relations then get smaller this week," he said. "It’ll be a sad day for her."

Philip's funeral marks the first time Harry has seen his family in person since he and Meghan stepped down from their senior royal roles last year. The reunion also comes just weeks after Harry and Meghan sat down for an explosive tell-all with Oprah Winfrey, during which the couple revealed tensions in the royal family and Meghan revealed she had been suicidal during her time as a royal.

While Meghan's decision not to travel to the U.K. for Philip's funeral raised more speculation on the divide between the Sussexes and Harry's family, Scobie said her decision should not be seen as a snub.

"If there’s one thing that has remained constant throughout all of the turbulence of the past year it’s Harry and Meghan’s close relationship with the queen and Prince Philip," he said." "Although Meghan isn’t here, she is of course supporting Harry. Her mind is very much on the situation over here."

Meghan is expected to give birth this summer, although her exact due date has not been announced. She and Harry announced their pregnancy publicly on Valentine's Day, and confirmed last month that they are expecting a girl.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.



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(LONDON) -- The funeral for Britain's Prince Philip, the husband of Queen Elizabeth II, is set to begin at 3 p.m. local time, 10 a.m. ET, at St. George's Chapel in Windsor, England.

The Duke of Edinburgh, who died on April 9 at the age of 99, will not lie in state, palace officials said.

The funeral will be limited to 30 guests (excluding clergy and pallbearers) due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Here is how the news is developing today. All times Eastern. Check back for updates.

Apr 17, 11:10 am
Philip interred in royal vault

Following a roughly 50-minute funeral service, Prince Philip was interred in the royal vault in St. George's Chapel.

But that is not his final resting place. Following the Queen's death, his body will be moved and they will be buried alongside each other in the King George VI Memorial Chapel, which is also at St George’s Chapel.

At the end of the service, the Queen departed the chapel in a state Bentley.

The other family members walked, including Prince William and Prince Harry, who were seen side by side.

Apr 17, 10:46 am
A socially distanced service

Before entering St. George’s Chapel, members of the royal family who walked in the procession -- including Prince Charles, Prince William and Prince Harry -- put on face masks.

The only people speaking at the service are the Dean of Windsor and the Archbishop of Canterbury. The Right Reverend David Conner, KCVO, Dean of Windsor, said, "We have been inspired by his unwavering loyalty to our Queen, by his service to the Nation and the Commonwealth, by his courage, fortitude and faith."

The family, including the Queen, sat spaced out per COVID-19 protocol.

Prince Philip’s funeral was a reflection of his own wishes and displayed both the professional and personal aspects of his life: his family and his military service.

The music at the service was selected by Philip himself.

The song sung near the start of the service, Britten’s Jubilate in C, was commissioned by Philip for the St. George’s Chapel Choir.

Later in the service, the adaption of Psalm 104 was set to music by William Lovelady at the request of Philip. The words of the Psalm, performed at a concert for Philip’s 75th birthday, “evoke themes of creation, the environment and wildlife,” which reflect Philip’s interests, according to Buckingham Palace.

One of the final moments of the service saw the Buglers of the Royal Marines play the Bugle Call, which signifies the end of the day, or, in Philip’s case, when a soldier has gone to his final rest. Philip also requested that the Royal Marines sound Action Stations, a Naval tradition that announces that all hands should go to battle stations.

Apr 17, 10:00 am
Nation holds somber 1 minute of silence

A national minute of silence was held at 10 a.m. ET. ahead of the service.

Heathrow Airport said it was stopping all arrivals and departures for six minutes to coincide with the national one-minute silence.

"During the funeral service no Heathrow arrivals or departures will fly over the area, but we don’t expect this to require any rerouting of aircraft," the airport said.

The funeral is at St George's Chapel, where Harry and Meghan Markle married in May 2018.

Apr 17, 9:56 am
William, Harry seen together in royal procession

Prince William and Prince Harry were seen together for the first time in over one year as they joined the royal procession. Standing between the brothers was Peter Phillips, Princess Anne’s son.

The last time the Duke of Cambridge and Duke of Sussex were seen together was March 2020 at the Commonwealth Day Service.

Prince Charles, the heir to the throne and Philip's oldest child, also walked in the procession ahead of his sons, along with Princess Anne, Prince Andrew and Prince Edward.

Queen Elizabeth II, traveling by car, joined the back of the procession as she mourns her husband of 73 years on a very public stage.

Joining the Queen in the car was Lady in Waiting, Lady Susan Hussey.

The procession follows Prince Philip's coffin, which was placed onto a Land Rover designed by Philip himself. It was repainted in military green at his request and he designed the open-top for his coffin, BBC News reported.

The flowers in the wreath on the Duke of Edinburgh's coffin were chosen by the Queen.

The coffin was topped by Philip's Admiral of the Fleet Naval Cap and a sword given to him by his father-in-law, King George VI, for his 1947 wedding to then-Princess Elizabeth.

Apr 17, 9:39 am
Guests including Kate Middleton head to chapel

Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall (daughter-in-law to Prince Philip and wife to Prince Charles) and Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge were among the funeral guests who traveled by car to the chapel, as opposed to walking in the royal procession behind the coffin.

Also traveling by car are some of Prince Philip's grandchildren: Zara Tindall (with her husband, Mike Tindall); Princess Eugenie (with her husband, Jack Brooksbank); and Princess Beatrice (with her husband, Edoardo Mapelli Mozzi).

Apr 17, 9:14 am
Royal family set to reunite at funeral

Members of the royal family -- including the Queen, her four children and grandchildren -- will gather in one hour to mourn Queen Elizabeth's husband, Prince Philip.

