August 17, 2021, Afghanistan-Taliban news

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

Updated 12:02 AM ET, Wed August 18, 2021
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3:02 p.m. ET, August 17, 2021

Biden has not spoken to US allies since Kabul fell, national security adviser says

From CNN's Kevin Liptak

President Joe Biden walks from the podium after speaking about Afghanistan from the East Room of the White House, Monday, Aug. 16, 2021, in Washington.
President Joe Biden walks from the podium after speaking about Afghanistan from the East Room of the White House, Monday, Aug. 16, 2021, in Washington. Evan Vucci/AP

President Biden hasn't spoken with any of his foreign counterparts since Kabul fell to the Taliban, his national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, said on Tuesday. 

Sullivan said other members of the administration were making calls abroad instead because the discussions were more logistical.

"He's not spoken with any other world leaders," Sullivan said, responding to a question from CNN's Kaitlan Collins.

Other world leaders have spent the last several days on the telephone with allies. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson have all conferred with each other.

Johnson, meanwhile, has proposed a virtual meeting of the G7.

But Biden has left the calls to foreign allies to those on his team.

"Myself, Secretary (of State Antony) Blinken, several other senior members of the team are engaged on a regular basis with foreign counterparts and we intend to do so in the coming days," Sullivan said. 

"Right now, the main issue is an operational issue," he added. "It's about how we coordinate with them to help them get their people out and we are operating through logistic channels and policy channels to make that happen."

Asked to explain further why Biden hadn't conferred with any of his foreign counterparts, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the current matters at hand fell below high-level talks. 

"Our focus right now has been on operational efforts, which includes coordination at a lower level than leaders and heads of state," she said. "And that is our focus on working with third countries to help get their citizens out or working with others on the ground to get vulnerable populations out."

She said Biden would likely place calls to foreign leaders soon.

"If there is a benefit in the president picking up the phone and calling a world leader he will do that and I expect he will do that in the coming days," she said.

2:28 p.m. ET, August 17, 2021

White House says Taliban has committed to allowing "safe passage" for civilians to get to the Kabul airport

Fromm CNN's Jasmine Wright

Pool
Pool

National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said Tuesday that the Taliban has committed to allowing a “safe passage” for civilians heading to the Kabul airport.

“We are in contact with the Taliban to ensure the safe passage of people to the airport,” Sullivan said in his opening remarks at the White House briefing. 

“The Taliban have informed us that they were prepared to provide the safe passage of civilians to the airport, and we intend to hold them to that commitment,” Sullivan said later, when asked for more specifics on the commitment, for both Americans and Afghans who worked with the US government overtime.

Sullivan added that the administration believes this commitment will last until at least Aug. 31 and are currently in talks with the Taliban about the future.

“We believe that this can go till the 31st. We are talking to them about what the exact timetable is for how this will all play out, and I don't want to negotiate in public. I’m on working out the best modality to get the most people out in the most efficient way,” Sullivan said.

Asked later about reports about Taliban-run checkpoints outside of the airport, beatings and whippings for some who try to pass through, Sullivan said they are aware of those reports and concerned but are “taking it up” with the Taliban directly.

"There have been instances where we have received reports of people being turned away or pushed back, or even beaten. We are taking that up in a channel with the Taliban to try to resolve those issues,” Sullivan said. “And we are concerned about whether that will continue to unfold in the coming days. As things stand right now, what we are finding is that we are getting people through the gate, we are getting them lined up, and we are getting them on planes, but this is an hour by hour issue, and it's something we're clear eyed about and very focused on holding the Taliban accountable to follow through on its commitment." 

Earlier, officials said the US military had evacuated “more than 700 people, including 150 American citizens,” on Monday.

2:16 p.m. ET, August 17, 2021

White House: US will use "every measure of tool" to support Afghan women and girls

From CNN's Maureen Chowdhury

US National security adviser Jake Sullivan said that his "heart goes out to Afghan women and girls in the country today under the Taliban," but the decision to withdraw troops from the ground "wasn't a choice just between saving those women and girls and not saving those women and girls."

"The alternative choice had its own set of human costs and consequences," Sullivan said.

"Those human costs and consequences would have involved a substantial ramp up of the American participation in a civil war with more loss of life, more bloodshed, families here in the United States that would be asking a different form of the question you just asked," he told reporters.

"These are the choices a President has to make," he added.

Sullivan also noted that while US forces would not be present on the ground in Afghanistan, humanitarian efforts will continue in other capacities.

"It doesn't mean because we don't have forces in that country that we're not going to fight on behalf of women and girls and human rights and human dignity. We are. We do. In many other countries where we don't have active military participation and we'll do it in Afghanistan, too. And we will attempt to use every measure of tool and influence we have along with our international allies and partners to alleviate the burden that  those women and girls will face in the days ahead. We are absolutely resolutely committed to that," he said.
2:18 p.m. ET, August 17, 2021

Biden "has been deeply engaged" in monitoring Afghanistan from Camp David, national security adviser says

From CNN's DJ Judd

President Biden, who spent the weekend at Camp David, “worked throughout the entire weekend” monitoring the events unfolding in Afghanistan, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters at Tuesday’s White House briefing.

“I was intimately familiar with his working habits over the course of the weekend, because I was on the phone with him constantly. Secretary Austin was on the phone with him, Chairman Milley, Secretary Blinken, the team in country,” Sulivan told reporters Tuesday when asked why Biden was not at the White House while the Afghan government collapsed.

