August 18, 2021, Afghanistan-Taliban news

By Meg Wagner, Melissa Mahtani, Melissa Macaya, Mike Hayes, Joshua Berlinger, Brad Lendon, Aditi Sangal and Lauren Said-Moorhouse, CNN

Updated 11:30 AM ET, Thu August 19, 2021
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2:33 p.m. ET, August 18, 2021

US embassy in Kabul says US government cannot ensure safe passage to airport

From CNN's Jennifer Hansler

US soldiers stand guard at the Kabul airport on August 16.
US soldiers stand guard at the Kabul airport on August 16. (Wakil Kohsar/AFP/Getty Images)

The US embassy in Kabul advised American citizens today that the US government cannot ensure safe passage to the airport for those looking to flee the country.

“THE UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT CANNOT ENSURE SAFE PASSAGE TO THE HAMID KARZAI INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT,” the embassy advised American citizens in a security alert Wednesday.

The alert told citizens that space on evacuation flights will now be available “on a first come, first serve basis.”

Some context: The guidance seemed to mark a significant shift from previous advisories, which told US citizens to shelter in place until they were advised by the embassy to report to the airport.

The message about the inability to ensure safe passage to the airport comes in stark contrast to comments made by National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan just a day prior. He told reporters Tuesday that the Taliban had committed to allowing safe passage for civilians to the airport.

Wednesday’s alert noted, “U.S. citizens, LPRs, and their spouses and unmarried children (under age 21) should consider travelling to Hamid Karzai International Airport,” but advises that “you may be required to wait at the airport for a significant amount of time until space is available.”

2:36 p.m. ET, August 18, 2021

Ghani: Remaining in office as Afghanistan's president would have led to "dreadful disaster"

From CNN’s Hannah Ritchie

Former Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said in a video message Wednesday that he left Kabul to avoid bloodshed and to prevent Afghanistan from becoming like Syria and Yemen, adding that the country would have faced a “dreadful disaster” had he remained in office.

“I didn’t want the bloodshed to commence in Kabul like it had in Syria and Yemen. So I decided to go, to leave Kabul,” Ghani said. 

“The decision was made that whatever happened 25 years ago would be repeated if I had stayed the President of Afghanistan. I would have been hanged in front of the eyes of the people of Afghanistan and this would have been a dreadful disaster in our history,” he added.

Speaking from the United Arab Emirates, where he and his family have been welcomed on humanitarian grounds, Ghani reiterated that he left Afghanistan to avoid the destruction of the country.

“I am not fearful of an honorable death, and dishonoring Afghanistan was not acceptable to me, but I had to. I was taken out of Afghanistan to avoid bloodshed and the destruction of Afghanistan,” he said. 

CORRECTION: A previous version of this post incorrectly translated a portion of former Afghan President Ashraf Ghani's remarks.

2:03 p.m. ET, August 18, 2021

Wisconsin governor says "we have open arms here" when asked about Afghan refugees

From CNN’s Carma Hassan

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers speaks during a press conference in Columbus, Wisconsin, on August 18.
Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers speaks during a press conference in Columbus, Wisconsin, on August 18. (WISC)

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers said his office is in constant communication with the federal government regarding the Afghans that may be housed at Fort McCoy, adding “we have open arms here in Wisconsin.”

He said they’ve “heard numbers in the hundreds or possibly 2,000” of how many Afghans would come to the state, but added, “frankly, that’s all conjecture at this time.”

“We will continue to keep people posted when we know any more, but at this point in time, the numbers that they're talking about are in the hundreds or low thousands,” Evers said.

Some more background: Earlier today, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin authorized the use of Fort Bliss in Texas and Fort McCoy in Wisconsin to house Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) applicants, their families, “and other at risk individuals,” Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said.

“The Department recently approved a request for assistance from the State Department to provide additional temporary housing, sustainment and support inside the United States for a number of up to 22,000,” Kirby said.

1:57 p.m. ET, August 18, 2021

Former Afghan president: My overall objective was "to avoid bloodshed" in the country 

From CNN's Nada Bashir

Former Afghan President Ashraf Ghani speaks in a video statement released on Wednesday from the United Arab Emirates.
Former Afghan President Ashraf Ghani speaks in a video statement released on Wednesday from the United Arab Emirates. From Ashraf Ghani/Facebook

Former Afghan President Ashraf Ghani released a video statement on Wednesday from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), telling Afghan citizens that his “overall objective” for Afghanistan was to maintain peace and to avoid bloodshed.

