The chaos in Kabul would have been “difficult for anybody to predict,” Pentagon says
Pentagon press secretary John Kirby today defended the US military’s chaotic withdrawal from Kabul, telling CNN he took issue with any characterization of the situation at Hamid Karzai International Airport as a planning failure.
“I would take issue with your designation of this operation at the airport as a failure,” said Kirby, after CNN’s Barbara Starr asked him “what failed in your planning?”
“We do plan for all manner of contingencies but it’s not a perfect process,” he continued. “Plans are not always perfectly predictive … and as is well known in military maximum, plans don’t often survive first contact and you have to adjust in real time.”
“When you look at the images out of Kabul, that would have been difficult for anybody to predict,” added Kirby, speaking in a news conference at the Pentagon.
Kirby defended the preparation of the US, saying they did plan “noncombatant evacuation operations as far back as May” and that “there were drills being done here at the Pentagon to walk through what different noncombatant evacuation operations might look like.”
Kirby said one of the exercises was done as recently as two weeks ago to examine what a noncombatant evacuation “would look like out of the Hamid Karzai International Airport.”
“And we think that those exercises did prepare us in terms of having their resources forward, secretary forward deployed troops, including Marines, off of their ship and into Kuwait so that they could be more readily available as well as other forces in the region,” he said.
“A lot of what you’re seeing transpire, the reason we can be so quick with upwards of 6,000 troop, is because we anticipated the possible need to do this,” he said, noting again that they could not have predicted “every single scenario and every single breach around the perimeter of the airport” and there are “changes that happen.”
Some more background: Violence erupted at the Kabul airport on Monday as hundreds of people poured onto the tarmac desperately seeking a route out of Afghanistan after the Taliban’s sudden seizure of power sparked a chaotic Western withdrawal.
US forces shot and killed two armed men who fired on them Monday, according to a US defense official, and the US resumed temporarily suspended operations at the airfield after clearing crowds off the runways.
State Department: US special representative for Afghanistan continues to engage with the Taliban
Special Representative for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad is continuing to engage with the Taliban and Afghan government representatives in Doha, State Department spokesperson Ned Price said Monday.
Price said “the situation changed markedly when President Ghani left the country and as the Taliban continued to encroach on Kabul,” and discussions changed from focusing on peace negotiations to averting violence.
“When it became clear that the government of Afghanistan was on the verge of collapse, that President Ghani had fled, and that the Taliban were encroaching on Kabul, the focus of course changed. It shifted from supporting peace negotiations along with the international community to working assiduously and urgently to do all we can with the international community on an urgent to avert violence, to attempt to maintain order in Kabul, and very, very importantly, to guarantee that the Taliban would not seek to threaten our people or our operations. It was a very fluid situation,” he said at a State Department briefing.
Price said the State Department team was continuing to engage with the Taliban, and “the US military has spoken to engagement with the Taliban on the ground in Kabul.”
“We are working on a couple different fronts: first and foremost, to seek to preserve calm in Kabul, to maintain a semblance of security, and very importantly to underscore that any effort, any attempt to target, to threaten, to intimidate our personnel, our operations, would be met with a swift and decisive response,” Price said.
US has not carried out airstrikes in the last 24 hours, but retains capability, military official says
The US military has not conducted airstrikes in the last 24 hours but commanders on the ground retain the capability, Maj. Gen. Hank Taylor, vice director for logistics of the Joint Staff, said Monday.
“No strikes have been conducted in the last 24 hours, but the commander on the ground continues to maintain that capability if required to do so. The commander has the assets that are available there at HKIA and in support from other areas in the region,” Taylor said.
Americans in Kabul, should “shelter,” and avoid the airport, State Department spokesperson says
State Department spokesperson Ned Price (Pool)
Americans remaining in Kabul should not travel to the airport, which is under the control of US military forces, but instead “shelter” and wait for further instructions, State Department spokesperson Ned Price said this afternoon.
“The situation is evolving quickly, and we will communicate information to US citizens as rapidly as possible,” said Price, speaking from the State Department this afternoon.
“We are asking US citizens to shelter and not to travel to the airport until they hear otherwise from the Department of State,” he continued.
Violence erupted at the Kabul airport on Monday as hundreds of people poured onto the tarmac desperately seeking a route out of Afghanistan after the Taliban’s sudden seizure of power sparked a chaotic Western withdrawal. US forces shot and killed two armed men who fired on them Monday, according to a US defense official.
Former Afghan government officials say they have engaged in “fruitful conversations” with the Taliban
Afghanistan’s former President Hamid Karzai and the chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation Abdullah Abdullah reported having “fruitful conversations” with the Taliban Monday.