Biden left for the presidential retreat Friday afternoon, where he spent the weekend. He returned to the White House briefly Monday afternoon, where he delivered remarks, before immediately returning to Camp David Monday night.

“So, he was monitoring developments, hour by hour, throughout that entire time, and has been making a series of decisions about troop deployments, giving us direction and guidance about how to take the shape of this mission and make sure that we're executing it, and at every turn, asking our military, who is leading this mission and executing this mission with bravery and valor, ‘What do you need? I will get you anything you need.’ He asked that question multiple times every single day,” adding Biden ”has been deeply engaged on this.”

Sullivan told reporters at the White House that Biden convened the principals Thursday to discuss “the deteriorating situation on the ground in Afghanistan,” giving the order to flow forces into the region Thursday morning, before, in the following days, “we determined that we would go from step one of that contingency plan, which was about 3,000 troops, to step two of that contingency plan which was about 6,000 troops.”

 

2:50 p.m. ET, August 17, 2021

Former president Ghani "is no longer a factor" in Afghanistan, national security adviser says

Former Afghan president Ashraf Ghani makes brief remarks during a meeting with President Joe Biden in the Oval Office on June 25.
Former Afghan president Ashraf Ghani makes brief remarks during a meeting with President Joe Biden in the Oval Office on June 25. Pete Marovich/Pool/Getty Images

National security adviser Jake Sullivan said former Afghan president Ashraf Ghani "is no longer a factor" when discussing the country.

During a White House briefing Tuesday he was asked by a reporter if President Biden felt he had a willing partner in Ghani.

Sullivan replied: "I won't characterize anything about president Ghani at this point who is no longer a factor in Afghanistan and I don't think there is much merit in me weighing in more deeply on him."

2:50 p.m. ET, August 17, 2021

White House: There are reports of people "being turned away or pushed back or even beaten" at the airport

White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan was asked today about evacuation flights and the difficulty for some who are trying to get out of Afghanistan.

Sullivan said that the Biden administration believes that issues are being resolved and "we will be putting 300 passengers on your average military cargo plane heading out of the country."

On people being turned away, he said that "very large numbers" of people have been able to get to the airport and present themselves. 

"There have been instances where we have received reports of people being turned away or pushed back or even beaten," he added.

Sullivan did not say who was behind the beatings.

"We are taking that up in a channel with the Taliban to try to resolve those issues and we are concerned whether that will continue to unfold in the coming days," Sullivan added. 

2:50 p.m. ET, August 17, 2021

Evacuation of European nationals and Afghan staff is "priority" for EU, foreign affairs chief says

From CNN’s Amy Cassidy and Nada Bashir

EBS
EBS

The evacuation of European Union nationals and Afghan citizens working with the EU is a key priority for the bloc, EU Foreign Affairs Chief Josep Borrell said in a press conference Tuesday. 

“The priority is to ensure the evacuation — in the best conditions of security — of the European nationals still present in the country, and also of the Afghan citizens who worked with us for more than 20 years, if they want to leave the country,” Borrell said. 

“The situation on the ground is very fluid and is becoming certainly more dangerous for the people who have been working and supporting our work,” he added. 

Speaking after a virtual meeting of EU foreign ministers, Borrell stressed that the EU will make “every possible effort” to ensure the security of all those who have worked with the EU. 

“We cannot abandon them. We will do – we are doing –  everything we can in order to bring them to and offer them shelter in the European Union’s member states,” Borrell said. 

“The European Union will also pay special attention to those Afghans whose security might now be in jeopardy due to their principled engagement for our common values,” he later added in a written statement.

2:04 p.m. ET, August 17, 2021

Biden takes responsibility for every decision taken on Afghanistan, national security adviser says

From CNN's DJ Judd

National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters President Biden “is taking responsibility for every decision the United States government took with respect to Afghanistan because as he said, the buck stops with him.” 

“I am also taking responsibility, and so are my colleagues, the secretary of state, the secretary of defense, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the directors of our intelligence agencies. We as a national security team collectively take responsibility for every decision — good decision, every decision that doesn't produce perfect outcomes — that is what responsibility is,” Sullivan added.

“Now, at the same time, that doesn't change the fact that there are other parties here responsible as well, who have taken actions and decisions that helped lead us to where we are,” Sullivan told reporters at Tuesday’s White House Press Briefing. “So, from our perspective, what we have to do now is focus on the task at hand, the mission at hand,” he added pointing to ongoing efforts to evacuate Americans and Special Immigrant Visa recipients from the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul.

In remarks from the White House Monday, Biden told reporters gathered in the East Room, “I will not mislead the American people by claiming that just a little more time in Afghanistan will make all the difference. Nor will I shrink from my share of responsibility for where we are today and how we must move forward from here. I am President of the United States of America, and the buck stops with me.”

However, Biden also laid some of the blame with the previous administration, pointed to a deal he “inherited” that former President Trump brokered with the Taliban.

 

1:46 p.m. ET, August 17, 2021

White House: "We're in contact with the Taliban"

White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said that the Biden administration is in contact with the Taliban about the situation in Afghanistan.

"We are engaging diplomatically at the same time with allies in regional countries and the United Nations to address the situation in Afghanistan. We're in contact with the Taliban to ensure the safe passage of people to the airport."

Sullivan said that the White House is also monitoring for any potential terrorist threats, including from ISIS.

"We intend to continue these operations over the coming days before completing our draw down," he said.

Some more context: Pentagon press secretary John Kirby confirmed at a news conference earlier today that US military commanders have had communication with the Taliban.

"Our commanders in the operation have had communication with Taliban leaders," he said.