The latest on Afghanistan as the Taliban take charge

By Brad Lendon, Jessie Yeung, Kara Fox, Aditi Sangal, Meg Wagner, Melissa Macaya and Melissa Mahtani, CNN

Updated 8:27 PM ET, Fri August 20, 2021
56 Posts
Sort byDropdown arrow
4:31 p.m. ET, August 20, 2021

US Defense secretary told lawmakers that Americans have been beaten by Taliban in Kabul, sources say

From CNN's Jeremy Herb, Natasha Bertrand and Ryan Nobles 

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told House members in a call this afternoon that Americans have been beaten by the Taliban in Kabul, according to multiple sources on the call.

Austin called it “unacceptable” but would not rule in or out if Americans would go outside the gates to ensure safe passage through checkpoints. Still, he added that generally the Taliban were not hindering Americans seeking to get to the airport, echoing the claims made publicly by President Biden on Sunday.

The comments appear to contradict President Biden’s statement earlier Friday that there's "no indication" US citizens have been unable to get to Kabul airport.

Politico first reported Austin’s comments.

Asked about Austin’s comments and reports of beatings, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said, “we're certainly mindful of these reports and they're deeply troubling, and we have communicated to the Taliban that that's absolutely unacceptable, that we want free passage through their checkpoints for documented Americans. And by and large, that's happening.”

4:24 p.m. ET, August 20, 2021

"It wasn't a rescue" says Pentagon of the 169 Americans brought to the airfield by US troops

From CNN's Josiah Ryan

(Alex Wong/Getty Images)
(Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby today provided few details on how US troops brought 169 Americans to the Hamid Karzai International Airport, but characterized the activity as "assistance" rather than a rescue mission.

"My understanding of what happened was they were really just outside the wall," he told CNN's Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr.

"It wasn't a rescue so much as assisting them getting onto the field," continued Kirby, speaking from the Pentagon.

When pressed by Starr, Kirby repeatedly said that he did not have details on US operations outside the airport, which is secured by the US military.

"I don't have that level of detail," said Kirby. "...I do not have that level of tactical detail today. I'm happy to go look and see if we can find answers for you on that."

President Biden, in a press conference earlier this afternoon, said US troops had gone "over the wall" to bring 169 Americans to the airfield. 

Kirby said beyond "assistance" to the 169 Americans, he was not aware of any other instances in which US soldiers had left the airport. He said the US had increased its capacity to operate outside of the wire, however, which stands in contrast to remarks made earlier in the week by Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, who said they did not have the capacity to go out and get “large numbers of people.”

Speaking at the Pentagon today, Kirby said they had now "flown in additional capacity, additional forces."

"If there would be a need to do something additional to help Americans or other people at risk that we need to get to the airfield, we would examine those options,” Kirby said.

4:21 p.m. ET, August 20, 2021

US State Department lists countries helping with relocation efforts out of Afghanistan

From Jennifer Hansler and Christian Sierra

State Department spokesperson Ned Price revealed a lengthy list of countries who are partnering in relocation efforts for Americans and Afghans from Kabul.

“Over the past several days, we have mobilized a global effort through diplomatic channels to evacuate US citizens, personnel from partner nations, and of course at risk Afghans from Kabul,” he told reporters at a briefing.

“We extend special thanks to our partners around the globe who have been instrumental in this operation in all of its many parts. Bahrain, Denmark, Germany, Italy, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Qatar, Tajikistan, Turkey, the UAE, the United Kingdom, and Uzbekistan have been or will soon be transiting Americans or in some circumstances, others, through their territories to safety,” Price added.

“Albania, Canada, Colombia, Costa Rica, Chile, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Mexico, Poland, Qatar, Rwanda, Ukraine and Uganda have also made generous offers regarding the relocation efforts for at-risk Afghans,” he said.

4:44 p.m. ET, August 20, 2021

Thousands were unable to board planes during hours-long pause in US evacuation flights, Army official says

From CNN's Adrienne Vogt

(Alex Wong/Getty Images)
(Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Asked by CNN's Barbara Starr if the number of people backlogged at Kabul's airport during the "pause" of US flights was about 10,000, Maj. Gen. Hank Taylor, vice director for logistics of the Joint Staff, said he believed it was "less than" that figure, but that the did not have the "exact number."

Pressed in a follow-up question if the number was "in the thousands," the official agreed that it was. Taylor noted in the briefing that the "pause" of US evacuation flights lasted roughly six to seven and a half hours.

Earlier today, CNN's Clarissa Ward reported that soldiers told her about 10,000 people were processed but unable to depart Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul as Qatar was reaching capacity on accepting additional Afghans.

Starr also asked Taylor about the conditions on the ground for Afghans waiting to depart the airfield.

Conditions were "sufficient," Taylor said. "We are actively continuing to ensure it is sufficient for the future and continuing as we build out even more." 

"Did the people who were stuck there for so long, did they have food, water and sanitation?" Starr asked. 

"Yes, and I have no report they didn't," he said.

After the hours-long "pause" was lifted, at least one US evacuation flight has left Kabul, Taylor added.

4:01 p.m. ET, August 20, 2021

Pentagon: "We know that al Qaeda is a presence" in Afghanistan

From CNN's Jennifer Hansler

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby speaks at a briefing in Washington, DC, on August 20, 2021.
Pentagon press secretary John Kirby speaks at a briefing in Washington, DC, on August 20, 2021. Pool

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby acknowledged that an al Qaeda presence remains in Afghanistan, seemingly contradicting President Biden’s declaration that the terrorist organization was no longer in that country.

“We know that al Qaeda is a presence as well as ISIS in Afghanistan and we've talked about that for quite some time,” Kirby told reporters Friday.