All 30 guests at the scaled-down funeral must wear masks and cannot sing, per COVID-19 guidelines.

The music at the service was selected by Prince Philip himself.

After the service, Philip will be interred in the royal vault in St. George's Chapel.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.



Hannah McKay/WPA Pool/Getty Images

(LONDON) -- Queen Elizabeth has served her country as the ruling monarch for nearly 70 years, but she is now doing it for the first time without her husband, Prince Philip, by her side.

The queen was joined by her closest family members Saturday for the funeral of Philip, who died April 9 at the age of 99.

It marked the first time Queen Elizabeth has been seen publicly since the death of her husband of 73 years.

"Anyone who has lost a life partner will understand that the morning of the funeral and the day of the funeral are very challenging," said ABC News royalty consultant Alastair Bruce. "And the queen has always just got on with it and particularly with Prince Philip at her side, but today he won't be."

"Today she will see him descend into the earth and her faith will be enhanced by the knowledge of his faith," he said. "And in a religious service, she will have the chance to be with her family, not be alone, and be in the company of God at the final moment of her husband."

Queen Elizabeth has been attending royal engagements solo since Philip's retirement from official royal duties in 2017, but moving forward after his death will mark new territory for the queen, who wed Philip in 1947, less than five years before she became queen.

"He is someone who doesn't take easily to compliments, but he has, quite simply, been my strength and stay all these years," Queen Elizabeth said in 1997, paying tribute to Philip on their golden wedding anniversary. "And I, and his whole family, and this and many other countries, owe him a debt greater than he would ever claim, or we shall ever know."

The queen is expected to be fully supported in the wake of Philip's death by the couple's four children, Prince Charles, Princess Anne, Prince Andrew and Prince Edward.

Queen Elizabeth and Philip's grandchildren, most notably Prince William and Duchess Kate, will also be looked upon to support the queen at official engagements.

After his retirement, Philip spent much of his time at Wood Farm, a home on the grounds of Sandringham Estate, while Queen Elizabeth spent more time at Buckingham Palace for official duties.

The couple had spent much of the past year together at Windsor Castle, quarantining during the coronavirus pandemic.

A love story spanning more than seven decades

The Greek-born Prince Philip first met then-Princess Elizabeth in 1934 at the wedding of Princess Marina of Greece and Denmark and Prince George, the Duke of Kent.

Philip and Elizabeth shared a great-great grandmother, Queen Victoria.

Philip was a direct descendant of Princess Alice, the third child of Queen Victoria. Queen Elizabeth is a direct descendant of Queen Victoria's oldest son, who became King Edward VII, according to the royal family's website.

After their first meeting, Elizabeth and Philip met several times over the course of the next decade, and a very young Princess Elizabeth became smitten with the blond, blue-eyed Philip. Her governess recorded that Philip's "Viking good looks" made quite an impression on the princess.

The couple exchanged letters and, in 1946, Philip, then in his mid-20s, was given permission by King George VI to marry his daughter, on the condition that they wait until Elizabeth was 21.

Her father's courtiers, however, were less impressed.

There were reservations about Prince Philip's lack of financial resources and foreign roots, and King George VI was also reportedly concerned about his daughter's young age.

The couple endured the doubters and married on Nov. 20, 1947, in a royal wedding in Westminster Abbey.

Philip renounced his Greek and Danish titles and adopted the anglicized surname of his mother's family, calling himself Lt. Philip Mountbatten. His new father-in-law, the king, granted him the titles of Duke of Edinburgh, Earl of Merioneth and Baron Greenwich.

For several years after their marriage, Philip and Elizabeth lived a relatively normal life. He continued to serve in the Royal Navy, and the couple soon had their two oldest children, Prince Charles and Princess Anne.

Philip and Elizabeth's lives changed in 1952 when, while Elizabeth was touring Kenya, her father, King George VI, died.

She became Queen Elizabeth II at the age of 25, and Philip gave up his career in the Royal Navy to support his wife.

The queen did not give her husband the formal title of "prince consort," as was done in the past. Five years after the queen ascended to the throne, though, in 1957, she made Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, a prince of the United Kingdom.

Philip had reportedly been angry to learn, after his wife's accession, that his children would never bear his last name, according to a 2012 biography of the queen by author Sally Bedell Smith.

"I'm nothing but a bloody amoeba," a resentful Philip reportedly said. "I am the only man in the country not allowed to give his name to his own children."

Although they didn't bear his surname, Philip took a very active role in the upbringing of his children -- Charles, Anne, Andrew and Edward -- and was very protective of both his family and the family business into which he married.

The Duke of Edinburgh was known as one of the hardest-working members of the royal family during his tenure alongside the country's longest-reigning monarch.

When he retired from official royal duties in 2017 at the age of 96, Philip had completed more than 22,000 solo engagements since 1952, given 5,496 speeches in his travels to more than 76 countries, authored 14 books, served as patron to 785 organizations and made 637 solo overseas visits, according to Buckingham Palace.

He also accompanied Queen Elizabeth on all 251 of her official overseas visits, according to the palace.

On their 70th wedding anniversary in November 2017, she appointed Philip to be a knight grand cross of the Royal Victorian Order for his services to the sovereign.

The couple celebrated their last wedding anniversary together on Nov. 20, 2020.

In honor of the anniversary, Buckingham Palace released a photo showing the queen and Philip looking at a card made by three of their great-grandchildren, 7-year-old Prince George, 5-year-old Princess Charlotte and 2-year-old Prince Louis, the children of Prince William and Duchess Kate.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.



