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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12:00 a.m. ET, August 19, 2021

The US has evacuated 6,000 people from Afghanistan since Saturday, White House says

From CNN's DJ Judd and Nikki Carvaja

In the last 24 hours, the US military has evacuated about 1,800 people from Afghanistan on 10 military transport aircrafts, a White House official told reporters late Wednesday.

That raises the number of evacuees to nearly 6,000 people since August 14.

The official did not break down how many of Wednesday's evacuees were American citizens, permanent residents, or families of citizens trying to escape Afghanistan.

Wednesday's number is higher than the 1,000 people who were evacuated on Tuesday, which included 330 American citizens and permanent residents -- and another 770 family members.

On Tuesday, a White House official said they expected numbers to rise, "now that we have established the flow."

11:51 p.m. ET, August 18, 2021

Taliban fighters accost CNN team on the ground: "They were ready to pistol whip him"

(CNN)
(CNN)

CNN Chief International Correspondent Clarissa Ward and her team were reporting from Kabul, Afghanistan, when they were confronted by armed Taliban fighters on Wednesday.

The team was near the airport, surrounded by desperate Afghans and their families hoping to escape on an evacuation flight, and Taliban fighters firing shots in an attempt to control the crowd.

"We had Taliban fighters all around approaching us, one man shouting at me to cover my face or he wouldn't talk to me," Ward told CNN after the incident,.

The team also spotted a man “carrying this huge makeshift whip -- it was a bicycle lock that had basically been split in two, so the heavy metal padlock was in the middle," she said. "And he’s just using it to just get anybody out of his way who gets in his way.”

At one point, a Taliban fighter took the safety off his AK-47 assault rifle and pushed through the crowd, gun lifted into the air as if he were about to begin firing, prompting the CNN team to run for cover.

Taliban confronts CNN: But the "most frightening moment" came when two Taliban fighters spotted a CNN producer filming video with his phone, and charged toward the team, pistols raised and ready to strike.

"They were ready to pistol whip him," Ward said. It was only when another Taliban fighter intervened, telling the others that Ward's team were journalists with permission to report, that they were allowed to pass through.

Desperate crowds at the airport: Before the confrontation, Ward and the CNN team had spoken to desperate and angry Afghans waiting outside the airport in Kabul, some of whom said they felt abandoned and lied to by US leaders.

"I've covered all sorts of crazy situations. This was mayhem. This was nuts. This was impossible for an ordinary civilian, even if they had their paperwork ... There's no coherent system for processing people," Ward said.

The Taliban are stationed outside the airport, occasionally firing into the air and into the throng for crowd control.

"It's so heartbreaking," Ward said. "Everybody (was) coming up to us with their papers and passports, saying, "Please, I worked at Camp Phoenix. I was at this camp. I was a translator. Help me get in, help me get to America."

11:32 p.m. ET, August 18, 2021

United Nations will move some staff to Afghanistan to Kazakhstan

From CNN's Richard Roth

The United Nations announced on Wednesday that it will move about 100 staff members in Afghanistan to Kazakhstan due to the deteriorating security situation. 

A majority of the organization's humanitarian staff will remain in Afghanistan, the UN said.

"This is a temporary measure intended to enable the UN to keep delivering assistance to the people of Afghanistan with the minimum of disruption while at the same time reducing risk to UN personnel," said the organization in a statement. "Personnel will return to Afghanistan as conditions permit."
11:14 p.m. ET, August 18, 2021

Taliban to impose indefinite curfew for Khost city on Thursday

From CNN's Saleem Mehsud and Tim Lister

The Taliban will impose a curfew over the entire southeastern Afghan city of Khost on Thursday, multiple Taliban sources told CNN Wednesday.

The curfew will be in place “for an indefinite time," and all kinds of movement will be banned “while joint forces of the Islamic Emirate carry out clearance operations,” one source said.

Roughly 650,000 Afghans live in the rural and urban areas of Khost province, according to 2021 population estimates from Afghanistan's National Statistics and Information Authority. 

Protests turn violent: Videos emerged on social media Wednesday purporting to show demonstrations across Khost city, the capital of the province, where hundreds of people took to the streets in an outpouring of anger over the Taliban’s takeover of the country. CNN has not independently verified these videos. 

Clashes also broke out in the city of Jalalabad Wednesday, after Taliban forces clashed with protesters who removed the group’s flag from the main square and replaced it with the Afghan flag, three witnesses told CNN.

According to the witnesses, the protest was met with a violent response by the Taliban, who fired into the crowd and beat some of the participants.

10:51 p.m. ET, August 18, 2021

Afghan translator: "They left us in front of the airplane"

From CNN’s Ivana Kottasova in London

An Afghan translator who had been working for the Czech unit of the NATO-led security mission in Afghanistan told CNN he and his family were left on the tarmac in Kabul after being told the flight they were about to board was full. 

The Czech Army plane took off from Kabul on Wednesday afternoon and landed in Prague, the Czech capital, at around 10 p.m. local time, the Czech Defence Ministry said in a statement.  

Rafiullah, 33, his wife and their four-year old son had been waiting outside the Kabul airport for three days, covering their faces whenever Taliban fighters passed by and spending nights in hiding.

“I covered my face using a mask, the Taliban staring at me in anger and threatening me to leave … (they) also kicked me several times,” he told CNN in a series of messages. CNN agreed not to give the man's full name for security reasons. 

Rafiullah said he and his family were living a good life in Afghanistan until just a few weeks ago. When the Taliban took over, both he and his wife -- a university lecturer -- became a target. 