The two leaders, along with former Afghan prime minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, formed a “coordinating council” Sunday to facilitate dialogue with the Taliban, following news the group had gained control over Kabul, and President Ashraf Ghani had fled the country.
“[Abdullah, Hekmatyar] and I continue making our efforts for further calm in the city of Kabul and the return to normal daily life; God willing, these efforts will bear fruits,” Karzai said in a Facebook video posted Monday.
“We are in contact with the leaders of the Taliban Islamic Movement; we had fruitful conversations; we talked regarding important issues; very good cooperation continues,” he added.
Speaking to CNN’s Christiane Amanpour Monday, the spokesman for the Taliban’s political office in Doha, Suhail Shaheen, said the group is committed to an “inclusive Islamic government” in Afghanistan, but refused to say whether Abdullah or Karzai would be part of it.
Karzai served as the interim President of Afghanistan in 2001 when the Taliban was overthrown by US and NATO forces. He was subsequently elected for two consecutive terms as President in 2004 and 2009.
Karzai has signaled that he plans to stay in Afghanistan to facilitate a peaceful transition of power.
Biden: If Taliban attacks US personnel, “we will defend our people with devastating force if necessary”
President Biden said that if the Taliban attacks US troops while they move forward with departure plans from Afghanistan, the “US presence will be swift and the response will be forceful.”
“American troops are performing this mission as professionally and as effectively as they always do. But it is not without risks. As we carry out this departure, we have made it clear to the Taliban if they attack our personnel or disrupt our operation, the US presence will be swift and the response will be swift and forceful,” Biden said. “We will defend our people with devastating force if necessary.”
The President went on to describe the current US military mission happening on the ground now.
“Our current military mission, will be short in time, limited in scope and focused in its objectives: get our people and our allies as safely and quickly as possible. And once we have completed this mission, we will conclude our military withdrawal. We will end America’s longest war after 20 long years of bloodshed,” he said.
Biden on Afghanistan collapse: “This did unfold more quickly than we had anticipated”
President Biden admitted that the collapse of Afghanistan’s civil government unfolded “more quickly than we had anticipated,” conceding a miscalculation in the administration’s withdraw from the two-decade long war Monday in his address to the nation.
“We were clear eyed about the risks, we planned for every contingency, but I always promised the American people that I would be straight with you,” he said.
“The truth is, this did unfold more quickly than we had anticipated,” Biden added.
The President then continued the administration’s efforts to shift the blame onto Afghan leaders for the fall of Kabul, saying the political leaders “gave up and fled the country.”
“So, what happened?” Biden asked. “Afghanistan political leaders gave up and fled the country.”
Ousted Afghan President Ashraf Ghani left the country on Sunday for Tajikistan, two sources told CNN.
“The Afghan military collapsed, sometimes without trying to fight. If anything, the developments in the past week reinforced ending that US military involvement Afghanistan now was the right decision,” he added. “American troops cannot and should not be fighting in a war and dying in a war that Afghan forces are not willing to fight for themselves.”
Biden also pointed the finger at Ghani in his speech.
“When I hosted President Ghani and Chairman Abdullah, at the White House in June, and again when I spoke by phone to Ghani in July, we had very frank conversations. We talked about how Afghanistan should prepare to fight their civil wars after the US military departed, to clean up the corruption in government, so the government could function for the Afghan people,” Biden said.
He continued, “We talked extensively about the need for Afghan leaders to unite politically — they failed to do any of that. I also urged them to engage in diplomacy, to seek a political settlement with the Taliban. This advice was flatly refused. Mr. Ghani insisted that the Afghan forces would fight. And obviously he was wrong.”
Biden says he won’t pass Afghanistan war decision on to another president
President Biden today said he was unwilling to pass the decision on when to end the war in Afghanistan to a fifth presidential administration.
“I’m now the fourth American President to preside over war in Afghanistan,” he said, speaking from the White House. “…I will not pass this responsibility on to a fifth president.”
Biden went on to say there would never be an easy time to end US operations, which have spanned nearly 20 years,
“I will not mislead the American people by claiming that just a little more time in Afghanistan will make all the difference,” he said.
“I know my decision will be criticized, but I would rather take all that criticism than pass this decision on to another President… yet another one, a fifth one,” he continued.
“It’s the right one, it’s the right decision for our people, the right one for our brave service members who risked their lives serving our nation ands it’s the right one for America,” he said, concluding his remarks from the White House.
Biden on 20 years of US military presence in Afghanistan: “The buck stops with me”
President Biden acknowledged the “many missteps” made in Afghanistan over two decades of US military presence and took some responsibility for the current situation unfolding on the ground during his remarks at the White House.