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(LONDON) -- Hong Kong's rebel media tycoon Jimmy Lai was sentenced to 14 months in prison in Hong Kong District Court Friday after being found guilty of charges related to pro-democracy protests in 2019.

Lai, a 73-year-old billionaire and founder of pro-democracy paper Apple Daily, has been remanded in jail since December.

In addition, Hong Kong's "father of democracy" Martin Lee, 83, was given suspended sentences for the Aug. 18 and Aug. 31 protests, which were sparked by a widely unpopular extradition bill, which would have allowed suspects to be sent to mainland China for trial. Anger over the proposed legislation grew into a broader call for democracy in the Chinese-ruled territory. The mass protests lasted for more than six months, plunging Asia's financial hub into crisis.

It represented the biggest form of resistance to the Chinese Communist Party in a generation.

The two are among a handful of other prominent activists and lawmakers charged with organizing and taking part in what authorities called unauthorized assemblies. At least four of the other defendants were jailed up to 18 months.

"The sentences handed down are incompatible with the non-violent nature of their actions," U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement. "We will continue to stand with Hong Kongers as they respond to Beijing’s assault on these freedoms and autonomy, and we will not stop calling for the release of those detained or imprisoned for exercising their fundamental freedoms."

It's the first sentencing for Lai, who has been denied bail in a separate national security trial. On Friday, prosecutors also added two more charges to Lai's national security case, related to his alleged assistance of fugitive Andy Li. Li was among 12 Hong Kong activists intercepted at sea by the Chinese coast guard during a failed escape bid last year. That case is adjourned until June 15, while another fraud case leveled against Lai will be heard in May.

Lai was arrested on Aug. 10 under the controversial national security law, which Beijing imposed on Hong Kong at the end of June to clamp down on the pro-democracy movement after last year's unrest.

The national security law targets succession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces, but critics say it breaches the "One Country, Two Systems" framework, which is meant to guarantee Hong Kong people a degree of autonomy and freedom not afforded to the mainland.

There have been a wave of arrests and prosecutions of activists since the law came into effect, with many of the territory's most well-known pro-democracy figures either behind bars or in self-imposed exile.

Speaking with ABC News at his home while he was out on bail in September, Lai said that Apple Daily will push on, despite the odds.

Last week, Lai sent a handwritten letter to his colleagues, published in Apple Daily, from prison: "It is our responsibility as journalists to seek justice. As long as we are not blinded by unjust temptations, as long as we do not let evil get its way through us, we are fulfilling our responsibility."

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.



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(MOSCOW) -- Russian authorities have moved to designate the organizations of opposition leader Alexey Navalny as "extremist groups" in a step that effectively would outlaw his political movement.

The move is the most serious attack so far by authorities on Navalny's movement as the Kremlin seeks to break the opposition fomented by its fiercest critic, who was sent to in a prison camp for 2 1/2 years in February.

Russia's decision comes as doctors supporting Navalny have warned the state of his health is becoming dangerous in prison, where he's been on a hunger strike for more than two weeks and has accused authorities of denying him medical care.

Russia's general prosecutor's office on Friday released a statement saying it had filed a request seeking to have Navalny's Anti-Corruption Fund as well as his regional campaign branches declared "extremist" under legislation normally used for terrorist groups and violent religious sects.

The prosecutor's office said it was filing the request on the grounds that Navalny's groups were "creating conditions for changing the foundations of the constitutional order," including supposedly through foreign-backed revolution.

Russia in recent years has enacted draconian legislation, nominally to help thwart terror groups, but the measures increasingly are being wielded against critics of President Vladimir Putin. If declared "extremist," Navalny's organizations would be banned -- anyone deemed to be participating in or aiding them could face lengthy prison sentences.

"Well there we are. They have decided to steamroll the FBK and the campaign headquarters," Ivan Zhdanov, the Anti-Corruption Fund's director, wrote on Twitter. "We won't surrender."

The Anti-Corruption Fund, known by the initials FBK, publishes investigations revealing the allegedly ill-gotten wealth of Putin and other powerful Russians. The FBK, along with regional branch offices, helps organize peaceful protests against corruption and calls for an end to Putin's rule. But the groups don't advocate for violence or overthrowing the state by force.

The Anti-Corruption Fund this week published a new video investigation unveiling what it said was a secret residence for Putin in northwest Russia, complete with an elaborate spa complex.

Leonid Volkov, a top lieutenant of Navalny, said the announcement on Friday meant the Kremlin had still not decided whether to go through with outlawing the group, telling people "don't keep quiet."

Authorities have kept up intense pressure on Navalny's movement since he returned to Russia in January, having recovered from his near fatal poisoning with a nerve agent last summer. His arrest caused thousands to protest, but Navalny's allies were forced to call off street demonstrations in February in the face of an intense police crackdown.

Concerns have been mounting over Navalny's health in prison, where, in addition to the hunger strike, he said he's been refused proper treatment for back pain so severe it limits his walking. And just last week, Navalny was moved to the prison's medical ward suffering from a respiratory illness and a high temperature.

On Friday, doctors supporting Navalny wrote an open letter to the head of Russia's prison service pleading for negotiations with prison doctors to agree on a treatment plan, saying Navalny's worsening condition could be life-threatening.

"We express extreme concern about his state, which is approaching critical," the doctors, some of who are activists, wrote. The doctors wrote in the letter that medical tests show Navalny is suffering renal impairment that could lead to serious problems his circulatory system "up to a heart attack."

Navalny's wife and mother said they visited him this week and were alarmed by how weak he was.

