August 15, 2021, Afghanistan-Taliban news

By Lauren Said-Moorhouse, Melissa Mahtani, Melissa Macaya, Maureen Chowdhury, Brad Lendon and Joshua Berlinger, CNN

Updated 12:01 AM ET, Mon August 16, 2021
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5:00 p.m. ET, August 15, 2021

US approves 1,000 more troops into Afghanistan due to deteriorating security situation, defense official says

From CNN’s Oren Liebermann

Taliban fighters and local residents sit over an Afghan National Army (ANA) humvee vehicle along the roadside in Laghman province on August 15.
Taliban fighters and local residents sit over an Afghan National Army (ANA) humvee vehicle along the roadside in Laghman province on August 15. AFP/Getty Images

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin approved 1,000 more US troops into Afghanistan, a defense official tells CNN, for a total of 6,000 US troops that will be in the country soon.

The additional troops come from the group of 82nd Airborne that were headed to Kuwait, and they are being sent in as a result of the deteriorating security situation, the official said.

Their primary mission is the security of Kabul's international airport, which is the entry point for the troops and the exit point for the US embassy staff and Afghans who are leaving the country.

"We are not assuming that every inch of the airport is secure," said the official, noting reports of Afghan civilians rushing to the airport.

As of right now, there are approximately 3,000 US troops in Afghanistan. The remaining troops are en route or will be in the imminent future.

There have been security incidents at or near the airport, the official said, but US forces have not been targeted, nor have they fired on anyone. Turkish forces remain at the field and are also taking part in the efforts to secure the field. The official could not say whether Turkish forces had been engaged in exchanges of fire.

The US military is overseeing air traffic control at the field, which is still being run by Afghan air traffic controllers. Civilian and military flights continue, the defense official said, though there have been delays and temporary stoppages in civilian flights.

The US military will have the maximum capacity to move about 5,000 people per day out of Kabul international airport, though they are not able to move that number yet, the official said. They will reach that capacity "within days."

The US has made its plans clear to the Taliban in Doha and that any attempt to fire on US forces will be met with a strong response, the official added.

4:57 p.m. ET, August 15, 2021

French military to evacuate French nationals from Afghanistan on two planes

From CNN's Saskya Vandoorne and Mitch McCluskey

Two French military planes will evacuate French nationals from Afghanistan to the United Arab Emirates as the Taliban continues to claim territory in the country, the French army said in a statement on Sunday.

The transport planes will take off from Kabul Sunday night and Monday morning for Air Base 104 in Al Dhafra, UAE. The planes will be reinforced by French soldiers who are stationed in the UAE.

The French nationals will then be transported to the city by other military planes after arriving at the airbase.

The French army is carrying out the operation in coordination with the ministries of Europe and foreign affairs, the statement said.

A spokesperson for the Elysee Palace announced Sunday that French President Emmanuel Macron will address the nation on Afghanistan on Monday.

4:38 p.m. ET, August 15, 2021

Turkey says it will work with Pakistan to help stabilize Afghanistan and prevent new wave of Afghan migrants

From CNN’s Celine Alkhaldi in Dubai

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks during a naval ceremony, in Istanbul, Turkey, on August 15.
Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks during a naval ceremony, in Istanbul, Turkey, on August 15. Turkish Presidency/Pool/AP

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Sunday that Turkey will work with Pakistan to help stabilize Afghanistan, according to the state news agency Anadolu.

Speaking at a ship-launching ceremony in Istanbul alongside his Pakistani counterpart Arif Alvi, Erdogan said that Turkey is "facing a wave of Afghan migrants through Iran," according to Anadolu.

He said Turkey "will continue efforts to enable the return of stability in the region," emphasizing the need to pursue and strengthen cooperation with Pakistan in doing so, according to Anadolu.

The Turkish President said his country is determined to mobilize all the means at its disposal to succeed, according to Anadolu Agency.

Erdogan also spoke to Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan over the phone on Sunday to review the evolving situation in Afghanistan. Khan conveyed that Pakistan was "extending facilitation in the evacuation of diplomatic personnel and staff of international organizations and others in Kabul," according to a statement shared by his office.

The statement said that both Erdogan and Khan will reconvene on Monday, following the National Security Committee, which will tackle developments in Afghanistan. The meeting will be held in Islamabad and attended by senior government and military officials, according to the Prime Minister's office.

Anadolu reported on Saturday that Turkish National Defense Minister Hulusi Akar, together with military commanders, conducted on-site inspections of the measures taken on the Iranian border. Soldiers at the post reassured Akar that "neither terrorists nor illegal immigrants can enter our country while we are here."

According to UNHCR figures from 2019, about 90% of the world's Afghan refugees are hosted in Iran and Pakistan, and according to a 2020 report, more than 116 thousand Afghan asylum seekers and nearly 1,000 Afghan refugees reside in Turkey.