On Wednesday, the family was finally allowed through the Taliban checkpoint at the airport, after Czech soldiers picked them up and escorted them to a plane that was about to take off. 

“And then suddenly, (they) left us exactly in front of the airplane, saying that the plane is full and didn't give information about any other plane,” Rafiullah said. 

Officials from The Poppy Association, a Czech NGO focused on helping veterans, have confirmed to CNN they have been in contact with a number of families which are being evacuated from Kabul by the Czech Army, including Rafiullah and his family. They said at least three other families of translators who worked with the Czech Army in the past are still waiting outside of the Taliban checkpoint at the airport. Rafiullah said he and his family were able to wait inside the airport.

The Czech Defence Ministry was not immediately available to comment on Rafiullah’s situation. 

The ministry also told CNN that three flights have arrived in Prague from Kabul in the past three days, carrying both Czech and Afghan citizens. In total, 195 people were on board the three flights.

Rafiullah said he and his family were offered shelter, food and water by US and Turkish soldiers at the airport. They are now waiting to see if another Czech plane turns up that they could get on, Rafiullah said. 

Rafiullah said his son is excited about the prospect of living in a new country, although he doesn’t quite understand what is going on.

“He is asking about the [weapons] firing and I just have to answer … this (is) not firing but a type of celebration,” Rafiullah said.
10:37 p.m. ET, August 18, 2021

Pelosi: We need "to assure the evacuation of those who have helped and those who want to leave"

From CNN's Kristin Wilson

 House Speaker Nancy Pelosi speaks at her weekly news conference at the Capitol building on August 6, in Washington, DC. 
 House Speaker Nancy Pelosi speaks at her weekly news conference at the Capitol building on August 6, in Washington, DC.  (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

During a virtual town hall, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi offered the services of her office to help Afghanistan refugees and others who are trying to leave the country.

“What we need to do right now is to make sure that our military is at the airport in sufficient numbers in order to assure the evacuation of those who have helped and those who want to leave,” she said. 

An aide to Pelosi said the speaker has requested briefings from the White House on Afghanistan, including an unclassified briefing for all House members of Friday, an in-person classified briefing for all members on Tuesday, and a classified briefing for the so-called gang of eight Congressional leaders without a set time or date yet.

9:39 p.m. ET, August 18, 2021

Biden says intelligence reports had "no consensus" on the timing of Taliban takeover

From CNN's Nikki Carvajal 

President Joe Biden delivers remarks in the East Room of the White House on August 18, in Washington.
President Joe Biden delivers remarks in the East Room of the White House on August 18, in Washington. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

President Joe Biden said there was "no consensus" in intelligence reports on Afghanistan when he claimed in June it was "highly unlikely" the Taliban would take over the country after US forces departed, but he admitted many said the fall of the Afghan government was "likely to be some time by the end of the year."

In a clip of an interview with ABC News released Wednesday night, Biden was asked if the intelligence was wrong or if he downplayed it when he called a takeover unlikely.

"There was no consensus if you go back and look at intelligence reports," the President responded. "They said that it's more likely to be some time by the end of the year."

When asked about the fact that he didn't give a timeline in his initial public assessment, Biden said he didn't think anyone predicted just how quickly things would unfold in the country or how.

"The idea the Taliban would take over was premised on the notion that the, somehow the 300,000 troops we had trained and equipped was going to just collapse. They were going to give up. I don't think anybody anticipated that," he said.

7:38 p.m. ET, August 18, 2021

US Customs and Border Protection personnel deployed to Afghanistan  

From CNN's Geneva Sands

Customs and Border Protection sent additional personnel to Doha on Wednesday to help assist in the processing of people leaving Afghanistan en route to the US, according to a Department of Homeland Security spokesperson. 

The move comes as DHS ramps up staffing to handle processing for the influx of Afghans fleeing their country amid the Taliban takeover. 

Agency officials are in Doha working on processing, screening and vetting Afghan Special Immigrant Visa applicants and other eligible vulnerable Afghan nationals before they travel to the US, the spokesperson said. 

The agency requested additional support this week from its field operations division, which is responsible for border security, as well as facilitating lawful trade and travel at ports of entry.

8:27 p.m. ET, August 18, 2021

Senators Klobuchar and Romney send Biden admin letter on evacuating journalists from Afghanistan

From CNN's Oliver Darcy

Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Mitt Romney on Wednesday encouraged the Biden administration to take measures to protect and evacuate journalists in Afghanistan.

In a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas, and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, Klobuchar and Romney said the US should "honor" its commitment to a free press by taking measures to "ensure the safety of journalists, supporting staff, and their families in Afghanistan."

"The Taliban have long targeted journalists, which continues today," the two senators wrote. "Despite this risk, journalists have been on the front lines reporting on the conflict in Afghanistan for 20 years, keeping citizens informed and government leaders accountable. Those who contributed to a free and open press in Afghanistan will likely face retribution by the Taliban, and must be brought to safety."

"There are an estimated 200-plus journalists and support staff in addition to their families in Afghanistan seeking to evacuate the country. Please ensure that as evacuation flights continue, journalists and support staff are not forgotten," the pair added.

Some context: Several news organizations and press advocacy groups have said this week that they are working with the US to evacuate personnel from Afghanistan. 

A Biden administration official told CNN on Monday that dozens of State Department officials, including some of the most senior officials, have been in constant contact with US media organizations regarding efforts to bring their employees and affiliates to safety. It will continue to be a priority, the official added at the time.