"Aleksey, as always, keeps his spirit. He talks just as cheerfully, but quietly. He coughs badly, breathes with difficulty," his mother, Lyudmila, wrote in an Instagram post.

Navalny said in a message on Friday that prison authorities were threatening to start force-feeding him if he didn't feed himself. In a message posted to his Instagram account by his team, Navalny wrote he would refuse and that he was demanding to be examined by his own doctor.

"My head is spinning heavily," Navalny said, "but I'm still going for now because I feel your support. Thank you!"

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.



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(NEW YORK) -- "Mohammad" waited 10 years for a special immigrant visa from the U.S. -- a reward for his work on behalf of the Pentagon in Afghanistan and as protection from growing threats he faced from the Taliban.

After a decade of delays and bureaucratic hurdles, he was granted approval for one last December. Less than a month later, still stuck in the process, he was gunned down by Taliban militants on his way to work with his 10-year old son in the car.

His brother-in-law "Khan" should have been with them. A computer scientist by training, he and Mohammad worked together for a U.S. defense contractor and, for that, have faced near-constant threats of retaliation from the Taliban. On Jan. 27, he decided to go to the bank first, instead of carpool with Mohammad. Because of it, he remains alive.

But now he fears his time is running out.

Taliban operatives threatened his father on the phone this week, saying, "After the U.S. withdrawal, they will start an operation against Afghanistan forces, and their first priority will be those who have worked with and helped U.S. forces here in Afghanistan," said Khan, whose real name and whose brother's real name ABC News agreed not to use for his safety.

After President Joe Biden announced the full withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan, there is growing concern for those who will be left behind -- a generation of Afghans who have helped the society to grow, including women's rights activists, journalists and civil servants, as well as the thousands of Afghans who have supported the U.S. military and diplomatic missions in the country.

The Taliban have vowed retribution against Afghans who they consider "traitors" for working with American officials. Their campaign of assassinations against Afghan interpreters and contractors, as well as prominent civil society leaders, has already claimed dozens of lives.

Since 2006, Congress has made available a set number of special immigrant visas, or SIVs, for Afghan and Iraqi translators or for contractors who face an "ongoing serious threat as a consequence of such employment." But the application process, which by law should take nine months, on average takes four years -- with many applicants like Mohammad waiting far longer. Those delays have been further exacerbated by a halt to interviews because of COVID-19.

In Kabul on an unannounced visit Thursday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he is "committed" to the SIV program, but he has not committed to any reforms to make the process quicker or address the enormous backlog.

"To the extent that there is demand for that coming from Afghanistan, that's something that I'm going to work on and make sure we're committed to," he said during a press conference.

American vows to help those Afghans who worked alongside the U.S. are now ringing hollow in some ears.

"The decisions to withdraw and leave those who served and helped the U.S. government will be judged in bad words, and no one will trust in USA in the future. It's going to be a catastrophe and mass killing tragedy by the Taliban, who believe those who worked with USA are no longer Muslim," said "Abdul," another Afghan contractor who has long waited for a U.S. visa.

After being granted conditional approval, he was told in December his application was rejected because the U.S. embassy could not verify his employment. But his American employer Mark Frerichs had been kidnapped, reportedly by the Taliban or its allied forces.

"Everyone is in shock and fear about the coming empowerment of the brutal Taliban, who never give up killing of innocents and especially those who worked with the U.S. government and NATO," Abdul told ABC News Thursday. "The Taliban won't forgive anyone."

Abdul now lives in India, where he has been unable to obtain refugee status -- leaving him impoverished and unable to work. He, his wife and their four children had pinned their hopes on receiving U.S. visas after his years of working for the State Department and U.S. military as a civil engineer. But after first applying in December 2016, he fled to India in April 2018 after two gunmen came to his house, seeking to kidnap or kill him, he said. With December's rejection letter, he would have to start the application process again.

He may be safe from the Taliban in India, but his brother was attacked last month, suffering a gunshot wound in his left arm. Also a U.S. contractor, he has spent nearly six years waiting to see if he qualifies for a U.S. visa.

For Khan, the threats are so severe, that he, his wife and their 3-year-old son rarely leave the house that they are renting, after moving from his hometown out of safety concerns. His wife is four months pregnant and has some health concerns, but they have not even left to see a doctor.

"We are living like in prison," he told ABC News on Thursday. "We cannot go outside our home. When we go, we are afraid we will be targeted."

There are immediate steps the Biden administration could take to help these Afghans, according to Adam Bates, policy counsel at the International Refugee Assistance Project, a legal nonprofit based in New York that has challenged the SIV program's long delays and represented several applicants, including Abdul.

"If the Biden Administration wants to live up to its promises and humanitarian values, it needs to immediately offer concrete and actionable plans to bring these Afghans to safety," said Bates.

That could include temporary protected status, refugee status or humanitarian parole, a short-term legal status because of an "urgent humanitarian reason or significant public benefit," according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

But Biden has not lifted the cap on refugee resettlements set for this fiscal year by the Trump administration, the lowest in the program's history. It puts his administration on track to oversee the lowest number of refugee admissions ever. Advocacy groups have urged the administration to take action immediately, instead of waiting for the new fiscal year on Oct. 1, when Biden pledged to raise the cap to a historic 125,000.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday she had no update on when Biden will sign his executive order, but added that he "remains committed to raising the refugee cap and his commitment that we are treating refugees, immigrants, people who come into our country with humanity is evident in most of his policies."

Even if refugee admissions resume soon, the process will take far too long for folks like Abdul, who asked Biden to launch a "serious emergency plan for withdrawal of those who risked their life working with the U.S. government and NATO. The paperwork and format required for the SIV won't work anymore."

