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Rice and McMaster. Photos: Marla Aufmuth for Watermark Conference for Women; Mark Wilson via Getty Images

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and former national security adviser H.R. McMaster are making a joint appeal to top U.S. and United Nations officials to extract orphans from Afghanistan before they're taken by the Taliban, calling it "not just a humanitarian issue" but a "critical issue of national security."

Driving the news: They make their case in a letter, obtained by Axios, that was sent late Tuesday to first lady Jill Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, the U.S. secretaries of State and Defense, congressional leaders in both parties, the executive director of UNICEF and UN Secretary-General António Guterres.

  • Rice and McMaster highlight one orphanage with 200 children whom they say are particularly vulnerable because they're from persecuted ethnic and religious groups. Axios is withholding the name of the orphanage, at the request of a source who shared the letter, out of concern for the children's safety.
  • But they represent only a tiny fraction of children who've lost both parents over two decades of war, and it's not yet clear how many Afghan orphans have been evacuated in the final days of the U.S. withdrawal and how many are left behind.

Details: "We are extremely concerned that a lack of action on this matter could result in a new generation of individuals committed to waging war against the United States," Rice and McMaster write.

  • "We know young boys are recruited, trained, and abused by the Taliban, and that young girls are forced to become wives to soldiers. Historically, the Taliban have used minors as suicide bombers who have inflicted violence against the Afghan people."
  • "Many families in the United States, Canada, and Western Europe are eager to adopt these children and are currently being vetted by an expedited process."
  • "Private citizens of the United States are willing to fund the flights. These children do not have to face their current fate. With your help, they can be removed and safely placed with loving families who will give them an opportunity to lead a full life, free of violence, abuse, and oppression."

What they're saying: McMaster, reached by phone Tuesday night, told Axios he would have preferred for the letter to remain private but that he signed it to try to save children by highlighting "the Taliban's record of child abuse on an industrial scale.

  • "At this stage it's vitally important that the private sector work with our government and other governments to mitigate the human catastrophe in Afghanistan," he said.

Go deeper

Oct 13, 2021 - Axios Des Moines

Majority of Iowa children under age 6 have lead in their blood

Expand chart
Reproduced from JAMA Pediatrics; Map: Axios Visuals

An estimated 76% of Iowa children under 6 years old had lead detected in their blood, according to a newly released study conducted between 2018 and 2020.

  • It's among the highest proportion in the nation, behind Nebraska (83%), Missouri (82%) and Michigan (78%). The national rate was about 51%.

Why it matters: There's no blood lead level that has been identified as safe in children, according to the CDC. Even low-level exposures can negatively affect IQ, behavior and academic achievement.

Oct 13, 2021 - World

Afghan interpreter who helped rescue Biden in 2008 safely leaves Afghanistan

President Biden and First Lady Jill Biden at the White House residence. Photo: Drew Angerer via Getty Images

An Afghan interpreter who helped rescue President Biden in Afghanistan in 2008 when he was a senator has safely left the country with his wife and five children, the State Department confirmed to Axios on Tuesday.

Why it matters: Aman Khalili, who was instrumental to the mission that rescued Biden's helicopter when it was caught in a snowstorm according to U.S. veterans, was forced into hiding after the Taliban took over Kabul.

Justice Department asks Supreme Court to block Texas abortion ban

Abortion rights activists rally at the Texas State Capitol on Sept. 11, 2021, in Austin, Texas. Photo: Jordan Vonderhaar/Getty Images

The Justice Department on Monday asked the Supreme Court to temporarily block Texas' near-total ban on abortions while federal courts consider its constitutionality.

The big picture: The court last month allowed the ban to take effect, rejecting an emergency application by abortion-rights groups. The law bars the procedure after cardiac activity is detected, as early as six weeks into pregnancy.