Afghanistan's second largest city falls to Taliban

By Melissa Mahtani, Melissa Macaya, Veronica Rocha, Tara John and Aditi Sangal, CNN

Updated 8:00 p.m. ET, August 13, 2021
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9:52 a.m. ET, August 13, 2021

Taliban takes control of Firoz Koh in central Afghanistan

From CNN's Hannah Ritchie 

The Taliban has taken control of Firoz Koh, the provincial capital of Ghor province in central Afghanistan, a local source told CNN Friday. 

Afghan government officials were forced to surrender on Thursday after the Taliban seized the governor’s office, police headquarters, and the National Directorate of Security office, the source confirmed. Adding that Taliban fighters opened the central jail in Ghor province, freeing all prisoners. 

The Taliban has taken control of 17 provincial capitals since last Friday, making large territorial gains in the north of the country, which has traditionally been an anti-Taliban stronghold. 

The successful military offensive is advancing the Taliban’s main goal of encircling Kabul and pushing out President Ashraf Ghani’s government.

A senior administration official familiar with the most recent US intelligence assessment on Afghanistan told CNN Wednesday that Kabul could fall into the hands of the Taliban within 30 to 90 days.

10:09 a.m. ET, August 13, 2021

Senior Afghan officials join Taliban ranks in Herat after city falls

From CNN's Hannah Ritchie

Mohammad Ismail Khan, right, pictured in Herat on August 6.
Mohammad Ismail Khan, right, pictured in Herat on August 6. Jalil Rezayee/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

The current and former governors of Herat, the National Directorate of Security chief, the deputy interior minister, and an Afghan Army Corps Commander have all joined the Taliban following the fall of Herat, the group claimed on Friday. 

Afghan politician and warlord Mohammad Ismail Khan was the most prominent figure to defect. Khan, who formerly served as the governor of Herat and an Afghan government minister, was seen in a Taliban video Friday speaking alongside militants.

Herat’s deputy interior minister Abdul Rahman Rahman and National Directorate of Security Chief Hasib Sediqi, along with Afghan Army Corps commander, Khyal Nabi Ahmadzai, had also defected, Taliban spokesman Qari Yousuf Ahmadi told journalists Friday.

Ahmadi also claimed “thousands” of Afghan Security Forces had joined Taliban ranks in Herat. 

CNN has not been able to independently verify all the Taliban’s defection claims but has viewed video of Mohammad Ismail Khan with the militant group. 

Herat, which is the third largest city in Afghanistan, fell to the Taliban on Friday. Currently, at least 17 provincial capitals are under Taliban control.

9:52 a.m. ET, August 13, 2021

Taliban now control half of Afghanistan's provincial capitals

From CNN's Tim Lister 

Taliban fighters drive an Afghan National Army vehicle through a street in Kandahar on August 13.
Taliban fighters drive an Afghan National Army vehicle through a street in Kandahar on August 13. AFP/Getty Images

According to a CNN analysis, the Taliban now controls 17 of Afghanistan's 34 provincial capitals — all of which have been captured in the last week.

Four more cities fell to the Taliban on Thursday night and Friday. Several more are surrounded or under siege.

The CNN analysis is based on Taliban claims, confirmation by government and provincial officials, and visual evidence from the cities that have been taken over.

The Taliban now controls towns and territories within 100 kilometers of Kabul, including the capital of Logar province, which fell on Friday.

12:57 p.m. ET, August 13, 2021

Pakistan relaxes visa policy for foreign journalists and media workers stranded in Afghanistan

From CNN’s Sophia Saifi

Pakistan’s Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, left, has announced that the government of Pakistan has decided to relax the visa policy for foreign journalists and media workers stranded in Afghanistan.
Pakistan’s Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, left, has announced that the government of Pakistan has decided to relax the visa policy for foreign journalists and media workers stranded in Afghanistan. Aamir Qureshi/AFP/Getty Images

Pakistan’s Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed has announced that “In view of the changing situation in Afghanistan” the government of Pakistan has decided to relax the visa policy for foreign journalists and media workers stranded in Afghanistan.

