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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11:49 p.m. ET, August 15, 2021

Senior US Senate staffers working to help Afghan pilots who fled to Uzbekistan

From CNN's Jake Tapper and Nathan Hodge

Senior US Senate staffers were working with Pentagon officials Sunday night to help Afghan pilots who had fled the country and landed in Uzbekistan, where US officials feared they could be turned over to the Taliban, according to a US Senate source.

Senate staffers were also trying to deal with State Department officials, who are already overwhelmed with the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan, the source said.

With Taliban taking control of Afghanistan, more than a dozen Afghan pilots have fled the country on aircraft. The countries that border Afghanistan are grappling with the Taliban takeover and must decide how to deal with Afghans fleeing into their countries.

CNN obtained documentation showing identification of the pilots, whom the US is seeking to protect, but is not sharing the information publicly.

CNN has reached out to the Defense Department and State Department for comment.

What Uzbekistan is saying: Uzbekistan said it detained 84 people from the Afghan Armed Forces at the two countries' shared border Saturday.

The group of Afghan military personnel did not resist when they were detained by Uzbekistan's State Security Service, according to a statement from the Uzbek Foreign Ministry published Monday. They asked for help and medical assistance for three people that were wounded.

"The necessary screening procedures and sanitary and epidemiological measures were carried out with these Afghan citizens, medical assistance was provided to some, food and their temporary accommodation were organized as well," the Uzbek Foreign Ministry statement read.

The ministry said that there was "a growing presence" of Afghan military forces seen on the Afghan side of the Termez-Hairaton bridge, which connects the town of Hairatan in the northern Balkh province of Afghanistan with Termez in the Surxondaryo region of Uzbekistan.

"Measures are being taken to provide humanitarian assistance to these persons," the ministry said.

The ministry said it was negotiating with Afghan officials on the return of its citizens, though it did not specify if conversations were being held with the Taliban or the Afghan government that has just collapsed.

9:54 p.m. ET, August 15, 2021

All US Embassy personnel have evacuated, the State Department said

From CNN's Jennifer Hansler

All personnel have evacuated from the US Embassy in Kabul and are now at the Kabul airport, the State Department said Sunday night. 

“We can confirm that the safe evacuation of all Embassy personnel is now complete. All Embassy personnel are located on the premises of Hamid Karzai International Airport, whose perimeter is secured by the US Military,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price said in a statement.
9:47 p.m. ET, August 15, 2021

Russia is not evacuating its embassy in Afghanistan

From CNN's Zahra Ullah in Moscow and Nathan Hodge

The Russian government is not preparing to evacuate its embassy in Kabul, a senior Russian diplomat told Russian state news agency RIA-Novosti.

"The evacuation of the embassy is not being readied," said Zamir Kabulov, Russian President Vladimir Putin's special representative for Afghanistan, RIA-Novosti reported Sunday. "I am in contact with our ambassador, they are working calmly and closely watching events as they unfold."

Kabulov said the Taliban had guaranteed security for the Russian Embassy.

Russian Ambassador to Afghanistan Dmitry Zhirnov is planning to meet with representatives of the Taliban to discuss the security of the Russian diplomatic mission, the embassy's press attache, Nikita Ishchenko, told RIA-Novosti.

Russia has previously designated the Taliban as a terrorist organization, but the Kremlin government has also hosted the group's top negotiators at diplomatic conferences in Moscow.

9:12 p.m. ET, August 15, 2021

"Vast majority" of assets in Afghanistan's central bank are not held in the country

From CNN’s Jeff Zeleny

Da Afghanistan Bank is seen in Kabul on November 3, 2017.
Da Afghanistan Bank is seen in Kabul on November 3, 2017. Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg/Getty Images

The abrupt collapse of the Afghanistan government on Sunday has raised questions about assets held by the Afghanistan's central bank, Da Afghanistan Bank, and whether they could end up in the hands of the Taliban.

However, the “vast majority” of the the bank's assets are not held in Afghanistan, a US official familiar with the matter told CNN.

Separately, a Biden administration official said Sunday that any assets the Afghan government has in the United States will not be made available to the Taliban.

So while it’s not exactly clear just how much money is being held in reserves at Da Afghanistan Bank, the US administration is pushing back on some critics who believe the Taliban will have access to the money.

9:18 p.m. ET, August 15, 2021

More than five dozen countries call for safety of people wishing to leave Afghanistan

From CNN’s Colin McCullough

Passengers enter the departures terminal of Hamid Karzai International Airport, in Kabul, Afghanistan, on August 14.
Passengers enter the departures terminal of Hamid Karzai International Airport, in Kabul, Afghanistan, on August 14. Rahmat Gul/AP

More than five dozen countries are urging “all parties” to safeguard the departure of foreign nationals and Afghans who wish to leave the country, according to a joint statement released by the US State Department on Sunday.

