At least 13 US service members killed in Kabul airport attack

By Rob Picheta, Meg Wagner, Melissa Mahtani, Melissa Macaya, Veronica Rocha and Fernando Alfonso III, CNN

Updated 12:27 AM ET, Fri August 27, 2021
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7:18 a.m. ET, August 26, 2021

Intelligence of ISIS-K attack now "much firmer," says UK armed forces minister

From CNN's Amy Cassidy 

Paratroopers assigned to the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, conduct security as they continue to facilitate evacuations at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, on August 25.
Paratroopers assigned to the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, conduct security as they continue to facilitate evacuations at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, on August 25. Department of Defense/AP

Intelligence of an ISIS-K terror attack at Kabul airport is now “much firmer,” British Armed Forces Minister James Heappey said Thursday morning. 

“There is now very, very credible reporting of an imminent attack, and hence why the Foreign Office advice was changed last night, that people should not come to Kabul Airport, they should move to a safe place and await further instructions,” he told BBC Radio.

"I can only say that the threat is severe. We will do our best to protect those who are there. There is every chance that as further reporting comes in, we may be able to change the advice and process people anew, but there is no guarantee of that.

“The window of opportunity to evacuate people is closing,” Heappey said, as the August 31 deadline to withdraw looms closer. 

Just under 2,000 interpreters and other UK government staff were evacuated in the last 24 hours under the UK government’s Afghanistan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP) over eight Royal Air Force flights he said, with another 11 flights scheduled for Thursday. 

This brings the total number of British evacuations in the last week to 12,279, he added.

8:05 a.m. ET, August 26, 2021

Belgium ends evacuation efforts amid "imminent suicide bomb attack" threat

From CNN’s Sebastien Kraft and Amy Cassidy

People disembark from a chartered Air Belgium plane carrying evacuees from Afghanistan, at a military airport in Melsbroek, Belgium, on Monday, August 23.
People disembark from a chartered Air Belgium plane carrying evacuees from Afghanistan, at a military airport in Melsbroek, Belgium, on Monday, August 23. Benoit Doppagne/BELGA MAG/AFP/Getty Images

Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said on Thursday that a credible suicide bomb threat was the instigator behind his decision to end Belgium’s Red Kite evacuation operations from Kabul Airport on Wednesday. 

“The situation deteriorated significantly, we received information from American sources and from other countries that there was an imminent suicide bomb attack in the area of the airport,” De Croo said during a news conference.

“This information prompted us to engage in a great deal of contact with our allies and ultimately cease all flights from Kabul to Islamabad,” he added. 

The last Belgian evacuees who remained on the tarmac at Kabul airport were evacuated last night, landing at 9:30 p.m. Islamabad time.

The Belgian teams also evacuated several foreign nationals. This brings the Belgian evacuation total to 23 flights and 1,400 passengers.

The Netherlands meanwhile expects its last evacuation flight out of Afghanistan will leave on Thursday, the government said in a letter to parliament.

"The Netherlands has been informed by the United States that it has to depart today and will most likely perform the last flights later today," it said.

"This is a painful moment because it means that despite all the great efforts of the past period, people who are eligible for evacuation to the Netherlands will be left behind."

The Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs has also now advised against travel to Kabul airport, following suit with the US and UK due to an ongoing terror threat from ISIS-K. 

And Denmark said its evacuation ended following the departure of the Danish Hercules aircraft's final flight on Wednesday evening. 

The Danish Ministry of Defense told CNN Thursday that the flight to Islamabad took off close to 6 p.m. Kabul time on Wednesday evening. 

7:07 a.m. ET, August 26, 2021

French and Tajik Presidents reaffirm commitment to regional security near Afghanistan 

From CNN’s Sébastien Kraft

French President Emmanuel Macron, right, is pictured with President of Tajikistan, Emomali Rahmon, at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, in November 2019.
French President Emmanuel Macron, right, is pictured with President of Tajikistan, Emomali Rahmon, at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, in November 2019. Antoine Gyori/Corbis/Getty Images

French President Emmanuel Macron held a phone call with Emomali Rahmon, the President of Tajikistan, on Wednesday, in which the leaders discussed their common approach with regards to the Afghan crisis, addressing the impending influx of refugees and the consequences of the Taliban’s rise to power.

“[Macron] celebrated the ongoing dialogue between France and Tajikistan, and he expressed his desire to develop new collaborations, notably on the border front,” the Elysée Palace said in a statement Thursday. 

Tajikistan, which shares a border with Afghanistan to the latter’s northeast, is approaching the 30-year anniversary of its independence on September 9. The two presidents also agreed to continue their exchanges moving forward in order to ensure regional “stability and security,” according to the Elysée.

