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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

Zalmay Khalilzad steps down as Afghanistan envoy

Photo: Susan Walsh-Pool/Getty Images

Zalmay Khalilzad stepped down as special envoy for Afghanistan peace talks on Monday, two months after the Taliban seized control of Kabul in a disastrous conclusion to the 20-year war in Afghanistan.

Why it matters: Khalilzad was the architect of the Trump administration's 2019 peace deal with the Taliban, which the head of U.S. Central Command called "the primary accelerant to lowering morale and general efficiency of the Afghan military."

1 hour ago - Health

India crosses 1 billion COVID vaccinations milestone

A health worker inoculates a COVID-19 vaccine dose to a man wearing face mask of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Beawar, India, in September. Photo: Sumit Saraswat/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced Thursday that the country's health workers have now administered more than 1 billion COVID-19 vaccines doses.

Of note: While this is a significant milestone for the country of 1.4 billion, which has been devastated by the coronavirus, only about 30% of the eligible population has been fully vaccinated against the virus, per AP. Roughly 75% has received at least one dose.

Trump says he plans to launch new social media network in 2022

Photo: Chris Delmas/AFP via Getty Images

Former President Trump on Wednesday announced plans to launch a social media network called "Truth Social," and that it would go public via a SPAC.

Why it matters: Most ex-presidents are focused on their legacies, by creating presidential libraries or engaging in philanthropic endeavors. Trump, however, remains consumed by social media.