“My commitment to all my countrymen and women was to avoid bloodshed and to ensure peace, stability and development for Afghanistan, that was my overall objective,” Ghani said in a video message shared on his Facebook page.

“I hope in these coming days and nights that we will get over this and Afghanistan will experience peace and stability,” he added.

On Wednesday, the UAE ministry of foreign affairs and international cooperation confirmed that Ghani and his family were welcomed to the United Arab Emirates on humanitarian grounds. News of his whereabouts came days after he fled Kabul as the Taliban closed in on the city.

In his message, Ghani said events had unfolded “in a hasty way” and said he had been working to ensure a peaceful transition of power with the Taliban.

“Before I left the country, I was working with the Taliban to ascertain a delegation to have negotiations to set the conditions for a peaceful transition of power, to keep Kabul safe,” Ghani said.

Some more context: Ghani's departure was precipitated by the United States' withdrawal from Afghanistan, which opened a clear path for the Taliban to take on and defeat the Afghan security forces. Last week, major cities and provinces fell to Taliban fighters with little to no resistance.

US intelligence analysts had predicted it would take several weeks before the civilian government in Kabul fell to the Taliban. But on Sunday, the Taliban took control of the presidential palace in the capital while Ghani quietly made his exit. Ghani was criticized for leaving Afghans to an uncertain fate under the Taliban.

CNN's Mostafa Salem, Tara John and Tim Lister contributed reporting to this post. 

12:51 p.m. ET, August 18, 2021

Taliban leader calls for all remaining "political detainees" to be released

From CNN’s Ghazi Balkiz and Hannah Ritchie

The supreme leader of the Taliban has called for all “political detainees” to be released across Afghanistan, a Taliban twitter account posted Wednesday. 

Based on the general amnesty issued by the leader of the Islamic Emirate, His Eminence, the Commander of the Faithful, Sheikh of Hadith Hibatullah Akhundzada, may God protect him, it is decided to release political detainees from all prisons of the country,” the tweet said. 

“All state governors must – from tomorrow – release all political detainees (old and young) without any restrictions or conditions, and hand them over to their families,” the tweet added. 

Those released are expected to include Taliban fighters that the Afghan National Security forces imprisoned for engaging in insurgent activities. 

The Taliban has already taken control of key prisons across the country and freed thousands of inmates during its offensive. Hundreds of inmates were released from Pul-e-Charkhi prison, east of Kabul, on Sunday, just hours before the Taliban took control of the capital. 

Pul-e-Charkhi was the largest prison in Afghanistan when Bagram airfield closed and contained a maximum-security block which housed alleged ISIS fighters, al Qaeda members and senior Taliban figures.

 

12:45 p.m. ET, August 18, 2021

Former Afghan President Ghani expected to release a video statement from UAE

From CNN's Kylie Atwood

Afghanistan's former President Ashraf Ghani speaks at the Presidential Palace on April 24, 2017, in Kabul, Afghanistan.
Afghanistan's former President Ashraf Ghani speaks at the Presidential Palace on April 24, 2017, in Kabul, Afghanistan. (Jonathan Ernst/Pool/Getty Images)

Afghanistan's former President, Ashraf Ghani, is expected to put out a video statement this afternoon that provides more details about his departure from the country Sunday, according to a source familiar with the plans. He will explain how the departure was unplanned, the source said. 

Ghani is currently in the United Arab Emirates. 

12:22 p.m. ET, August 18, 2021

Kabul's civilians feel sense of hopelessness as Taliban takes control, evacuated journalist says

From CNN’s Vedika Sud

Evacuation flights from Afghanistan are starting to land across the world, and one of those planes was carrying independent journalist, Kanika Gupta, who managed to secure a seat yesterday on a flight organized by the Indian government to transport its staff out of the country.

“The evacuation process, believe it or not, was rather smooth because it was all being facilitated by the Taliban, they ensured that we had safe passage without any trouble along the way,” Gupta told CNN.

She described seeing what looked like thousands of people gathered at the airport gates when the convoy she was traveling in arrived.

