September 1 Afghanistan-Taliban news

By Joshua Berlinger, Adam Renton, Lauren Said-Moorhouse and Aditi Sangal, CNN

Updated 11:53 PM ET, Wed September 1, 2021
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6:21 p.m. ET, September 1, 2021

Two dozen Sacramento-area students believed to be stuck in Afghanistan

From CNN's Cheri Mossburg

More than two dozen students who attend San Juan Unified School District near Sacramento remain in Afghanistan days after the last military planes left the country, ending America’s longest war.

The 27 students, from 19 different families, are of all age levels, from elementary school to high school and were in Afghanistan for personal reasons, most visiting relatives over the summer break, district spokesperson Raj Rai tells CNN.

“San Juan Unified stands with our Afghan community and all those whose loved ones are currently in Afghanistan. We sincerely hope for their speedy and safe return back to the US and back to our school communities,” said Rai.

The district is working closely with state officials to provide them information as it is received from the families and has been contacted by multiple congressional offices to coordinate information and offer help.

“A significant portion of our San Juan Unified community, including students, families and staff members, have family ties and connections to Afghanistan. I want to let those that are personally being affected by these events know that we are here to support them in any way that we can,” Superintendent Kent Kern said in a letter to the community.

San Juan Unified School District serves about 40,000 preschool through high school students.

3:51 p.m. ET, September 1, 2021

Top Senate Republican says "there isn't going to be an impeachment" of Biden over Afghanistan withdrawal

From CNN's Alex Rogers and Ali Zaslav

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell listens to a question during a news conference following a policy luncheon at the Capitol Building on August 3, in Washington. 
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell listens to a question during a news conference following a policy luncheon at the Capitol Building on August 3, in Washington.  (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said Wednesday "there isn't going to be an impeachment" of President Joe Biden over the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan, noting that Democrats control the House and Senate.

"I think the way these behaviors get adjusted in this country is at the ballot box," said McConnell at an event in Pikeville, Kentucky. "The President is not going to be removed from office with a Democratic House and a narrowly Democratic Senate. That's not going to happen."

McConnell's remarks came nearly a week after a suicide bombing attack outside Kabul's airport killed 13 US service members and over 170 civilians. The organization that claimed responsibility for the deadly explosion is known as Islamic State Khorasan or ISIS-K.

Some Republicans, including Tennessee Sen. Marsha Blackburn and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, have since said that the President should resign or face impeachment.

On Tuesday, McConnell reiterated his strong criticism of the Biden administration’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, arguing it has created a “humanitarian disaster” and “emboldened” terrorists.

“This was a disgraceful and disastrous departure that will allow the Taliban and Al Qaeda to celebrate the 20th anniversary of 9/11 by having complete control of Afghanistan,” McConnell said, reading from a prepared statement, at a local event in Ashland, Kentucky. He added: “We are less safe as a result of this self-inflicted wound.”

CNN's Ted Barrett contributed reporting to this post.

3:47 p.m. ET, September 1, 2021

More than 23,000 at-risk Afghans have arrived in the US as of Aug. 31, State Department says

From CNN's Michael Conte and Jennifer Hansler

The State Department said that of the 124,000 evacuees from Afghanistan, 31,107 have arrived to the US from Aug. 17 through Aug. 31 and that 23,876 are at-risk Afghans, including Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) applicants and other visa holders.

“The vast majority of individuals who were evacuated as of August 31 fall into the category of Afghans at risk. And many of them will be SIV’s,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price said.

Price said that of the more than 31,000 who have arrived to the US, 4,446 are US citizens and 2,785 are lawful permanent residents.

Some context: CNN reported earlier that the majority of Afghans who worked for the United States during its two-decade military campaign were likely left behind in the chaotic and rushed evacuation from Afghanistan, a senior State Department official said Wednesday.


1:55 p.m. ET, September 1, 2021

South Africa says it cannot host Afghan refugees

From CNN’s David McKenzie

South Africa is unable to receive Afghan refugees who fled the Taliban to neighboring Pakistan due to the “substantial” number of refugees already being hosted in the country, according to a statement from the South African Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO). 