In remarks shortly beforehand defending the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, Biden said, “What interest do we have in Afghanistan at this point, with al Qaeda gone?”

Kirby said they do not believe the number of al Qaeda fighters in the country “is exorbitantly high but we don't have an exact figure for you,” because “our intelligence gathering ability in Afghanistan isn't what it used to be because we aren't there in the same numbers that we used to be.”

When pressed, Kirby attempted to clean up the contrast between his words and Biden's, saying, “what we believe is that there isn't a presence that is significant enough to merit a threat to our homeland as there was back on 9/11, 20 years ago.”

As part of the US-Taliban deal, the militant group said it would cut ties to al Qaeda, but UN reports have found that the two groups remain closely linked.

3:38 p.m. ET, August 20, 2021

More than 100 Turkish citizens were evacuated from Kabul on Friday

From Isil Sariyuce

More than 100 Turkish citizens were evacuated from Kabul in a military transport aircraft on Friday, Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency reported.

The flight will land in Islamabad where the passengers will be transferred to Turkish Airlines civilian planes en route to Istanbul, Anadolu reported.

Over 600 Turkish citizens have now been evacuated since the Taliban took control of Kabul, according to Anadolu.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan spoke to Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis about Afghanistan, according to a Communication Directorate readout.

Erdoğan said Afghanistan is going through a critical period once again, and Turkey wishes for a smooth transition in Afghanistan.

“If a transitional period cannot be established in Afghanistan, the pressure on migration, which has already reached high levels, will increase even more and this situation will pose a serious challenge for everyone,” he said.

Erdoğan said that the European Union should assist the Afghan people in Afghanistan and neighboring countries, especially Iran.

If necessary measures are not taken in Afghanistan and Iran, a new wave of migration is inevitable, he continued. Turkey has been in contact with Iran and additional measures have been taken on Turkey’s border with Iran to control the refugee flow, Erdogan said in a TV interview on Thursday.

On Thursday, Erdoğan said Turkey brought 83 foreigners to Turkey but did not indicate nationality.

3:32 p.m. ET, August 20, 2021

Nearly 6,000 passengers have departed Kabul in the last 24 hours on 17 US flights, Pentagon says

From CNN's Josiah Ryan

Maj. Gen. Hank Taylor, vice director for logistics of the Joint Staff, said the US was accelerating the pace of evacuations from Kabul's Hamid Karzai International Airport and had extricated nearly 6,000 passengers in the past 24 hours that included Americans and at-risk Afghans.

"The airport remains secure. The evacuation flights are steadily increasing and we are doing everything we can to maximize safe evacuations," he said today, speaking from the Pentagon.

Taylor said in the last 24 hours, 16 C-17s and one C-130 had departed Kabul, carrying the nearly 6,000 passengers that included "a couple of hundred" American citizens. 

Since August 14, 13,000 total evacuees have been airlifted out of Kabul and 18,000 had departed since early July, he said.

Taylor also said the number of American troops on the ground at this time is 5,800. 

The general confirmed that US flight operations resumed after pausing "while we adjusted resources and personnel to ensure a temporary capacity issue at one of our stopover locations."

3:33 p.m. ET, August 20, 2021

Evacuation flights from Kabul were paused to address "temporary capacity issue," Army official says

From CNN's Adrienne Vogt

Army Maj. Gen. William "Hank" Taylor, Joint Staff deputy director for regional operations, speaks at a briefing in Washington, DC, on August 20, 2021.
Army Maj. Gen. William "Hank" Taylor, Joint Staff deputy director for regional operations, speaks at a briefing in Washington, DC, on August 20, 2021. Pool

Joint Staff Regional Operations Deputy Director Maj. Gen. Hank Taylor addressed the "pause" in US evacuation flights from Kabul at a Pentagon press conference on Friday.

"We did pause flights earlier today leaving Kabul, while we adjusted resources and personnel to ensure a temporary capacity issue at one of our stopover locations, although flight operations have resumed. And US military flights to Qatar and other locations are departing ... Kabul as we speak right now," Taylor said.  

"We are looking for additional locations for these initial flights to land. We're grateful for our allies — including Germany, where flights will land today — who are cooperating with us in this global effort. Aircraft availability is not an issue. We intend to maximize each plane's capacity. We're prioritizing the evacuation of people above all else, and we're focused on doing this as safely as possible with a great sense of urgency," Taylor said.

Taylor later added that the pause lasted 6 to 7 hours, "to ensure that flights at our intermediate staging bases could receive more personnel, and that has been cleaned up."

CNN's Clarissa Ward earlier reported that no US evacuation flights were observed leaving Hamid Karzai International airport for at least 8 hours.

3:00 p.m. ET, August 20, 2021

Biden considering rescue operations for Americans and Afghan allies stuck behind Taliban checkpoints

From CNN's Maegan Vazquez

President Biden said on Friday the US is considering rescue operations to get Americans and Afghan allies past Taliban checkpoints and to the airport in Kabul for evacuation if necessary.

“We're considering every opportunity and every means by which we could get folks to the airport,” he added.

Biden was also asked why the area around Hamid Karzai International Airport hasn't been secured yet and whether there are plans to do so. 

“(T)he reason why we have not gone out and ... set up a perimeter way outside the airport in Kabul is that it's likely to draw an awful lot of unintended consequences in terms of people who, in fact, are not part of the Taliban,” the President responded.

He said coordinating with Taliban leadership is how previous evacuations were successful.

The President said that “there will be judgements made on the ground, by the military commanders at the moment and I cannot second-guess each of those judgements to be made.”