Khan said he hoped the process could be sped up, but urged the U.S. government, "If they are helping us, if they are saving our lives, they should start now."

In the meantime, he said, he and his wife have trouble sleeping some nights, worrying about what comes next.

When Muslims mark the end of Ramadan next month with the Eid celebration, Khan said it will be "the first Eid that people will celebrate with tears and sadness, those people who have helped the U.S. forces and now they are left behind."

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.



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(LONDON) -- Prince Harry will join royal family members Saturday in the procession behind Prince Philip's coffin, marking his first public appearance with his family in over a year, since he and his wife Duchess Meghan stepped away from their royal roles.

Harry -- who traveled from his home in California to the United Kingdom for his grandfather's funeral -- will walk alongside his brother, Prince William, and their father, Prince Charles, in the procession for Philip, who died April 9 at the age of 99.

The trio will be joined in the procession by Queen Elizabeth and Philip's three youngest children, Princess Anne, Prince Edward and Prince Andrew, as well as Peter Phillips, the son of Princess Anne; Vice Admiral Sir Timothy Laurence, Princess Anne's husband; and the Earl of Snowdon, a nephew of the queen, according to Buckingham Palace.

The procession -- which will see Philip's body moved from Windsor Castle to the funeral location, St. George's Chapel, in a customized Land Rover -- is expected to bring back memories of the funeral of William and Harry's mother, Princess Diana, in 1997.

After Diana's unexpected death following a car crash in Paris, William, then 15, and Harry, then 12, walked behind her coffin in a procession that also included their father, Prince Charles, grandfather, Prince Philip, and Diana's brother, Charles Spencer.

Philip, who was a stalwart force for the royal family after Diana's death, reportedly agreed to walk in the procession to support his grandsons, whom he wanted to protect from press scrutiny and be allowed time to grieve.

When Downing Street officials suggested that William and Harry might walk behind their mother's coffin, an anguished Philip reportedly bellowed into the phone, "F--- off. We are talking about two boys who have just lost their mother."

Philip ultimately put aside his personal feelings and told young William and Harry, "I'll walk if you walk."

William and Harry are now attending Philip's funeral together at a time of family tension. The brothers, who have reportedly spoken by phone this week, have been at odds for at least the past year as Harry and Meghan decided to step down as senior working members of the royal family.

Harry and Meghan -- who did not travel to the U.K. for Philip's funeral because she is pregnant -- spoke out in a tell-all interview with Oprah Winfrey last month that spilled tensions in the royal family into public view.

In that 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 will not be walking beside each other in Saturday's procession. Their first cousin, Peter Philips, will walk between them.

Guest list released for Prince Philip's funeral

The service for Philip will begin at 3 p.m. local time on Saturday, April 17, at St. George's Chapel at Windsor Castle.

Funeral guests will be limited to 30 people in order to comply with coronavirus pandemic and social distancing guidelines issued by the U.K. government.

In addition to Queen Elizabeth and the royal family members walking in the funeral procession, other guests attending the funeral include Prince William's wife Kate, Prince Charles's wife Camilla, Prince Edwards's wife Sophie, the queen and Philip's grandchildren, Queen Elizabeth's niece and two cousins and three of Philip's relatives on his mother's side who traveled from Germany for the wedding.

The only non-family member expected to attend the funeral is the Countess Mountbatten of Burma, close friend of Philip and the queen and Philip’s carriage driving companion.

Queen Elizabeth, who was married to Philip for 73 years, will follow the walking procession to St. George's Chapel in a car, accompanied by a lady-in-waiting.

During the procession, minute guns will be fired by the King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery and a bell will toll.

The guests will wear face masks during the service, which will begin with a national moment of silence, according to Buckingham Palace.

Members of the royal family will not be in military uniform for the funeral of Philip, a Navy veteran. Queen Elizabeth is expected to wear black for the service, according to Alistair Bruce, ABC News royalty consultant.

"Military uniform is ideal when you are going in a great procession through the streets of London and following a gun carriage, but this is not like that. We are in a time of COVID," said Bruce, who explained the family will wear morning dress instead. "The queen will be wanting to make sure that the event is very much in the style of what this current pandemic sets for the nation and the world."

During the service, a choir of just four people will sing pieces of music chosen by Philip, according to Buckingham Palace.

The choir will also sing the national anthem at the end of the service, when Philip's coffin will be interred in the royal vault.

The royal family asked the public not to gather in crowds to mourn Philip after his death, and are saying the same for his funeral. Buckingham Palace on Thursday encouraged people to stay home and follow the events of Philip's funeral on TV and radio.

Philip passed away at Windsor Castle, where he and the queen spent the majority of the lockdown during the past year. Queen Elizabeth remains in residence at the castle, according to Buckingham Palace.

The royal family has also asked the public to consider making a charitable donation instead of leaving floral tributes.

The royal website also has an online book of condolences for well-wishers to leave virtual messages.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.



JOHANNA GERON/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) -- Less than a day after President Joe Biden announced his decision to withdraw all U.S. forces from Afghanistan, Secretary of State Antony Blinken made his first visit to the country as he pushes to reignite diplomatic efforts for a deal between the Taliban and the Afghan government.

Arriving in Kabul Thursday, Blinken met President Ashraf Ghani and other senior officials amid fears the government faces an imminent offensive by the militant group that has sought to establish an Islamic emirate in Afghanistan.

Ghani and Biden spoke Wednesday just before Biden's speech, where he told the U.S. public, "It is time to end America's longest war."