“We have to be honest, our mission in Afghanistan is taking many missteps — made many missteps over the past two decades. I’m now the fourth American president to preside over war in Afghanistan. Two Democrats and two Republicans. I will not pass this responsibility on to a fifth president. I will not mislead the American people by claiming that just a little more time in Afghanistan will make all the difference. Nor will I shrink from my share of responsibility for where we are today in how we must move forward from here,” Biden said.
I am President of the United States of America, and the buck stops with me. I’m deeply saddened by the facts we now face. But I do not regret my decision to end America’s war fighting in Afghanistan,” the President said.
Biden acknowledges that the scenes from Aghanistan are “painful” for veterans
During his address today, Biden acknowledged how “painful” the “scenes that we’re seeing in Afghanistan” are for many people, in particular veterans and others who have “spent time on the ground working to support the Afghan people.”
“The scenes that we’re seeing in Afghanistan, they’re gut-wrenching, particularly for our veterans, our diplomats, humanitarian workers, for anyone who has spent time on the ground working to support the Afghan people. For those who have lost loved ones in Afghanistan, and for Americans who have fought and served in the country, serve our country in Afghanistan. This is deeply, deeply personal. It is for me as well.”
He said that he has traveled to Afghanistan on four occasions.
“I’ve met with the people, I’ve spoken with the leaders. I spent time with our troops and I came to understand firsthand what was and was not possible in Afghanistan. So now we’re focused on what is possible. We will continue to support the Afghan people.”
Biden: “I stand squarely behind my decision” to pull US troops from Afghanistan
President Biden today said he stands by his decision to withdraw US forces from Afghanistan, characterizing the decision as a choice between pulling out, or going back to fighting the Taliban in the middle of the fighting season.
“I stand squarely behind my decision,” Biden said in remarks from the White House. “After 20 years, I’ve learned the hard way that there was never a good time to withdraw US forces. That’s why we’re still there.”
Biden went on to say that he had weighed the risks carefully before making the decision, but acknowledged that the situation on the ground had devolved more quickly than he anticipated.
“We were clear-eyed about the risks,” he said. “We planned for every contingency. But, I always promised the American people that I will be straight with you. The truth is, this did unfold more quickly than we had anticipated.”
The President went on to outline what he believes were the events that led to the Taliban’s swift takeover in the country.
“So what’s happened? Afghanistan political leaders gave up and fled the country. The Afghan military collapsed, some without trying to fight. If anything, the developments of the past week reinforced that ending US military involvement in Afghanistan, now, was the right decision,” Biden said. “American troops cannot and should not be fighting in a war and dying in a war that Afghan forces are not willing to fight for themselves.”
President Biden stood firm in his decision to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan, vowing in White House remarks to not repeat the mistakes “we’ve made in the past.”
“So I’m left again to ask of those who argue that we should stay. How many more generations of America’s daughters and sons would you have me send to fight Afghanistan’s civil war? When Afghan troops will not? How many more lives, American lives, is it worth? How many endless rows of headstones at Arlington National Cemetery? I’m clear in my answer. I will not repeat the mistakes we’ve made in the past,” the President said.
“The mistake of staying and fighting indefinitely in a conflict that is not in the national interest of the United States, of doubling down on a civil war in a foreign country, of attempting to remake a country through the endless military deployments of US forces. Those are the mistakes we cannot continue to repeat because we have significant vital interest in the world that we cannot afford to ignore,” the President continued.
Biden acknowledged how painful it is for many in the US and in Afghanistan to see the images unfolding on the ground.
“The scenes that we’re seeing in Afghanistan, they’re gut-wrenching, particularly for our veterans, our diplomats, humanitarian workers, for anyone who has spent time on the ground working to support the Afghan people,” Biden said.
“For those who have lost loved ones in Afghanistan, and for Americans who have fought and served in the country, serve our country in Afghanistan. This is deeply, deeply personal. It is for me as well. I’ve worked on these issues as long as anyone,” Biden continued.
Biden touted his own travel to the region as vice president, telling reporters, “So now we’re focused, focused on what is possible.”
“We will continue to support the Afghan people. We will lead with our diplomacy, our international influence and our humanitarian aid, we’ll continue to push for regional diplomacy and engagement to prevent violence and instability. We’ll continue to speak out for the basic rights of the Afghan people, of women and girls, just as we speak out all over the world. I’ve been clear: human rights must be the center of our foreign policy, not the periphery. But the way to do it is not through endless military deployments,” the President said.
President Biden said the situation in Afghanistan unfolded “more quickly than we had anticipated,” but defended his withdrawal of US troops.
“American troops cannot and should not be fighting in a war and dying in a war that Afghan forces are not willing to fight for themselves,” Biden said in an address to the nation Monday.