“I think [the Taliban] were trying to do their crowd control through non-violent methods but since there were so many people there — there must have been thousands at the time — that at some point they had to start firing in the air just to sort of disperse the crowds but rather than that, it was rather uneventful,” she explained, adding the convoy eventually got into the airport by using a separate entrance manned by American and Turkish forces.

Gupta said in the months leading up to the fall of the government, there had been “a lot of apprehension” but there was still hope until Kandahar was taken by the Taliban on Friday. She had been in Afghanistan's second-largest city days before it was seized and has since heard from residents that the city has already changed.

“[The Taliban] have started imposing their restrictions. They are already collecting names of men in the family so that they can ensure that everyone is coming to the mosque for prayers five times, one has to wear a cap, one has to keep a beard,” Gupta said. “And the women have been asked … not go out without the men or, of course, without the chadri.”

A chadri is a shroud worn by women in Islamic countries covering the body from head to foot.

Meanwhile in Kabul, Gupta said women in the capital are “naturally very scared” about what the future will bring. “Everything they have worked for is in serious jeopardy,” she said.

Despite assurances from the militant group to maintain women’s rights, Gupta said those pledges come with stipulations.

“There will always be that caveat that there has to be a man with you, there has to be this with you, so basically the rights that were there that was something inherently integrated into the constitution is now at the mercy of Taliban,” she explained. “Even if they give them rights, there will never be the kind of freedom that they were enjoying until now.” 

Gupta continued that men have resigned themselves to life under the Taliban once more.

“It’s helpless resignation that okay now they’ve come in they’ve taken over, the government has betrayed us, the world has betrayed us, now we are here, this is our current new reality so let’s make do with it whatever it is," she said.

CNN's Lauren Moorhouse contributed to this post. 

12:40 p.m. ET, August 18, 2021

Pentagon is aware of "harassment of individuals" in Kabul before getting to airport

From CNN's Ellie Kaufman

Afghans gather outside Kabul Airport on August 17.
Afghans gather outside Kabul Airport on August 17. (Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times/Getty Images)

The Pentagon is aware that “there has been issues out in town and harassment of individuals,” who are trying to reach Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said during an off-camera briefing on Wednesday.

Kirby stressed this is why US military leaders in Kabul are in touch with the Taliban on the ground “to try to make sure that doesn’t happen,” he said.

“We’re working very hard to make sure that they can get through safely so they can be properly processed,” Kirby said, referring to Special Immigrant Visa applicants and other Afghans at risk.

Chief International Correspondent, Clarissa Ward reports that people have been thronging the airport in a bid to flee as countries, including the United States and the United Kingdom, try to evacuate their own citizens and some Afghan nationals looking for protection. The Taliban is outside the airport, in charge of crowd control.

"They've been whipping people ... firing shots in the air, firing shots at people," Ward said. "Inside the airport, it appears less chaotic because it is having some effect ... But, on the perimeter, it is, of course, incredibly intimidating for people who desperately want to leave this country. And they're fearful that the Taliban won't even let them pass those checkpoints."

12:05 p.m. ET, August 18, 2021

Female Afghan journalist says she wasn't allowed to enter workplace and was warned not to continue job

From CNN’s Celine Alkhaldi

In a video message posted to twitter, journalist Shabnam Dawran said she was not permitted to go to work and was warned not to continue her job.

The video was posted by Miraqa Popal, head of Afghan news channel TOLO News, on Wednesday. 

“Taliban didn't allow my ex-colleague here in @TOLOnews and famous anchor of the State-owned @rtapashto Shabnam Dawran to start her work today,” he tweeted.

In the video, Dawran says, “I am Shabnam Dawran. For the past six years I work here as a journalist, news anchor at the news section. My latest job was at RTA or Afghanistan’s national radio television, where I was a news anchor at the news section too. Today I wanted, when the regime changed, I wanted to go to my work; I did not give up my courage.”

“Unfortunately, I was not permitted although I had an [ID] too. Our male colleagues were able to go to the office by showing the [ID] card,” she continues.

“I was warned that you cannot continue with your job as the regime has changed. Here there are major threats against us. If people of the world hear my voice, if charitable organizations hear my voice, they should help us because our life is at great risk.”

CNN has reached out to RTA Afghanistan for comment.