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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12:03 p.m. ET, August 15, 2021

American flag is down at US Embassy in Kabul

From CNN's Kylie Atwood

The American flag at the US embassy in Kabul has been taken down, marking a final step in the evacuation of the embassy, according to a source familiar with the situation.

The withdrawal of US embassy personnel from Afghanistan is happening incredibly rapidly today and the process is now expected to conclude by this evening, minus the small number of diplomats who will stay at the Kabul airport for now, the source said.

Right now there are still a few security contractors at the embassy but they will leave soon, explained a second source familiar with the situation.

In recent days the State Department was taking steps that looked like they were heading in the direction of a full withdrawal, but State Department spokesperson Ned Price claimed it was not true when asked. Price said on Thursday that the US drawdown of diplomats was not an evacuation. Now, three days later, the evacuation is on the verge of being complete.

"This is not abandonment. This is not an evacuation. This is not the wholesale withdrawal. What this is (is) a reduction in the size of our civilian footprint," Price said during the department briefing. "The embassy remains open and we plan to continue our diplomatic work in Afghanistan."

12:14 p.m. ET, August 15, 2021

Afghan journalists are "petrified" and have targets on their backs, CNN's Clarissa Ward reports

From CNN's Clarissa Ward in Kabul

CNN's Chief International Correspondent Clarissa Ward on August 15, 2021.
CNN's Chief International Correspondent Clarissa Ward on August 15, 2021. CNN

Afghan journalists are "absolutely petrified, particularly women journalists" as the Taliban enters Kabul and gains ground across the country, CNN's Chief International Correspondent Clarissa Ward reports.

"There are so many of them across the country, and they've been doing bold and incredible reporting for many years. And now there is a very real fear that they might face retaliations for that or that, certainly, they won't be able to do their work anymore," Ward told CNN's Brian Stelter.

In the capital city, a majority of news organizations are "hunkered down" and waiting to see what's going to happen, Ward said.

"Some of these journalists and reporters know that they have a big 'X' on their backs, that they're big targets because they have been so outspoken against the Taliban in the past. And while the Taliban is trying to adopt this much more mature tone and pragmatic tone in saying that they are not going to hurt anybody, that they want things to be peaceful, that there will be no retaliation, there is also the reality on the ground that when you have a bunch of fighters roaming around, things can very quickly get out of control," she said.

Watch CNN's Clarissa Ward report from Kabul:

11:54 a.m. ET, August 15, 2021

US military considering the need for additional forces in Afghanistan

From CNN's Barbara Starr and Oren Liebermann

The US military is considering the possibility of sending additional US forces to Afghanistan, a defense official and US official familiar with the ongoing discussions said. Both officials caution no decision has been made.  

Gen. Frank McKenzie, head of US Central Command, arrived in the Persian Gulf region Sunday to directly oversee the situation in Afghanistan, according to the defense official. The official declined to publicly name McKenzie's location but said he is not in Afghanistan.

In the coming hours, a military team is expected to arrive and set up its own air traffic control system at the airport in Kabul in order to increase the number of evacuation flights out of the airfield. This type of capability is routinely maintained by the Air Force so it can operate at airfields in remote or war zone environments.

“We are going to ramp up flights” the defense official said.

The official also said the “current plan” is that as long as any US diplomats maintain a presence at the airport, there will be a contingent there of US forces to protect them. But the official acknowledged that if the Taliban are essentially in charge then that “reality” of keeping diplomats and troops at the airport may not hold.

The defense official also said “the current situation is going south pretty fast” and in his folks view from the outset “there was no assessment pessimistic enough.”

On Saturday, President Joe Biden authorized an additional 1,000 troops to be deployed to Afghanistan to assist in the "orderly and safe drawdown of US personnel and other allied personnel and an orderly and safe evacuation of Afghans who helped our troops during our mission and those at special risk from the Taliban advance." The bulk of troops are expected in Kabul by the end of the weekend.

11:52 a.m. ET, August 15, 2021

Taliban says they entered Kabul because Afghan security forces abandoned their posts

From CNN's Artemis Moshtaghian

Taliban fighters entered Kabul on Sunday, despite saying earlier they would remain outside the city until there was an agreement with government officials, because Afghan security forces had deserted their posts in parts of the city, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in a statement on Sunday. 

Read the translation of the Taliban's statement below:

"This morning the Islamic Emirate released a statement that our forces were outside Kabul city and we did not want to enter Kabul through military ways. 
However, now we are getting reports that the district police offices are evacuated, police has left their job of ensuring the security, also the ministries are emptied and the security personnel of the Kabul administration has fled. Therefore, in order to avoid any looting and burglary in Kabul and stop opportunists from harming the people, the Islamic Emirate has advised its forces to enter those areas of the city where the enemy has left and the areas are at risk of looting and burglary. 
The residents of the city should not feel any fear from the Mujahideen. Our forces are quietly entering the city, they won’t bother anyone, government employees both civilian and military should be assured that no one will harm them, no Mujahid is allowed to enter people’s houses, or hurt or bother anyone."
11:41 a.m. ET, August 15, 2021

Women's rights activist "surprised" at collapse of government and worries for the future

Mahbouba Seraj, women's rights activist, on August 15, 2021.
Mahbouba Seraj, women's rights activist, on August 15, 2021. CNN

The rapid gains across Afghanistan by Taliban militants have stunned observers both at home and abroad. Mahbouba Seraj from the Afghan Women's Network told CNN she was "surprised" by how quickly the government collapsed. 