But while 2,500 U.S. troops and 7,000 NATO forces will depart before Sept. 11, the war in Afghanistan will not end. The Taliban and an Afghan national delegation have been engaged in negotiations since last September, but remain at a deadlock.

"I wanted to demonstrate with my visit the ongoing commitment of the United States to the Islamic Republic and the people of Afghanistan," Blinken said during a photo op with Ghani. "The partnership is changing, but the partnership is enduring."

Responding to Biden's withdrawal, Ghani said shortly, "We respect the decision and are adjusting our priorities."

Meeting with Abdullah Abdullah, head of the Afghan negotiating team, Blinken added said it is the start of "a new chapter that we're writing together, and I was very eager to come as quickly as possible also to begin the important work we have in writing that chapter and demonstrating as well the ongoing support the United States has for Afghanistan."

While the top U.S. diplomat acknowledge it's a "time of transition, and with any transition comes uncertainty, comes concern," he said in their meetings, Afghan leaders expressed "respect for the president's decision, profound appreciation for our years of partnership, but also commitment to and optimism about the next chapter."

That next chapter, however, looks grim to many in Kabul. The Taliban said this week they won't participate in peace negotiations until all U.S. and NATO forces exit.

Blinken tried to inject some urgency into that diplomatic process last month by submitting an eight-page proposal to both sides, calling for an interim, power-sharing government, future elections, protection for women's and minorities' rights, and an Islamic council to review Afghan laws.

The proposal was meant to urge both sides to bring ideas to the table for a peace conference in Turkey -- originally scheduled for April 16, then delayed until April 24 and now uncertain after the Taliban said Tuesday it would not participate until all U.S. and NATO forces exit.

Those forces will begin departing shortly, but will miss a May 1 deadline laid out in a deal former President Donald Trump's administration signed with the militant group. It stipulated a full U.S. withdrawal, provided the Taliban met their commitments to engage in meaningful negotiations with the Afghan government, including on a permanent ceasefire and prevented terror groups from using Afghan soil to launch attacks -- steps that U.S. officials have admitted the Taliban has not met.

Blinken's proposal infuriated Afghan officials, who have long expressed frustration with the U.S. peace efforts -- starting with the Trump administration's decision to move ahead with U.S.-Taliban talks that excluded the government.

Ghani has rejected Blinken's proposed power-sharing government, saying he is the democratically elected leader of Afghanistan, not the Taliban. But that may change now that U.S. troops, who have provided training and assistance to Afghan security forces, are exiting, leaving Ghani's government to the Taliban.

Many analysts say that once U.S. forces leave, the Taliban will move to retake power by force, potentially sparking an all-out civil war.

Blinken admitted that was a "realistic" possibility Wednesday, but argued it is in "no one's interests, including the Taliban, to plunge Afghanistan back into a long war."

"Ultimately, the people of Afghanistan will be the ones to decide their future. We will do whatever we can to support efforts for a peaceful, stable, just future, but they're the ones who have to decide it," he added.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.



Austin Nooe/iStock

CIA Director William Burns told lawmakers Wednesday that the departure of American troops from Afghanistan will leave a "significant risk" of terrorism resurgence in the region -- a sobering assessment from the spy chief just hours before President Joe Biden planned to formally announce his commitment to remove U.S. forces from the war-torn country by September.

"Our ability to keep that threat in Afghanistan in check … has benefitted greatly from the presence of U.S. and coalition militaries on the ground," Burns said at the Senate Intelligence Committee’s annual Worldwide Threats hearing.

"When the time comes for the U.S. military to withdraw, the U.S. government’s ability to collect and act on threats will diminish," he continued. "That is simply a fact."

On Wednesday afternoon, Biden plans to announce his intention to pull the roughly 2,500 remaining U.S. troops from Afghanistan before the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks because "it is time to end America’s longest war."

"We went to Afghanistan because of a horrific attack that happened 20 years ago," Biden will say in remarks Wednesday afternoon, according to excerpts released by the White House. "That cannot explain why we should remain there in 2021."

Burns’ warning about the risks of removing American troops from Afghanistan will likely bolster Republican opposition to the decision. After departing the hearing room, Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., told reporters he did not agree with Biden’s decision to withdraw, saying the U.S. intelligence agencies will "lose a lot of that capability in the very near future based on the president's decision."

Beyond the proposed troop withdrawal in Afghanistan, senators on Wednedsay peppered intelligence community leaders with queries about a broad spectrum of threats facing the U.S., including the "unparalleled threat" posed by China’s geopolitical ambitions, according to Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines.

The spy chiefs also discussed how fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic will continue to threaten governments, the nuclear challenges posed by Iran and North Korea, and Russia’s escalating cyber operations.

After Haines concluded her opening statement, the committee’s chairman, Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., retorted, "that was a list of about as many awful things in 10 minutes as I may have heard in recent times."

Once an annual event, the Worldwide Threats hearings took a hiatus in 2020 after intelligence community leaders reportedly balked at depicting a national security landscape in conflict with the sentiments conveyed by then-President Donald Trump.

Their 2019 testimony, which contradicted Trump’s rosy vision of relations with Iran, attracted scrutiny on the then-president’s now-dormant Twitter page.

On Thursday, the leaders of the intelligence community -- including Burns, Haines and the directors of the FBI, National Security Agency and Defense Intelligence Agency -- will return to Capitol Hill to field questions from the House Intelligence Committee.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.



Mark Cuthbert/UK Press via Getty Images

(LONDON) -- Prince William and Prince Harry, brothers whose relationship has been strained over the past year, have reportedly spoken to each other as they prepare for the funeral of their grandfather, Prince Philip.