“The South African Government notes the overtures made to the country to consider receiving a number of Afghanistan refugees who have sought refuge in Pakistan. The request is that they be accommodated in South Africa en-route to their final destinations,” a DIRCO spokesperson said Wednesday. 

“The South African Government is unfortunately not in a position to accommodate such a request. South Africa is already home to a substantial number of refugees and is seized with addressing their needs,” the spokesperson added. 

In a statement, the Department of International Relations and Cooperation further noted that the well-being of Afghan refugees would be “best served by remaining in the first country arrival – Pakistan – pending their final destinations.”

1:51 p.m. ET, September 1, 2021

Top US general says he feels "pain and anger" over Afghanistan

From CNN's Michael Conte

In a passionate answer to CNN’s Barbara Starr, Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he has “pain and anger” over seeing what has happened in Afghanistan “over the last 20 years and over the last 20 days.”

“I have all the same emotions, and I’m sure the secretary does, and anyone who served. And I commanded troops. And I wasn’t born a four-star general. I have walked the patrols and been blown up and shot at and RPG’d and everything else. My pain and anger comes from the same as those grieving families, the same as those soldiers that are on the ground," he said.

Milley also said he visited the wounded at Walter Reed hospital last night, calling it "tough stuff."

"Last night I visited the wounded up in Walter Reed. This is tough stuff. War is hard. It’s vicious, it’s brutal, it’s unforgiving. And yes, we all have pain and anger. And when we see what has unfolded over the last 20 years and over the last 20 days, that creates pain and anger. And mine comes from 242 of my soldiers killed in action over 20 years in Iraq and Afghanistan. So yeah, I have that. But I’m a professional soldier. I’m going to contain my pain and anger, and continue to execute my mission,” he said.

1:39 p.m. ET, September 1, 2021

Refugee Afghan allies "have more than earned their places" in the US, defense secretary says

From CNN's Adrienne Vogt

Alex Wong/Getty Images
Alex Wong/Getty Images

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said that he is "proud" of how military members have welcomed Afghan refugees to the United States.

"Some of those brave Afghans will be coming to make new lives with their families in America. After careful screening by our security partners, and we are sheltering some of these evacuees at some of the military facilities here at home, and I'm proud of the way our military communities have welcomed them," Austin said.  

"Some of these courageous Afghans fought alongside us, and they and their families have more than earned their places in the land of the free and the home of the brave. In welcoming these Afghans, it's not just about what they've done, it's about who we are."  

Refugees are currently housed at numerous military bases, including Fort Lee in Virginia, Fort McCoy in Wisconsin, Fort Bliss in Texas and Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey.

Austin said he will be traveling next week to meet with and thank partners who helped provide passage and shelter to Afghans as well.

1:34 p.m. ET, September 1, 2021

UK deploying teams to Pakistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan to process arrivals from Afghanistan

From CNN's Amy Cassidy 

The UK has sent a “rapid deployment team” to Pakistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan to process arrivals from Afghanistan, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab announced Wednesday.

A “rapid deployment team” of 15 people will arrive “in the “next 36 hours,” he told lawmakers, later tweeting that they will “reinforce our Embassy staff to process arrivals from Afghanistan, including British Nationals and the Afghans who supported us.” 

“We’re working with the international community to secure safe passage for those who wish to leave,” he added in a tweet. 

It comes as the European Union says it is considering alternative options to facilitate further evacuations from Afghanistan, including potential “land corridors” with neighboring countries. 

1:33 p.m. ET, September 1, 2021

"The majority" of Afghan visa applicants were left behind, State Department official says

From CNN's Jennifer Hansler

"The majority" of Afghans who worked for the United States during its two decade military campaign were likely left behind in the chaotic and rushed evacuation from Afghanistan, a senior State Department official said Wednesday.

The official said the they did not have a specific count of the Afghan Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) applicants and family members who did not make it onto evacuation flights, "but I would say it's the majority of them, just based on anecdotal information about the populations we were able to support."

This official described an evacuation effort confronted by numerous challenges, including Taliban checkpoints with “variable” and “unpredictable” criteria for allowing people to pass.