"In a matter of two days, four provinces of Afghanistan going into the hands of Taliban. And I was wondering what on earth could be doing that?" Seraj said. "But then again, at the same time, because of the way this country has become in the corruption, the way it is in the world, and in Afghanistan today, I knew we were sold out." 

After years in exile, Seraj – who was born in Kabul – returned to her homeland in 2003 to work with women and children. She says her goal was not to turn women into government officials but to help those that needed help the most. She spent years traveling around the country talking to women about their rights, education and healthcare.

"I came to Afghanistan to be the voice of the voiceless women of my country, all of those women that are living in the provinces of Afghanistan, all the way back in the districts, and nobody hears the voices, and they are in dire need of help, they are poor. They are not educated. The children are dying because they're sick and ... there was such a mother and child mortality rates in Afghanistan so high, so I came for that."

She said that despite seeing the Taliban return to Kabul, she wants to continue her work and is choosing to remain in the country because "my duty is my responsibility."

"I want to do it for my girls, for my sisters and for my daughters ... but at the same time, I just want to be here because I know my presence really gives them the kind of normal, and the kind of support that they really need in this very hard times," she added.

11:21 a.m. ET, August 15, 2021

Taliban entered "peacefully" into Kabul

From CNN's Nick Paton Walsh in Kabul

The Taliban entered Kabul, the capital city of Afghanistan, "peacefully," CNN's Nick Paton Walsh reported from the ground.

"We are hearing crackles of gunfire here and there, but there are not reports of... street-to-street fighting or Afghan security forces amassing in specific areas in order to prevent their entry. As far as we are aware, and it is dark here, so we are not able to go around and witness these events, they are moving gently across the city," Paton Walsh told CNN's Fareed Zakaria.

He added that it is unprecedented times, "Partly, because nobody imagined the Taliban would enter into the city of six million unimpeded," and because the Afghan President "said that he essentially wanted to stick around and has now disappeared without a transitional government in potentially to take over."

11:29 a.m. ET, August 15, 2021

Biden administration struggles to project order as Taliban enters Kabul

From CNN's Kevin Liptak and Jason Hoffman 

US President Joe Biden speaks during a meeting at the White House on August 3, 2021.
US President Joe Biden speaks during a meeting at the White House on August 3, 2021. Shawn Thew/EPA/Bloomberg/Getty Images

President Biden and his administration struggled Sunday to project order amid a race by American and other foreign personnel to evacuate Afghanistan as Taliban fighters entered Kabul.

The rapid fall of Afghanistan's national forces and government has come as a shock to Biden and senior members of his administration, who only last month believed it could take months before the civilian government in Kabul fell – allowing a period of time after American troops left before the full consequences of the withdrawal were laid bare.

Now, officials are frankly admitting they miscalculated.

"The fact of the matter is we've seen that that force has been unable to defend the country," Secretary of State Antony Blinken told Jake Tapper on "State of the Union," referring to Afghanistan's national security forces. "And that has happened more quickly than we anticipated” he said.

The risks for Biden politically are uncertain; a majority of Americans say in polls they support withdrawing troops from Afghanistan, and Biden’s aides have calculated the country shares his weariness at prolonging a 20-year conflict.

Yet the chaotic scenes playing out as that war ends — evoking the fall of Saigon in 1975, an image that haunted Biden as he weighed a withdrawal earlier this year — are certain to trail Biden as the Taliban asserts control over large swaths of the country.

Already, some members of Congress are demanding more information from the administration on how its intelligence could have so badly misjudged the situation on the ground, or why more robust contingency plans for evacuating Americans and their allies weren’t in place. 

The notion the civilian government led by President Ashraf Ghani would be unable to withstand the Taliban’s advances is not a surprise. Intelligence assessments over the past year have offered differing timetables for what was viewed by many national security officials as an inevitability.

Read the full article here.

11:13 a.m. ET, August 15, 2021

Majority of US Embassy staff now at Kabul airport, US official tells CNN

From CNN's Jennifer Hansler

The majority of US Embassy staff are out of the diplomatic compound in Kabul, a US official told CNN.

CNN reported earlier that a small number of core personnel, including the top US diplomat in the country, will remain at the Kabul airport for now, the sources said.

12:20 p.m. ET, August 15, 2021

Afghan politician slams Ghani for leaving the country

From CNN's Tim Lister

The Afghan Chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation Abdullah Abdullah has bitterly criticized President Ashraf Ghani for fleeing the country.

In a video statement recorded in Kabul, Abdullah said: "The fact that the former Afghan president left the country and put the people and country in such a bad situation, God will hold him accountable and the people of Afghanistan will also judge him [for doing so]."

Abdullah also told the Afghan people: "During the current circumstances, the only one thing I want for you is that God give you the ability to maintain your peace. I request the country’s defense and security forces to cooperation in maintaining security. I request forces of the Taliban movement to give negotiations a chance, without entering the city, so the suffering of the people does not continue or deterioration of the security situation, which will result in causing casualties and losses inflicted upon the people."

"Once again I request patience for you and may God help you and be with you, and that these difficult days pass and a solution is realized for the peaceful living of the Afghan people," Abdullah said. 

Abdullah served as the Chief Executive Officer of the Unity Government of Afghanistan from September 2014 until March 2020.