August 16, 2021, Afghanistan-Taliban news

By Melissa Mahtani, Meg Wagner, Michael Hayes, Melissa Macaya, Aditi Sangal, Brad Lendon, Joshua Berlinger and Kara Fox, CNN

Updated 12:05 a.m. ET, August 17, 2021
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9:32 a.m. ET, August 16, 2021

Dept. of Defense aims to relocate 30,000 Afghan SIV applicants into the US

From CNN's Brianna Keilar

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby confirms to CNN that the Department of Defense is aiming to relocate up to 30,000 Afghan Special Immigrant Visa applicants into the US, a reversal of President Biden's previous assertion that "the law doesn't allow that to happen."

The State Department will identify the individuals for transport, according to Kirby, and the Defense Department will facilitate their transportation to and housing at Fort Bliss in Texas and Fort McCoy in Wisconsin.

Kirby said DoD is aiming to get several thousand people transported immediately and tens of thousands more to follow, though how the US government will achieve that is unclear. 

White House Deputy National Security Adviser told CNN Monday morning there is no plan for US forces to provide safe passage for Americans, locally employed Afghan staff of the US embassy and other Afghan visa applicants from within the city of Kabul to the airport. 

Finer said the US has made clear to the Taliban “in no uncertain terms” not to interfere with Afghans who are attempting to get to the Kabul airport for potential evacuation, however those Afghans should wait until they are told it is time for their evacuation before going to the airport. 

“We are asking people in an orderly way, when their flight is called. And again this is not going to be just a free for all. It can't be for security reasons work that way. When people's flights are timed, we are asking them to show up at the airport to be present to get on those flights. Not just whoever happens to come to the airport,” Finer said.

“Right now we have our hands full at the airport. I know of no ability to help secure safe passage to airport” at this time, a senior Pentagon official told CNN.

Reversing a Biden administration plan to prioritize Americans trying to leave Kabul, Kirby said the plan is to now evacuate "a mix" of Afghans and Americans.

9:33 a.m. ET, August 16, 2021

Iran reduces diplomatic staff in Afghanistan and shuts 3 consulates

From CNN’s Adam Pourahmadi

Iran has shut three of its consulates in Afghanistan and reduced the number of personnel at its embassy in Kabul amid the deteriorating security situation in the country, Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said according to a statement.

Iran closed its missions in Mazar-i-Sharif, Herat and Kandahar, the statement said.

“At the moment, only the security guards and a few local colleagues are present at these three missions,” Khatibzadeh said.

“Iran has also drawn down staff members at its embassy in Kabul, and a number of our colleagues have returned, leaving only enough personnel to handle the embassy’s essential activities,” he added.

 

1:11 p.m. ET, August 16, 2021

Taliban are nearing "full control" of Kabul, spokesperson says

From CNN's Vasco Cotovio

Taliban fighters are seen on the back of a vehicle in Kabul on August 16.
Taliban fighters are seen on the back of a vehicle in Kabul on August 16. (EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid said the group is nearing “full control” of the Afghan capital of Kabul. 

“The situation in Kabul city is coming under full control,” he tweeted on Monday. 

According to Mujahid, the Taliban have also arrested most of the people who were involved in violence in the capital after its takeover of the city. 

He also reiterated the Taliban promise that the group would not go from door to door in search of former government officials. 

“No one is allowed to go to the houses of the former officials, ask for their vehicles or threaten them,” he wrote. “Those people would be prevented from doing these with all seriousness and will seriously be pursued.”

9:12 a.m. ET, August 16, 2021

Former Afghan policy official: The stage was set 10 years ago for these scenes to unfold

As the Taliban takes over Afghanistan, footage of chaotic scenes at the Kabul airport is surfacing, showing helpless and desperate people trying to flee, clinging on to US military planes.

Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute, who directed the Afghan strategy for former Presidents Bush and Obama, says he is "stunned" to see these scenes unfold, but this was bound to happen.

"This is obviously not what anybody wanted, but frankly the stage was set for the tragic and desperate events ... 10 years ago, when we brought bin Laden to justice and decimated al Qaeda," he told CNN.

Since then, Afghanistan has "made too little progress" and these scenes were unavoidable, Lute added.

"This has been the accumulation of a lack of progress over at least a decade, and perhaps, arguably longer than a decade," he said Monday. "We can't rewind the clock. And in a way, this is simply culminating because of too little progress. And while the Taliban made progress, the government did not. We built security forces that, in the end, could not withstand the pressure from the Taliban. I'm afraid that we built a house built on sand."

President Joe Biden had been watching this situation closely over the years and "decided that it is time for Afghanistan to be decided by Afghans," Lute said.

"The President decided that we would leave, but the scenes we see today suggest that we believed intelligence estimates ... and we didn't plan against the worst case estimates," he said.

With where things stand today, "there's no going back," Lute explained.

"There is no Afghan army. There are no Afghan police. There is no Afghan government. The Taliban are in charge. So, we're in no position to reverse what we see today. The best we can do is to cope with the circumstances at the airport. Obviously, prioritize the evacuation of Americans, but then right behind them, the Afghans who have served alongside of us."

8:48 a.m. ET, August 16, 2021

Situation in Afghanistan of "great concern" to Germany

From CNN’s Claudia Otto in Berlin and Nina Avramova in London

The situation in Afghanistan is “of great concern” to Germany, government spokesperson Steffen Seibert told reporters on Monday.

“We are concerned about the fate of individual Afghans, but we are also concerned about the situation as a whole. These are bitter developments when you see them in terms of the deployment of the Western community,” Seibert said. 