In a statement, Ahmed said that international journalists and media workers who intend to leave Afghanistan via Pakistan are “urged to apply for a Pakistani visa.” These applications will have visas issued on a “priority basis.” 

The statement also claimed that the announcement of visa waivers by the government of Pakistan is being made "in view of the safety of journalists and media workers working in Afghanistan."

When contacted, a spokesperson of the interior ministry confirmed to CNN that visas will be issued to “foreign journalists” working for “international organisations” and this waiver doesn’t apply to Afghan journalists.

Pakistani National Security Advisor Moeed Yusuf on Connect the World:

9:34 a.m. ET, August 13, 2021

Fareed Zakaria: Taliban had been making inroads in Afghanistan for 10 years

Taliban fighters stand along a road in Ghazni, Afghanistan, on Thursday, August 12.
Taliban fighters stand along a road in Ghazni, Afghanistan, on Thursday, August 12. AFP/Getty Images

Taliban's rapid gains in Afghanistan demonstrate that despite 20 years of military training and massive amounts of monetary investments, there is still "no real Afghan army that is able to defend its country," CNN's Fareed Zakaria says.

"We thought with just a few thousand American troops, we are somehow holding this country together. That wasn't really the case. The Taliban had decided not to fight, because when Trump agreed to [decrease] troops down to about 3,000, the Taliban agreed to negotiate. So, there was a period there where it looked like the place was calm. But the real story is that for 10 years the Taliban had been making inroads, and for 10 years the Taliban had been taking towns," he explained.

Former President Trump's decision to decrease troops in Afghanistan is why US troops are not in the position to control the situation anymore, Zakaria said.

"At most, 3,000 troops can do force protection of themselves," he said. "What you're seeing in many of these Afghan towns, the most tell-tale sign is the Taliban is taking them over without much of a fight. The Afghan troops just melt away. Now, if we'd stayed there, could we have kept this together another few years, if we stayed in large numbers? Probably. But isn't that telling? 20 years, a trillion dollars, and an army of 300,000 just melts away, town after town."

Watch:

8:44 a.m. ET, August 13, 2021

Afghan government loses control of another provincial capital in the west

From CNN's Tim Lister 

As the Taliban sweep through the provinces of western Afghanistan, the government has lost control of the capital of Uruzgan province, Tarin Kot. 

A local journalist told CNN Friday that the governor’s office, police headquarters and the central jail were now in the Taliban's hands. The journalist said the city had fallen to the Taliban without any fighting as tribal elders had decided not to resist the Taliban advance. 

Afghan news network TOLO quoted the governor of Uruzgan, Mohammad Omar Shizad, as saying that after days of fighting around the city, the elders had urged him to cease fire because of the likely damage of further combat.

The Taliban has not formally claimed to have captured Tarin Kot, and government officials have not confirmed the city has been lost. But videos circulating Friday showed Taliban fighters in the city. 

8:49 a.m. ET, August 13, 2021

This Afghan interpreter is trying to get his family out of Afghanistan

Said Noor on CNN's New Day.
Said Noor on CNN's New Day. CNN

As the US government withdraws its troops from Afghanistan, it is also evacuating some of its Afghan interpreters, who aided the US military in their operations. However, there are still thousands of interpreters, support staff and families left behind, and they're now facing persecution at the hand of the Taliban.

Said Noor is an Afghan interpreter, who immigrated from Afghanistan, and joined the US army, but has not been able to get his family out of Afghanistan yet.

As his family sees the Taliban rapidly seizing Afghan provincial capitals, Noor says they get worried and call him.

“They just want to know about their fate — how they’re going to get out of Afghanistan, or are they going to become the next target for the Taliban? So far, I have not heard any positive feedback from the US government as far as pulling my families out of Afghanistan and bringing them into safe haven in the United States," he told CNN.

Noor described how extremely difficult it is for any interpreters, support staff and their families to leave Afghanistan.