“Afghans and international citizens who wish to depart must be allowed to do so; roads, airports and border crossing must remain open, and calm must be maintained," the statement says.

“Those in positions of power and authority across Afghanistan bear responsibility -- and accountability -- for the protection of human life and property, and for the immediate restoration of security and civil order,” the statement read

Joining the United States in the statement are: Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Belgium, Burkina Faso, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Côte d’Ivoire, Czech Republic, Denmark, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Estonia, The High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liberia, Lichtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta , Marshall Islands, Mauritania, Nauru, Netherlands, New Zealand, Niger, Norway, Palau, Panama, Paraguay, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Republic of Korea, Republic of Cyprus, Romania, Sierra Leone, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Suriname, Sweden, Togo, Tonga, Uganda, United Kingdom, Ukraine and Yemen.

9:07 p.m. ET, August 15, 2021

Congressman: US troops presence in Afghanistan kept America safe for 20 years

Republican Rep. Dan Crenshaw -- a Navy SEAL and a veteran of the war in Afghanistan -- said Sunday the sacrifices that US troops have made in the country were not in vain, but in fact prevented terrorist attacks on the United States.

"You kept America safe for 20 years," the Texas congressman said of his compatriots in an interview with CNN's Pamela Brown.

On why he thinks the Afghan forces melted so quickly, Crenshaw said he thinks Afghan forces fell so quickly because the country's military is young and it takes more than just a few years to build up and train a fighting force.

"We can't just train them for a few years and they'll be off and running and able to destroy one of the leanest, meanest insurgencies that the world has ever known. It's not that easy," Crenshaw said.
10:09 p.m. ET, August 15, 2021

Taliban spokesman says new government will include non-Taliban Afghans

From CNN’s Nic Robertson, Tim Lister and Nicky Robertson

A new Taliban government will include non-Taliban Afghans, Taliban spokesman Sohail Shaheen told CNN’s Nic Robertson in a video interview on Sunday.

When asked if the new Taliban government will include members of the former Afghan government, Shaheen, speaking from Doha, said it would be “premature” right now to name who the officials will be, but he said that they are trying to have some “well known figures” to be part of the government.

 “When we are saying an Afghan inclusive Islamic government, that means that other Afghans also have participation in the government,” he said.

When asked if the Taliban will call on the current Afghan army and police to join Taliban security forces, Shaheen said all those handing over their weapons and joining Taliban forces will be granted amnesty, and that their lives and property would be secure. He added that their names are in a registry and they would be used as a “reserve” force and called upon as needed.

7:48 p.m. ET, August 15, 2021

US forces will take over air traffic control at Kabul airport

From Jennifer Hansler

The Departments of State and Defense have announced that US forces will now take over air traffic control at Kabul airport, in addition to expanding security there.

“Tomorrow and over the coming days, we will be transferring out of the country thousands of American citizens who have been resident in Afghanistan, as well as locally employed staff of the U.S. mission in Kabul and their families and other particularly vulnerable Afghan nationals,” the joint statement from the two agencies said.

“And we will accelerate the evacuation of thousands of Afghans eligible for U.S. Special Immigrant Visas, nearly 2,000 of whom have already arrived in the United States over the past two weeks,” the statement said. “For all categories, Afghans who have cleared security screening will continue to be transferred directly to the United States. And we will find additional locations for those yet to be screened.”

7:48 p.m. ET, August 15, 2021

US reducing evacuation flights for Afghans who worked for US to prioritize Americans

From Jennifer Hansler, Kylie Atwood and Priscilla Alvarez

People protest in support of Afghanistan and against the Taliban take over of the country, at Lafayette Square across the street from the White House in Washington DC on August 15.
People protest in support of Afghanistan and against the Taliban take over of the country, at Lafayette Square across the street from the White House in Washington DC on August 15. Michael Reynolds/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

The Biden administration has curtailed the number of flights to the United States for Afghans who worked alongside the US, as it prioritizes the evacuation of American personnel from the country, three sources familiar with the situation told CNN.

The last flight of Afghan Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) applicants and their families bound for Fort Lee, Virginia, has left Afghanistan, four sources said.

One source said that the limitation on the number of flights that are able to transit in and out of the Kabul airport – which was a scene of mass panic and chaos on Sunday -- has impeded efforts to evacuate the Afghans who worked alongside the US in its two-decade military campaign.

It is unclear how long the pause in inbound flights will last. As of last week refugee resettlement agencies were preparing for a large influx of Afghan arrivals, two of the sources said, and Biden administration officials were discussing an uptick in SIV flights. 

As of last Thursday, 1,200 Afghans and their families had been evacuated to America as part of the administration's "Operation Allies Refuge," according to State Department spokesperson Ned Price.

CNN has reached out to the State Department for comment.