5:45 p.m. ET, August 15, 2021

Here’s how the Taliban regained control in Afghanistan

Taliban fighters raise their flag at the Ghazni provincial governor's house in Ghazni, Afghanistan, on August 15, 2021.
Taliban fighters raise their flag at the Ghazni provincial governor's house in Ghazni, Afghanistan, on August 15, 2021. Gulabuddin Amiri/AP

After 20 years of US intervention, thousands of deaths and at least $1 trillion dollars, the Taliban's advance in the country has been strikingly swift — here’s a look back at how the situation evolved to where it stands today:

Less than a month after terrorists linked to al Qaeda carried out the 9/11 attacks, American and allied forces begin an invasion of Afghanistan called Operation Enduring Freedom, to stop the Taliban from providing a safe-haven to al Qaeda and to stop al Qaeda’s use of Afghanistan as a base of operations for terrorist activities.

On Dec. 7, 2001 the Taliban lost its last major stronghold as the city of Kandahar fell. Since then, the Taliban have attempted to gain ground in Afghanistan throughout the time US forces have been there and throughout multiple US administrations.

More recently, in January 2017, the Taliban sent an open letter to then-newly elected US President Trump, calling on him to withdraw US forces from the country.

Between 2017 to 2019 there were attempts at peace talks between the US and the Taliban that never finalized into an agreement.

During a surprise trip to Afghanistan in November 2019 for a Thanksgiving visit with US troops, Trump announced that peace talks with the Taliban were restarting. The peace talks resumed in Doha, Qatar, in December of that year.

The US and the Taliban signed a historic agreement in February 2020, which set into motion the potential of a full withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan. The "Agreement for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan" outlined a series of commitments from the US and the Taliban related to troop levels, counter terrorism, and the intra-Afghan dialogue aimed at bringing about "a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire."

In the month following the signing of the Trump administration’s peace deal with the Taliban, the insurgent group increased its attacks on America’s Afghan allies to higher than usual levels, according to data provided to the Pentagon’s Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction.

In August 2020, Afghanistan’s grand assembly of elders, the consultative Loya Jirga, passed a resolution calling for the release of the last batch of some 5,000 Taliban prisoner, paving the way for direct peace talks with the insurgent group to end nearly two decades of war. The release of the 400 prisoners was part of the agreement signed by the US and the Taliban in February.

In March 2021, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and the Biden administration proposed to the Afghan government that they enter into an interim power-sharing agreement with the Taliban.

In April 2021, President Biden announced that the US would withdraw forces from Afghanistan by September 2021.

In August, just months after the US began withdrawing forces, the Biden administration sent in 5,000 troops into Afghanistan after the Taliban began gaining control in the country.

On Aug. 15, after the Taliban seized control of every major city across Afghanistan, apart from Kabul, in just two weeks, the Taliban engaged in talks with the government in the capital over who will rule the nation. 

The Taliban is now edging closer to taking full control of the country and have seized the presidential palace in Kabul after President Ghani fled the country. Earlier talks to form a transitional government appear to have been scuppered by Ghani's departure.

CNN's Clarissa Ward, Tim Lister, Vasco Cotovio, Angela Dewan, Mostafa Salem and Saleem Mehsud contributed reporting to this post. 

4:05 p.m. ET, August 15, 2021

Presidential palace in Kabul "handed over" to the Taliban

From CNN’s Sarah El Sirgany and Tim Lister

A US Black Hawk military helicopter flies over the city of Kabul, Afghanistan, on August 15.
A US Black Hawk military helicopter flies over the city of Kabul, Afghanistan, on August 15. Rahmat Gul/AP

The presidential palace in Kabul has now been “handed over” to the Taliban, according to the Al Jazeera network.

It was vacated just hours ago by government officials, including former President Ashraf Ghani who has fled the country.

According to the Al Jazeera network, which broadcast scenes of the Taliban live from the palace, one of the Taliban officials said that Kabul was a different city to the one they left 20 years ago. 

"Securing Kabul is a huge responsibility. It's different from the city we left 20 years ago," Al Jazeera reported, quoting the Taliban official at the palace.

The Al Jazeera correspondent at the palace reported that three Afghan government officials were present for the palace “handover” to the Taliban.

A Taliban security official then said that "no blood was shed in the handover." He also said there is a "peaceful handover of government facilities ongoing across the country."

One of the Taliban officials also said that they want an all-inclusive government in Afghanistan.

He further said that Taliban leader as well as two of his deputies are now in Afghanistan and that they will come to Kabul when the security situation improves.

Another Taliban member present for the ceremony, spoke briefly in English to say he had formerly been held by the US in Guantanamo.

 

4:10 p.m. ET, August 15, 2021

"You'll probably see history describe this as a day that will live in infamy," CNN's Christiane Amanpour says

From CNN's Christiane Amanpour

Taliban fighters sit on a vehicle along the street in Jalalabad province, Afghanistan on August 15.
Taliban fighters sit on a vehicle along the street in Jalalabad province, Afghanistan on August 15. AFP/Getty Images

The Taliban was making empty promises leading up to the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, CNN's chief international anchor Christiane Ampour reported.