“Despite our best efforts to come up with an approach on a day-to-day, sometimes hour-by hour-basis that would allow groups to pass, it was unpredictable as to whether they would actually be able to get through,” the official told reporters Wednesday.

They said the shifting Taliban criteria for the checkpoints as one of a number of challenges that faced the massive US and international evacuation effort – one that left US officials who worked on the ground “haunted by the choices we had to make and by the people we were not able to help depart in this first phase of the operation.”

“It wasn't pretty. It was very challenging,” the senior official said, “and it involved some, some really painful trade-offs and choices for everyone involved.”

The official spoke of the difficult physical access points to the airport, the stream of threats from ISIS-K, viral communications which led to huge swaths of Afghans having identification meant for a priority group, and mischaracterization by outside groups of the people they were trying to get into the airport.

The official told reporters that in early stages of the evacuation the US tried to prioritize access for late-stage SIV applicants and other categories, but said the effort was unsuccessful because “every credential we tried to provide electronically was immediately disseminated to the widest possible pool.” 

“Every day was a constant improvisational effort to figure out what was going to work that day,” they said. “As we got deeper into the process, we unfortunately had to start prioritizing the people to whom we had a legal obligation first and foremost, and that was our fellow American citizens.”

The official said that “one of the most searing experiences for many of my colleagues, all of whom received direct outreach from a wide range of advocates on behalf of individual Afghans, on behalf of groups of Afghans, was the level of criticism to which they were subjected by these individual advocacy groups, who, you know were essentially trying to get us to prioritize Afghan nationals over American citizens. And we have a fundamental obligation under the law, and I would say also moral obligation, to try to take care of our fellow citizens.”

The senior State Department official said the “level of pragmatism” displayed by the Taliban and described by other US officials “was focused on ensuring that we would be able to depart on the schedule that our President had set and that we would not be lingering or providing reasons why we needed to stay longer than August 31.”

They said the idea that the US handed the Taliban “a holistic list” of Special Immigrant Visa applicants and other vulnerable Afghans seeking to leave the country “is incorrect,” but that they did “on a couple of occasions” provide bus manifests to try to facilitate those vehicles’ passage through Taliban checkpoints.

“This was to try to provide a degree of confidence that the Afghans who were on those buses were in fact, Afghans who were locally employed staff of our diplomatic mission or other allied diplomatic missions, that they were foreign passport holders, so in some cases dual nationals, in other cases, native born citizens of those particular countries, and in some other cases that they were individuals for whom we had a particular interest and wanted to facilitate the departure of,” they explained.

“When it worked well, and it did for a couple of days, for periods, it enabled us to move through those checkpoints, thousands of people that we and NATO allies and partners were seeking to have depart,” they said.

However, the official told reporters there were also days where it did not work well.

“We had a couple of instances where buses were a mix of foreign nationals and Afghan local employees of other missions, and the Taliban would only let pass the foreign nationals, and they turned away or they held at that location the Afghan citizens who were on that particular movement,” they said. “In some of those cases, we were able to successfully persuade them to then, in subsequent days, to allow that group to go forward.”


1:41 p.m. ET, September 1, 2021

US military has many strategic lessons to learn from Afghanistan, top general says

Alex Wong/Getty Images
Alex Wong/Getty Images

Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the military will learn from the last 20 years in Afghanistan, saying there are "many operational and strategic efforts to be learned."

He said he military plans to approach this analysis with "humility, transparency and candor."

"We will learn from this experience as a military and how we got to this moment in Afghanistan will be analyzed and studied for years to come," Milley said.

Milley said counterterrorism efforts in Afghanistan and the Middle East has protected the American people and the "men, women and children who were just evacuated will ultimately be the legacy to prove the value of our sacrifice."

Moving forward, he said the military is committed to continuing to protect Americans.

"For the past 20 years, there has not been a major attack on a homeland and it's now our mission to ensure that we continue our intelligence efforts, continue our counterterrorism efforts and continue our military efforts to protect the American people for the next 20 years – and we in the American military are committed to do just that," Milley said.