Live Updates

August 15, 2021, Afghanistan-Taliban news

Video appears to show Taliban inside presidential palace
03:33

What we're covering here

  • The Taliban have taken control of the presidential palace in Kabul after former President Ashraf Ghani fled the country. Earlier talks to form a transitional government appear to have been scuppered by Ghani’s departure.
  • The US defense secretary approved 1,000 more US troops into Afghanistan due to the deteriorating security situation, a defense official tells CNN, for a total of 6,000 US troops that will be in the country soon.
  • Earlier today, the US completed the evacuation of its embassy in Afghanistan and took down the American flag at the diplomatic compound.

Our live coverage of the situation in Afghanistan has moved here.

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

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.

All US Embassy personnel have evacuated, the State Department said

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.

Russia is not evacuating its embassy in Afghanistan

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.

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

Da Afghanistan Bank is seen in Kabul on November 3, 2017.

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.

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

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

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.

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.

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.

Taliban spokesman says new government will include non-Taliban Afghans

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.

US forces will take over air traffic control at Kabul airport

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.”

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

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.

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. 

US troops to secure Kabul airport as hundreds of Afghans rush onto airfield for flights out

A Qatar Airways aircraft takes off from the airport in Kabul on August 14.

The 6,000 US troops earmarked for security duty in Kabul will now have the task of securing the entire perimeter of the airport, according to a defense official. This is a result in part of hundreds of Afghans rushing on to the airfield to try to get flights out, as well as the potential for Taliban attacks and growing unrest at the airfield.

The official said the continued evacuation flights must happen in a secure atmosphere. Gen. Frank McKenzie, commander of US CENTCOM, met with Taliban leaders in Doha Qatar Sunday to underscore the sole US mission was to get people out safely. 

 The original evacuation plan that called for 3,000 troops was essentially the baseline security plan that assumed a safe environment the official said. The Pentagon had to double that to 6,000 as the security situation suddenly deteriorated further.  

The official said US forces could wind up staying “as long as needed” to get Americans and Afghans out, but that the way ahead remains uncertain.

The US flew approximately 500 embassy staffers out of Afghanistan on Sunday

A US Chinook helicopter flies over the city of Kabul, Afghanistan, on August 15.

The US has flown approximately 500 staff members from the US Embassy in Kabul out of Afghanistan today, a defense official told CNN.

Approximately 4,000 US Embassy staff members are still to fly out of the country, including US citizens and Afghan nationals who work for the embassy, two defense officials said.

That number does not include family members of the Afghan staffers. The US plan for those family members remains unclear at this time.

The State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Afghan President says fleeing the country was "a hard choice"

In a Facebook post on Sunday following his departure from the country, former Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said he will “always continue to serve” the nation.

“I will always continue to serve my nation through offering ideas and programs,” Ghani wrote.

 “Today, I came across a hard choice; if I should stand to face the armed Taliban who wanted to enter the palace, or leave the dear country that I dedicated my life to protecting and caring for the past twenty years,” he said.

“The Taliban have made it a point to remove me, they are here to attack all Kabul and the people of Kabul. In order to avoid the flood of bloodshed, I thought it was best to get out,” he added. 

Earlier on Sunday, sources told CNN Ghani and other senior Afghan officials fled the country. Two sources told CNN Ghani fled to Tajikistan. One of the sources, an Afghan source added that Tajikistan will not be his final destination but refused to say where he would go from there. It is unknown where Ghani made the Facebook post from.

Ghani added that the Taliban have taken control with “swords and guns” and are “responsible for protecting the countrymen’s honor, wealth and self-esteem.”

“They didn’t win the legitimacy of hearts,” Ghani said, adding, “They are now facing a new historical test; either they will protect the name and honor of Afghanistan or they will prioritize other places and networks.” 

“In order to win legitimacy and hearts of the people, it is necessary for Taliban to give assurance to all the people, tribes, different segments, sisters and women of Afghanistan and to make clear plans and share them with the public,” Ghani wrote.

President Biden expected to address nation regarding Afghanistan in the next few days

President Joe Biden speaks during an East Room event at the White House August 11, in Washington, DC.

President Biden is expected to address the nation in the next few days about the crisis in Afghanistan, according to a senior administration official.

One option under discussion is to have Biden return to the White House, though the official cautioned that they had not completely ruled out making the remarks from Camp David.

Earlier today, CNN’s Jeff Zeleny reported that while Biden can receive the same level of briefings from Camp David, as he has been doing throughout the weekend, officials are aware of the optics of the President being out of town during this perilous moment.

Several administration officials have also been on vacation, but began returning to work remotely Sunday or in the West Wing.

UN says they have received 17,500 newly internally displaced people in Afghanistan in the past month

Passengers trying to fly out of Kabul International Airport amid the Taliban offensive wait in line in Kabul, Afghanistan, on August 13.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA) released a statement on Sunday addressing the situation in Afghanistan saying that there has been an influx of large groups of people seeking safety from conflict and other threats since July 1.

UN OCHA says that they have identified 17,500 newly internally displaced people (IDPs) in the past month in Afghanistan.

Most IDPs arriving to Kabul in the past few days “were reported to have arrived from Ghazni and Logar provinces” the statement reads. The organization says they assisted approximately 13,500 of these people in providing food, cash, health, household items and water and sanitation support.

UN OCHA says that the needs of IDPs continue to be shelter, household items, food, sanitation, hygiene kits and drinking water.

More than 550,000 people have been displaced by conflict in Afghanistan to date this year and the number of those displaced due to conflict has more than doubled since the end of May, according to UN OCHA. The organization also says that the number of people displaced by conflict in 2021 has already surpassed the humanitarian community’s planning figure of 500,000 for the year. 

“Some 18.4 million people were already in need of humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan,” the statement reads. “The US $1.3 billion Humanitarian Response Plan for Afghanistan remains just 38 per cent funded, leaving an almost $800 million shortfall.”

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

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

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.

French military to evacuate French nationals from Afghanistan on two planes

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.

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

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks during a naval ceremony, in Istanbul, Turkey, on August 15.

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.

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.

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. 

Presidential palace in Kabul "handed over" to the Taliban

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

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.

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

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

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.