KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — UNITED NATIONS — The head of the U.N. food agency in Afghanistan says a humanitarian crisis is unfolding with 14 million people facing severe hunger following the Taliban takeover of the country.

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Mary Ellen McGroarty, the World Food Program’s country director, said in a video briefing to U.N. correspondents from Kabul on Wednesday that the conflict in Afghanistan, the nation’s second severe drought in three years, and the social and economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic have pushed an already dire situation into a “catastrophe.”

McGroarty said over 40% of crops have been lost and livestock devastated by the drought, hundreds of thousands of people were displaced as the Taliban advanced, and winter is fast approaching. “Really the race is on to get food where it’s most needed,” she said.

WFP reached 4 million people in May and plans to scale up to reach 9 million “over the next couple of months, but there are many, many challenges,” she said.

McGroarty called for a halt to the conflict and urged donors to provide the $200 million needed to get food into the country so it can get to communities before winter sets in and roads are blocked.

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MORE ON THE CRISIS IN AFGHANISTAN:

UNITED NATIONS — The United Nations says it’s sending about a third of its 300 international staff in Afghanistan to Kazakhstan to work remotely on a temporary basis in light of “the volatile situation in the country.”

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric announced on Wednesday that about 100 U.N. personnel were traveling from Kabul to Almaty, Kazakhstan’s largest city, to work in a temporary satellite office.

He said the majority of the U.N.’s humanitarian staff “remain in Afghanistan, providing vital assistance to millions most in need.”

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told the U.N. Security Council on Monday following the Taliban takeover of the country that the U.N. is committed to staying in Afghanistan and helping millions of people, but he also said the 193-member world organization will adapt to the security situation.

“This is a temporary measure intended to enable the U.N. to keep delivering assistance to the people of Afghanistan with the minimum of disruption while at the same time reducing risk to U.N. personnel,” Dujarric said. “Personnel will return to Afghanistan as conditions permit.”

In addition to the international staff, the U.N. and its agencies have about 3,000 Afghan employees.

Dujarric said “a significant amount of work is being undertaken, as we speak, specifically to safeguard national staff.”

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WASHINGTON — U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin says the U.S. military doesn’t have the capacity at this point to extend security forces beyond the perimeter of the Kabul airport in order to get more civilians safely evacuated out of Afghanistan.

Afghans and aid organizations have said that citizens are having a hard time getting past the Taliban and into the airport, in a mass exodus triggered by the insurgents’ rapid takeover of the country and its capital on Sunday.

Austin told reporters at a Pentagon press conference on Wednesday that the U.S. is working to get as many people through the evacuation process and out of the country as quickly as possible, but “we’re not close to where we want to be.”

The Pentagon says that about 5,000 civilians have been taken out of Afghanistan so far, but officials have said they want to get to a goal of getting a maximum of 5,000 to 9,000 people out a day.

Austin said that securing the airport is the paramount mission right now and he doesn’t want to do anything to detract from that. He said the U.S. military doesn’t have the capability to go out and collect large numbers of citizens and get them to the airport.

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Afghan President Ashraf Ghani defended his decision to flee Kabul in the face of the Taliban advance, describing it as the only way to prevent bloodshed. He also denied claims by his country’s ambassador to Tajikistan that he had stolen millions of dollars from state funds.

Ghani posted a video on his Facebok page late on Wednesday, confirming that he was in the United Arab Emirates. He thanked Afghan security forces in his message, but also said that the “failure of the peace process” led to the Taliban snatching power.

He also indirectly tried to quash an accusation by Afghanistan’s ambassador to Tajikistan that he had stolen $169 million from state funds.

He claimed that he was “forced to leave Afghanistan with one set of traditional clothes, a vest and the sandals I was wearing.”

“Accusations were charged in these days that money was transferred, these accusations are fully baseless.” he said.

Ghani left Afghanistan on Sunday just as the Taliban approached Kabul.

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MOSCOW — Afghanistan’s ambassador to Tajikistan has accused Afghan President Ashraf Ghani of stealing $169 million from state funds and has called on international police to arrest him.

Ghani fled Afghanistan on Sunday, just as the Taliban approached Kabul, and his whereabouts remained unknown until Wednesday, when the United Arab Emirates said it has accepted him and his family on account of “humanitarian considerations.”

Ambassador Mohammad Zahir Aghbar told a news conference on Wednesday that Ghani “stole $169 million from the state coffers” and called his flight “a betrayal of the state and the nation.”

The ambassador did not elaborate or explain his claim further.

Aghbar also promised to file a request to the Interpol to arrest Ghani. Shahriyor Nazriev, director of the Interpol’s National Central Bureau in Tajikistan, told Russia’s state news agency RIA Novosti that they haven’t received such a request yet.

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