Per Macron’s invitation via Wednesday’s call, Rahmon will visit the Elysée on October 13.

 

7:08 a.m. ET, August 26, 2021

Turkey might stay on to provide technical support at Kabul airport, Turkish state media reports

A Turkish soldier distributes water to Turkish nationals waiting to evacuate the airport in Kabul on August 18.
A Turkish soldier distributes water to Turkish nationals waiting to evacuate the airport in Kabul on August 18. Handout/Turkish Defense Ministry/AP

According to a top Turkish official, Turkey could stay on and help provide technical support to the Taliban in operating Hamid Karzai International Airport after its troops withdraw, Turkish state-run media Anadolu reported Thursday.

Turkish troops already began withdrawing Wednesday. They had been operating in Afghanistan under UN, NATO and bilateral agreements since 2002 to provide the "peace, welfare and stability of the Afghan people," according to a statement from Turkey's National Defense Ministry Wednesday.

"After our troops withdraw, we could continue this operational task at the airport there. If it is agreed in the terms and an agreement is reached in this direction, we will continue to provide this service there," Turkish presidential spokesperson Ibrahim Kalin said, according to Anadolu. But talks between Turkey and the Taliban are ongoing and Kalin questions whether the Taliban can establish "the security structure" at the airport.
6:36 a.m. ET, August 26, 2021

Taliban say talks are ongoing with resistance group in Panjshir

From CNN's Tim Lister

Afghan resistance movement forces take part in military training in Panjshir province, Afghanistan, on August 24.
Afghan resistance movement forces take part in military training in Panjshir province, Afghanistan, on August 24. Sahel Arman/AFP/Getty Images

Taliban officials have said talks are ongoing with representatives from the northern Panjshir Valley, the last area of Afghanistan yet to fall to the militant group.

Sporadic fighting between the Taliban and the Panjshir-based National Resistance Front, led by Ahmad Masoud, has continued for a week. Taliban officials told CNN both sides had agreed to stop offensive actions. 

Representatives from both sides are negotiating in Charika, the capital of the neighboring Parwan province.

The Taliban officials said one sticking point was the insistence of the National Resistance Front that a national holiday in Afghanistan honoring Masoud's father – Ahmad Shah Masoud – continue to be recognized.

Some background: Masoud led resistance against the Taliban when they were in power between 1996 and 2001. Sept. 9 has been a national holiday in his honor, marking the day he was killed in a suicide bombing in 2001.

The Panjshir Valley, some 150 kilometers (about 93 miles) north of Kabul, is the epicenter of Afghan guerrilla warfare. It has long withstood foreign occupation, and never fell to the Taliban during the militant group's rule between 1996 and 2001.

8:06 a.m. ET, August 26, 2021

With 36 hours left to evacuate and gates now closed, an estimated 150 Americans need to get to Kabul airport – source

From CNN’s Nick Paton Walsh in Doha

People being evacuated from Afghanistan queue to board an U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III aircraft at Hamid Karzai International Airport on August 24.
People being evacuated from Afghanistan queue to board an U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III aircraft at Hamid Karzai International Airport on August 24. Handout/Master Sgt. Donald R. Allen/U.S. Air Force/AP

There are an estimated 150 American citizens left in Afghanistan whom the United States need to get to the airport, according to a source familiar with the situation.

The source said the estimate is the number known to need assistance to reach the airport as of 8 a.m. local time on Thursday morning. 

They added that since midnight local time, 200 had been evacuated to the base and flown out. This brings the total number of US citizens evacuated since August 14 to 4,700, the source added.

The statement suggests the operational total of Americans needing to be evacuated is smaller than the broader totals provided by US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken. 

Blinken said on Wednesday afternoon that there were 500 Americans identified who needed help to get to the airport. Blinken added there were another 1,000 who might need help, but whose citizenship or desire to leave were uncertain. Given the rate of evacuation overnight, the 150 operational total may be a revised update on Blinken’s total of 500, and may even include some of the 1,000 uncertain cases.

The source added there was another 36 hours until the end of the operation to evacuate, and the focus was now on local Afghan staff who worked for the US Embassy. “American citizens are still trickling in but their priority has shifted to local staff,” the source said. 

The source estimated there were about 1,800 local US Embassy Afghan staff still to get to the airport and “36 hours to do it.” They had already recovered 1,300 local staff and evacuated them, they said.

Access to the base is increasingly difficult, the source said. The source added that all the gates on the base were now closed, apart from the one that Afghan security forces were unofficially using to bring in their evacuees.

The main access point at the airport for many holders of Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs), the Abbey Gate, was “fully” closed earlier on Thursday, possibly due to one of many IED threats, they added. “They were kind of able to pull people through yesterday but I think it's totally cleared out and closed now. They’ve had multiple IED threats the whole time.”