"Most analysts who understood what was not happening in Doha, i.e. peace talks that were meant to engineer some kind of proper transition from one US-led force to the Afghans, didn't pay off. The Afghan Taliban continued to fight on the ground while they continued to make empty promises to the United States in Doha, Qatar," Amanpour told CNN's Fredericka Whitefeld Sunday.

Amanpour noted that the Afghan Taliban's efforts to gain control in the country are "very similar to what they did back in 1996, and the 90s, when they also stormed in and by and large took most of the cities, including Kabul, without a fight."

"I think you'll probably see history describe this as a day that will live in infamy. You have in 20 years, and fast approaching the anniversary of 9/11, the very reason for the United States to enter Afghanistan and to correctly push back Al Qaeda and the Taliban which attacked the homeland, has now been completely and utterly handed back to the Taliban. They have been handed back, by the United States' rapid withdrawal, the land of Afghanistan. And I think what you're hearing from a lot of American military is a deep sense of regret. A deep sense that this perhaps did not need to happen," she said.

3:02 p.m. ET, August 15, 2021

UAE assisting in evacuation of diplomatic missions for several countries with embassies in Afghanistan

From CNN’s Artemis Moshtaghian, Mostafa Salem and Tim Lister 

The United Arab Emirates Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirms that they are facilitating the evacuation of the country’s diplomatic mission from Afghanistan, according to a statement obtained by CNN.

The UAE MFA also tells CNN that they are working on evacuating diplomatic staff from France, the United Kingdom, the European Union, Canada, Australia, the Office of the United Nations Food Program, the United States, Germany, and Egypt.

UAE MFA said several aircrafts “from a variety of nations” are departing from Kabul airport on Sunday and are due to arrive to the UAE Sunday night and Monday morning.

A spokesperson for the Taliban, Zabihullah Mujahid, said that flights in and out of the airport will be allowed to proceed as normal. There has been no Taliban effort to take the airport. “We assure all embassies, diplomatic missions, institutions and residences of foreign nationals in Kabul that there is no danger is posed to them,” Mujahid said in a statement on Sunday. 

 

11:40 p.m. ET, August 15, 2021

The Taliban have seized the presidential palace in Kabul. Here’s more on who they are.

Taliban fighters entered Afghanistan’s presidential palace hours after President Ashraf Ghani fled the country on Sunday, a milestone in the insurgent group’s assumption of control over the capital city Kabul.

One unit shared pictures of the palace interior – intact, but empty and apparently abandoned by Afghan officials – on an official Telegram account.

Taliban representatives had been in talks with the government for hours over who would rule the nation, following the militant group’s strikingly rapid advance across the country, in which it seized power over dozens of key cities, often with little to no resistance.

Who are the Taliban?

The Taliban are a Sunni Islamist organization operating primarily in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

They formed in 1994 under the leadership of Mullah Mohammed Omar a few years after the Soviet Union withdrew from Afghanistan. They were members of the Afghan resistance fighters, known collectively as mujahedeen, who were students of Omar.

Taliban, in Pashto, is the plural of Talib, which means student.

The group’s aim is to impose its interpretation of Islamic law on Afghanistan and remove foreign influence from the country.

The group started gaining ground in 1994 and captured the capital city of Kabul in September 1996. They had a controlling presence in the country between 1996 to 2001.

During those years, the group imposed strict Islamic laws on the Afghan people. Women had to wear head-to-toe coverings, were not allowed to attend school or work outside the home and were forbidden to travel alone. Television, music and non-Islamic holidays were also banned.

Omar led the Taliban from the mid-1990s until his death in 2013. Omar formed a relationship with Osama Bin Laden in 1997.

Less than a month after terrorists linked to al Qaeda carried out the 9/11 attacks, American and allied forces began an invasion of Afghanistan called Operation Enduring Freedom, to stop the Taliban from providing a safe-haven to al Qaeda and to stop al Qaeda’s use of Afghanistan as a base of operations for terrorist activities.

On Dec. 7, 2001 the Taliban lost its last major stronghold as the city of Kandahar fell.

Read more about the group here.

CNN's Clarissa Ward, Tim Lister, Angela Dewan and Saleem Mehsud contributed reporting to this post. 

2:55 p.m. ET, August 15, 2021

UN Security Council will meet on Afghanistan Monday

From CNN’s Richard Roth

The United Nations Security Council will meet regarding Afghanistan Monday morning, a diplomatic source tells CNN.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres is expected to brief the Council, with private consultations to follow, they said.

In remarks on Friday, Guterres called on the Taliban to halt their offensive in Afghanistan and didn’t directly answer when asked what he would say to those who feel Afghanistan has been abandoned by the international community.