William, 38, and Harry, 36, are understood to have spoken by phone at some point since Harry arrived in the United Kingdom last weekend according to the U.K.'s The Telegraph.

Harry is currently staying at Frogmore Cottage, his family's home in Windsor, while he quarantines, following COVID-19 protocols after flying from California to the U.K.

William and his family, including his wife, Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, and their children, Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis, are currently staying at their Anmer Hall home in Norfolk, about two hours from Windsor.

William, Kate and Harry are among the 30 family members and close friends who will attend Philip's funeral at Windsor Castle on Saturday. The funeral for Philip, who died April 9 at 99 years old, has been modified due to the coronavirus pandemic.

"The fact that it's a scaled-down funeral is exactly what Prince Phillip would have wanted," said ABC News royal contributor Robert Jobson. "Because really it's all about family in the end, whether you're a king or a pauper."

Harry will not see his family in person until the day of the funeral, which will be the first time he has seen them in over one year, when he and his wife, Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, stepped down as senior working members of the royal family.

Harry and Meghan now live in California with their nearly 2-year-old son Archie. The couple spoke out in a tell-all interview with Oprah Winfrey last month that spilled tensions in the royal family into public view.

In that 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."

Both Harry and William are expected to walk together behind their grandfather's coffin on Saturday, in a procession led by their father, Prince Charles, the oldest of Queen Elizabeth and Philip's four children.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.



guvendemir/iStock

(WASHINGTON) -- The war in Afghanistan is not ending. U.S. forces will no longer be part of it, but that will likely make the fighting worse in the months to come, according to some analysts.

A senior U.S. administration official told reporters during a briefing Tuesday that President Joe Biden's administration will put the "full weight of our government behind diplomatic efforts to reach a peace agreement between the Taliban and the Afghan government."

Those "diplomatic efforts" are stalled at best, dead at worst.

The Taliban's spokesperson tweeted Tuesday that the group will not participate in any negotiations "until all foreign forces completely withdraw from our homeland."

At the very least, that delays U.S.-backed meetings in Istanbul, Turkey, planned to start on April 24. Turkey's Foreign Ministry announced hours earlier on Tuesday that both the Afghan government of President Ashraf Ghani and the Taliban had agreed to meet for 10 days "to accelerate and complement the ongoing intra-Afghan negotiations in Doha on the achievement of a just and durable political settlement."

The two sides have been meeting in Qatar's capital since September, but so far they've made little progress beyond setting an agenda.

But the exit of all U.S. forces before September 11 will fundamentally shift the power dynamics at the negotiating table.

"Making a public announcement is a gamble because the Taliban now knows Washington's plans. It can just wait the U.S. out and plan to focus its full attention on the fight once the last soldier has departed," said Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the the Wilson Center's Asian program.

While the presence of U.S. forces have sustained their Afghan counterparts, especially through American air power, the Biden administration said they won't be used to ensure an outcome in negotiations.

"What we will not do is use our troops as bargaining chips in that process," the senior administration official said Tuesday.

Instead, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken tried to inject some urgency into negotiations last month by submitting an eight-page proposal to both sides that called for an interim, power-sharing government, future elections, protection for women's and minorities' rights, and an Islamic judicial council to review Afghan laws.

The Istanbul conference was where both sides were going to come negotiate that proposal, armed with their own ideas. April 24 was already a delay from the planned start this Friday, pushed back after the Taliban said that they wouldn't participate in meetings this week.

That delay was another example of the militant group stalling as it seeks a full withdrawal of all U.S. and NATO troops, according to Afghan officials, and most likely a return to power -- through force.

"The Taliban intends to stall the negotiations until U.S. and coalition forces withdraw so that it can seek a decisive military victory over the Afghan government," the Pentagon's latest inspector general report said in February, citing the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency.

On Monday, U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad wrapped up four days of meetings in Kabul with Afghan officials and civil society leaders, helping to ensure the Afghan side is prepared for the Istanbul meetings. That likely included some arm-twisting, as President Ghani has rejected Blinken's plan for an interim government, saying he is Afghanistan's democratically elected leader, not the Taliban.

Ghani spoke to Blinken again Tuesday, but his spokesperson Waheed Omer said they're declining to comment on the details of Biden's withdrawal until Biden calls Ghani, his counterpart as head of government. That call is expected "in the near future," according to Omer.

But even if the U.S. raises pressure on Ghani and other Afghan officials to accept a power-sharing government ahead of elections, it will take both sides to reach a deal -- and the Afghan government says they are prepared to fight.

"We will respect any decision taken by the US gov with regards to their troops. ANSDF [Afghan National Security and Defense Forces] has been defending our people with high moral past 2 years... They are fully capable of doing that in the future," Omer tweeted.

There are concerns, however, that they won't win that fight. In the absence of U.S. forces and a finalized peace deal, there are fears the country will spiral out into an all-out civil war, as Afghan National Security Adviser Hamdullah Mohib warned recently.

It's a view shared by the Afghanistan Study Group, a bipartisan panel of experts convened by the U.S. Institute for Peace that delivered a report last month.

"A precipitous U.S. withdrawal is likely to exacerbate the conflict, provoking a wider civil war," it found.

If that happens, the U.S. will not come to their aid, it seems. The senior administration official said Tuesday, "We will do all we can, working with the international community, to protect those gains -- but not with the continuation of a military force on the ground."

While the U.S. will continue "diplomatic, humanitarian and economic measures," the official said, those are not likely to deter a Taliban offensive to seize power -- with Afghan forces sure to fight back.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.