The source added that gate closures mean there are “tons of special interest groups circling the airport in buses trying to figure out how to get in. Very little that can be done for them even though they’d love to help. So literally no one else can get in,” unless they are escorted. “Not even approved SIVs.”

The source expressed frustration at how Washington DC connections were forcing the operation to prioritize certain individuals. “These boutique special interest Congressional/WH groups that keep showing up are distracting from the core mission of getting those people out who we, the US, gave our word to.”

The source said the evacuation operation – although already winding down -- would end Friday. The source added the British were departing on Thursday night. CNN has contacted the UK Ministry of Defence for comment.

8:06 a.m. ET, August 26, 2021

Flight thought to be carrying another US congressional delegation is turned away from Kabul airport – source

From CNN’s Nick Paton Walsh in Doha

A private jet thought to be carrying another US congressional delegation has been denied permission to land at Kabul airport, a source familiar with the situation told CNN on Thursday. 

The Gulfstream jet was visible over Turkmenistan on open-source air traffic websites, but its destination and final route were unclear. It was last seen over Baku, Azerbaijan, and departed from Athens, Greece.

It remains unclear which representative was on the jet.

On Tuesday two congressmen, Seth Moulton, a Democrat from Massachusetts, and Peter Meijer, a Republican from Michigan, made a clandestine trip to Kabul "to conduct oversight on the mission to evacuate Americans and our allies."

The decision was criticized by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who said: "We don't want anyone to think this was a good idea. There's a real concern about members being in the region."

5:17 a.m. ET, August 26, 2021

Taliban removes security from ex-Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Abdullah Abdullah, source says

From CNN's Nic Robertson 

Karzai (center left) meets with senior Haqqani group leader Anas Haqqani (center right) and Abdullah Abdullah (second right) in Kabul on August 18. 
Karzai (center left) meets with senior Haqqani group leader Anas Haqqani (center right) and Abdullah Abdullah (second right) in Kabul on August 18.  Handout/Taliban/AP

The Taliban has taken away security from former Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Abdullah Abdullah, an Afghan official who leads the High Council for National Reconciliation, a source told CNN.

On Monday, the Taliban confiscated weapons from Karzai's armed protection team and took away his vehicles, prompting the former president to move in with Abdullah, the source said. On Wednesday, the Taliban later also searched Abdullah's home and took his security and vehicles. 

Karzai and Abdullah are effectively under house arrest in Kabul without their bodyguards and at the mercy of the Taliban, according to the source. 

Last week, a Taliban spokesman told CNN that the group wanted to form an inclusive government. It has since held talks with former president Karzai and former chief executive Abdullah, both of whom stayed in Kabul when the Taliban took over the capital more than a week ago.

Abdullah previously said he was hopeful for the Taliban forming an inclusive government, the source tells CNN. Abdullah is less optimistic than he was a week ago.

5:02 a.m. ET, August 26, 2021

"Disturbing reports": Former UN employees send letter to Secretary-General on Afghan security concerns

From CNN's Liam Reilly

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks to reporters at the UN headquarters in New York, on August 13.
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks to reporters at the UN headquarters in New York, on August 13. Xie E/Xinhua/Getty Images

Former UN employees have sent a letter to United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres outlining the risks and dangers UN-affiliated personnel face in Afghanistan, according to a former employee familiar with the letter. 

In the letter, the former employees note they’re “gravely concerned about the safety of our colleagues and friends who are at risk,” especially after receiving “disturbing reports of the Taliban raiding homes, beating people for affiliation with international organizations and requesting meetings for ‘letters of forgiveness.’”

The letter cites UN protocol, which outlines the organization’s duty and responsibility to individuals it recruits and their families should they be endangered because of their work for the UN. The letter then directly notes that “locally-recruited personnel and their family members are indeed endangered as a direct consequence of their employment by organizations of the United Nations common system.”

“They should not be asked to sacrifice their lives and safety in order to accomplish this. It would be much safer for them to continue their work from outside of the country,” the letter concludes.

There are an estimated 3,000 UN staff in Afghanistan. Most are local Afghans, and about 10% are women.

The UN has previously stated about 100 international staff has left the country to work elsewhere. 

Guterres held a virtual town hall Wednesday morning including UN staff in Afghanistan to address ongoing safety concerns, according to a statement by UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric.

“We are continuing to look at possible relocations of international staff, also, obviously, of national staff that are at risk. But I think it bears saying again that the UN presence in Afghanistan is ... the UN is present in Afghanistan and will remain in Afghanistan.” Dujarric said during the discussion.