To get to Kabul. his parents and siblings had to make a lot of excuses and make it through a lot of checkpoints manned by the Taliban.

"[My mother] had to explain that she's seeking medical treatment in Kabul and that's how my family were allowed to go," he said. "If I put myself in the shoes of the other interpreters who do not have any US contract, or local interpreters in Afghanistan, their life is [in] as much danger as my family's life is. And they have no way to get out of the country."

Noor also says he is "very surprised" at how quickly the cities have fallen, including Kandahar – the country's second-biggest city – which is of particular strategic importance and was formerly a major hub for US military operations.

So far, the Taliban swept more than a dozen provincial capitals in Afghanistan.

"I'm very concerned about the situation there. And I'm sure the Taliban, pretty soon, they're going to make their way into Kabul, and it's going to be chaos,"

Afghanistan, he fears, will soon see a civil war.

WATCH THE INTERVIEW:

7:52 a.m. ET, August 13, 2021

Pakistan calls for “international plan” to deal with Afghan refugees

From CNN's Pauline Lockwood

Pakistan is calling for an international plan to deal with Afghan refugees as the country sees an influx of people fleeing the Taliban after the US and other forces withdrew from the country. 

Moeed Yusuf, national security adviser to Pakistan's Prime Minister, said Friday that there needs to be an “international conversation” about managing the crisis.

Yusuf told a press conference that it was “hypocritical” of the West to criticize Pakistan for not taking more refugees in, saying Pakistan has “financed and housed” the largest number of Afghan refugees and now “simply doesn’t have the economic capacity” to house more.

Pakistan’s “generosity” to take in Afghan refugees was “unparalleled, but was not a favor to anybody.”

He added that Afghans are not “commodities which everyone is washing their hands clean off” but “human beings.”

Regarding the situation in Afghanistan, Yusuf said that “there are chances of” the Afghan Taliban coming out with “some settlement” which will not be a “Western settlement,” and as long as that’s what the “Afghans decide and as long as it is politically settled and inclusive,” it will have to be “respected.”

Peace in Afghanistan is “non-negotiable for Pakistan” said Yusuf, adding that the aim is to at some point “offer” Pakistan’s sea routes to Central Asian countries, which can only be possible if Afghanistan is “somewhat peaceful.”

7:19 a.m. ET, August 13, 2021

Afghanistan's quick unraveling jolts national security officials and threatens to stain Biden's legacy

From CNN's Natasha Bertrand, Phil Mattingly, Kylie Atwood and Jennifer Hansler

US President Joe Biden speaks from the White House Treaty Room on Wednesday, April 14, as he announces his decision to withdraw American troops from Afghanistan.
US President Joe Biden speaks from the White House Treaty Room on Wednesday, April 14, as he announces his decision to withdraw American troops from Afghanistan. Andrew Harnik/Pool/Getty Images

The security situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated faster than President Joe Biden and his most senior national security officials had anticipated, leaving the White House rushing to stave off the worst effects of a Taliban takeover.

The Biden administration launched a dramatic series of moves Thursday to reinforce Kabul and allow for the safe removal of a significant number of personnel from the American embassy there, as it becomes ever clearer to administration officials that the looming collapse of Afghanistan's government and the fallout for its citizens threatens to become a permanent stain on Biden's foreign policy legacy.

The Pentagon announced 3,000 troops are being deployed to assist with the drawdown of the embassy to only a "core diplomatic presence" and CNN reported the US is considering moving its embassy to the Kabul airport.

Despite all of this, Biden has not second-guessed his decision to withdraw, officials said, and reiterated earlier this week that the Afghans have "got to fight for themselves." But some officials are aware that the swift unraveling of the country could damage the President's foreign policy legacy, with intensifying peril to American diplomats in Kabul, the human rights implications of leaving women and girls to suffer under Taliban rule and power vacuums inside Afghanistan that could once again allow terrorism to flourish.

They are also bracing for Taliban atrocities to increasingly spill into public view amid deteriorating peace talks.

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