MivPiv/iStock

(WASHINGTON) -- President Joe Biden has decided to withdraw all U.S. troops from Afghanistan by Sept. 11, the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks that prompted America's longest war, officials said Tuesday.

There are roughly 2,500 U.S. troops in Afghanistan now. American troop levels reached a high of 100,000 troops in August 2010 and stayed at that level for much of the next year.

Biden will announce the withdrawal on Wednesday, the White House said. A senior administration official and a U.S. defense official confirmed the president's decision, which was first reported by The Washington Post.

The senior administration official told reporters on a conference call that the drawdown would begin before the end of this month and could finish before Sept. 11, which the official called "the outside date by which it will be completed."

The official said that the number of troops would be reduced to zero and that the withdrawal would not be based on conditions on the ground.

"This is not conditions-based," the official said. "The president has judged that a conditions-based approach, which has been the approach of the past two decades, is a recipe for staying in Afghanistan forever."

While service members could be fully withdrawn "potentially a meaningful amount of time before" Sept. 11, "how long before September depends on, you know, conditions as the drawdown unfolds," the official said.

The official said the United States would focus on the ongoing peace process with the Taliban and the Afghan government, and that U.S. troops would not become "bargaining chips in that process."

"We judge the threat against the homeland now emanating from Afghanistan to be at a level that we can address it without a persistent military footprint in the country and without remaining at war with the Taliban," the official said.

Republican members of Congress blasted the decision, with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell calling the move "a grave mistake" and a "retreat and abdication of American leadership."

The top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas, said not leaving a residual force behind -- an idea Biden had supported as a presidential candidate -- would "put Afghans at risk" and "endanger the lives of U.S. citizens at home and abroad."

"Arbitrary deadlines would likely put our troops in danger, jeopardize all the progress we’ve made, and lead to civil war in Afghanistan -- and create a breeding ground for international terrorists," the most senior Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sen. Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, said. "We’re talking about protecting American lives here."

Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has also said that she strongly opposes this decision.

"Although this decision was made in coordination w/our allies, the U.S. has sacrificed too much to bring stability to Afghanistan to leave w/o verifiable assurances of a secure future," she wrote in a tweet.

"It undermines our commitment to the Afghan people, particularly Afghan women. I urge the Biden admin to make every effort between now and September to safeguard the progress made and support our partners in the formation of an inclusive, transitional government," she continued.

The Biden administration official said that "we have told the Taliban in no uncertain terms that any attacks on U.S. troops as we undergo a safe and orderly withdrawal will be met with a forceful response."

But also on Tuesday, the U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence released an assessment that said "prospects for a peace deal will remain low during the next year."

"The Taliban is likely to make gains on the battlefield, and the Afghan Government will struggle to hold the Taliban at bay if the coalition withdraws support," the assessment read.

Mick Mulroy, a former deputy assistant secretary of defense for the Middle East, said moving forces elsewhere could put at risk gains made against the Taliban, which protected the group behind the Sept. 11 attacks, al-Qaida.

"While it is understandable to want all our forces to come home, it should not be at the expense of losing what we have gained to do so," Mulroy, an ABC News contributor, said. "We should keep enough of a force there in order to conduct counterterrorism operations and enable our partners to continue their fight against the very group we went there to defeat."

The administration official told reporters that U.S. intelligence agencies have determined that al-Qaida does "not currently possess an external-plotting capability that can threaten the homeland," the official said. Repositioning troops would help the U.S. "focus" on "a dispersed and distributed terrorist threat," according to the official.

"This is not 2001," the official said. "It is 2021 -- and in 2021, the terrorist threat that we face is real and it emanates from a number of countries -- indeed a number of continents -- from Yemen, from Syria, from Somalia, from other parts of Africa."

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday that Biden "has to make decisions through the prism of what's in the interests of the national security of the United States."

"That includes keeping our focus on where the threats are emerging around the world, whether those are emerging threats from al-Qaida in parts of North Africa, or other threats or opportunities we see in other regions," Psaki said. "And hence, those are big motivating factors in his decision."

Last month, Biden told ABC News' George Stephanopoulos it would be "tough" for the U.S. to meet a May 1 deadline to withdraw troops from Afghanistan.

The May 1 deadline was part of an agreement the Trump administration signed with the Taliban, which agreed to negotiate with the Afghan government, including on a permanent cease-fire, and prevent Afghanistan from becoming a safe haven for terror groups like al-Qaida.

In February, a report by the Department of Defense's inspector general found that "it was unclear whether the Taliban was in compliance with the agreement, as members of al-Qaeda were integrated into the Taliban's leadership and command structure."

With a date now set, the Afghan government will now face heightened pressure to agree to an interim government with the Taliban -- a U.S. proposal its leaders have so far rejected -- before Afghan authorities lose American military support.

While the decision likely strengthens the Taliban's hand in negotiations, the militant group will remain under pressure to reach a deal with the government. Negotiations between the two sides have long stalled, although they are expected to meet on April 24 in Istanbul in a final push for an agreement.

More than 2,400 U.S. troops have died and another 20,000 have been wounded since October 2001. There have been no U.S. combat deaths since Feb. 8, before the U.S.-Taliban peace agreement was signed. While the Taliban had agreed to not attack U.S. troops, it did warn that if they didn't leave by May 1 they would resume. In the meantime, Afghans have suffered increased violence.

More than 43,000 Afghan civilians have been killed, according to the Watson Institute at Brown University.

ABC News' Conor Finnegan, Luis Martinez and Cindy Smith contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.



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