Seibert outlined the "clear" task ahead for the German government: to safely evacuate German embassy employees and other nationals, and "to bring the Afghan employees seeking protection" as much as possible, alongside people with whom Germany has worked closely with there.

According to a spokesperson for the German Foreign Ministry, the situation at the airport in Kabul is “very chaotic," adding that “there is no flight movement possible, because there are a large number of desperate people on the tarmac.”

One German military plane flew to Kabul on Monday morning to assist with evacuations, with two more planes to follow, the spokesperson told journalists.

Forty staff members from the German Embassy were flown out from Kabul to Doha on Sunday evening.

Germany has now urged its citizens in Kabul to wait to be individually contacted by the embassy instead of heading to the airport, as it can be “risky” and “people shouldn’t expect to be able to enter the airport until they are on a flight list.”

German airline Lufthansa said it is coordinating with the Federal Foreign Office to evaluate how it can support the government in the evacuations of German nationals and local workers from Afghanistan.

8:50 a.m. ET, August 16, 2021

Biden will address the American people on Afghanistan, national security adviser says

From CNN's Jason Hoffman

(Samuel Corum/Bloomberg/Getty Images)
(Samuel Corum/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

National security adviser Jake Sullivan said Monday the American people can expect to hear from President Biden “soon” but would not say if that would be today. 

Biden, who remains at Camp David on his August vacation, is “deeply engaged” on the situation and in contact with his national security team regarding the mission of getting Americans and Afghans evacuated, according to Sullivan. 

“At the right point he will absolutely address the American people,” Sullivan said during an interview on ABC Monday morning.

Sullivan continued to defend the President’s decision to withdraw US forces from Afghanistan, becoming the latest White House official to put the blame for the swift Taliban takeover of the country on the Afghan government and security forces.

Sullivan said President Biden did not think it was inevitable that the Taliban would take control of Afghanistan, something Biden himself said during July 8 remarks, and that the Afghan security forces should have stepped up to fight the Taliban, especially after nearly 20 years of US training. 

“He thought the Afghan national security forces could step up and fight because we spent 20 years, tens of billions of dollars training them, giving them the best equipment, giving them support of US forces for 20 years and when push came to shove, they decided not to step up and fight for their country,” Sullivan said.

“And so the question facing the President back in April, and again as we've gone forward, is should US men and women be put into the middle of another country's civil war, when their own army won't fight to defend them. And his answer the question was, no. And that is why he stands by this decision,” he added.

Sullivan said the US achieved its objective in Afghanistan which was to hold those who carried out the Sept. 11 attacks accountable, and with that objective achieved, the President was not prepared to have US forces in the country for a third decade. 

“A decade ago we got Osama bin Laden, we degraded al Qaeda, we stopped terrorist attacks against the United States from Afghanistan for 20 years. But what the President was not prepared to do was enter a third decade of conflict, flowing in thousands more troops, which was his only other choice, to fight in the middle of a civil war that the Afghan army wouldn't fight for itself,” Sullivan said. 

Sullivan however, as Secretary of State Antony Blinken did Sunday, admitted that the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan, specifically of Kabul, happened at an unexpected speed, which continues to shine a spotlight on the intelligence the administration received regarding its decision to withdraw from the country.  

“As we watch the situation unfold, and it's certainly unfolded at unexpected speed, we put that contingency plan in place,” Sullivan said of the administration’s ability to quickly send more troops to Kabul to help with evacuations. 

8:41 a.m. ET, August 16, 2021

US government working overtime to clear special immigrant visas as crisis intensifies in Afghanistan

From Priscilla Alvarez

The Department of Homeland Security and its federal partners worked all hours of the weekend to pull long excel lists of names of special immigrant visa (SIV) applicants to push through systems and get security checks cleared as the situation deteriorated in Afghanistan, according to a DHS official. 

It's a meticulous effort that requires cross-checking.

Many SIV applicants consist of Afghans who worked alongside the US, who will likely be targets under Taliban rule.

8:38 a.m. ET, August 16, 2021

China says it has "maintained contact and communication" with Taliban

China said on Monday that it has “maintained contact and communication with the Afghan Taliban” when asked if Beijing intends to recognize the Taliban as Afghanistan’s new representative.

“The Afghan Taliban have expressed on many occasions that they hope to develop good relations with China and look forward to China’s participation in the reconstruction and development of Afghanistan, and will never allow any forces to use Afghan territory to do things that endanger China. We welcome these,” Hua Chunying, spokesperson of China’s Foreign Ministry said at a daily press briefing on Monday. 

Hua said China has always “respected the sovereignty of Afghanistan” and has always been “pursuing friendly policies for all Afghan people.”

Hua referred back to China’s State Councilor Wang Yi’s meeting with Taliban leadership in Tianjin in July. 

“We hope that the Afghan Taliban, all parties and ethnic groups in Afghanistan can achieve an inclusive political structure for Afghanistan’s lasting peace,” Hua added.

“China respects the right of the Afghan people to independently determine their own destiny and future, and is willing to continue to develop good-neighborly and friendly cooperation with Afghanistan,” she added. “[China would like to] play a constructive role in the peace and reconstruction of Afghanistan.”

1:12 p.m. ET, August 16, 2021

US military temporarily suspends air operations at Kabul airport

From CNN's Barbara Starr

US military troops stand guard at Kabul's airport on August 16.
US military troops stand guard at Kabul's airport on August 16. (Wakil Kohsar/AFP/Getty Images)

The US military has temporarily suspended air operations at Kabul airport while US troops try to clear the airfield of Afghans who have flooded onto the airfield, a US defense official tells CNN.

The suspension is “while we make sure the airfield is secure,” the official said.