“We spent over a trillion dollars. We trained an Afghan military force of some 300,000 strong, incredibly well equipped. A force larger in size than the militaries of many of our nato allies. We gave them every tool they could need. We paid their salaries, provided for the maintenance of their air force, something the Taliban doesn’t have,” he continued.
Biden said it was the Afghanistan political leaders who gave up and fled the country.
“We gave them every chance to determine their own future. We could not provide them the will to fight for that future. There are some very brave and capable Afghan special forces units and soldiers, but if Afghanistan is unable to mount any real resistance to the Taliban now, there is no chance that one more year, five more years or 20 more years of US military boots on the ground would’ve made any difference.”
The President said he believes “it is wrong to order American troops to step up when Afghanistan’s own armed forces would not.”
Biden: My choice was either to follow through with Trump’s agreement with Taliban or escalate conflict
President Biden defended his decision to rapidly withdraw troops from Afghanistan, citing the deal his predecessor, former President Donald Trump, made with the Taliban as one of the main reasons.
“When I came into office, I inherited a deal that President Trump negotiated with the Taliban. Under his agreement, US Forces would be out of Afghanistan by May 1, 2021, just a little over three months after I took office. US forces had already drawn down during the Trump administration from roughly 15,500 American forces to 2,500 troops in country. And the Taliban was at its strongest militarily since 2001. The choice I had to make as your President was either to follow through on that agreement or be prepared to go back to fighting the Taliban in the middle of the spring fighting season. It would’ve been no ceasefire after May 1. There was no agreement protecting our forces after May 1. There was no status quo of stability without American casualties after May 1,” Biden said during his remarks from The White House.
Biden continued, “There was only a cold reality of either following through on the agreement to withdraw our forces or escalating the conflict and sending thousands more American troops back into combat in Afghanistan. Lurching into the third decade of conflict. I stand squarely behind my decision,” Biden said.
Biden: US mission in Afghanistan “was never supposed to have been nation building”
President Biden began his address to the nation Monday by saying that the situation in Afghanistan is “rapidly evolving.” He said the White House’s national security team is “closely monitoring the situation on the ground.”
Biden said he wants to remind the country “how we got here and what America’s interests are in Afghanistan.” He said that the US mission in Afghanistan that started two decades ago “was never supposed to have been nation building.”
“I went to Afghanistan almost 20 years ago with clear goals: get those who attacked us on Sept. 11, 2001, and make sure al Qaeda could not use Afghanistan as a base from which to attack us again. We did that. We severely degraded al Qaeda and Afghanistan. We never gave up the hunt for Osama bin laden and we got him. That was a decade ago. Our mission in Afghanistan was never supposed to have been nation building,” he said.
He added: “Our only vital national interest in Afghanistan remains today what has always been, preventing a terrorist attack on American homeland.”
President Biden is addressing the crisis in Afghanistan from the White House as he faces mounting questions about his administration’s apparent failure to prepare for the collapse of that nation’s government.
Biden remained at the Camp David presidential retreat with members of his family over the weekend as chaotic images from Kabul emerged. He returned to Washington today ahead of his address.
It will be his first time in six days speaking in public on the matter, which has become the most serious test of Biden’s foreign policy since he took office.
Even as chaos descended on Kabul’s international airport, where desperate Afghans rushed the tarmac seeking a way out of their country, the President has remained resolute in his decision to withdraw American troops from the country.
At the same time, he has sent an additional 6,000 troops to the country to secure the airport, a sign of the complicated and contradictory process of winding down America’s longest war.
In a written statement over the weekend, Biden staunchly defended his decision to leave Afghanistan, saying he would not pass the 20-year conflict on to another president. He also lay part of the blame for the current situation on his predecessor, Donald Trump, who brokered a deal with the Taliban to withdraw American troops by May 1, 2021.
Speaking Monday on morning television programs, senior members of Biden’s national security team also sought to shift blame for the collapse of the Afghan government on the country’s defense forces, which they said lacked the will to defend their country against the Taliban.
Read more about Biden’s remarks here.
White House circulates talking points pushing back on criticism of Afghanistan withdrawal
As a sign of the increasing blowback the Biden administration is facing on Afghanistan, the White House has circulated a series of talking points that have been distributed to Democratic offices this afternoon ahead of President Biden’s speech.
Some Democratic lawmakers have become more outspoken in recent days against the approach that Biden took in the withdrawal.
The talking points contain some factual errors and are missing important context. For example, there are around 900 troops still in Syria, despite the talking points claiming there are no “boots on the ground” in the country.
And the White House claims that troops had been prepositioned in the region in a sign they anticipated that Kabul could fall quickly, but not all of the troops were prepositioned. The 82nd Airborne deployed from Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
The White House also pushed back on the criticism it did not do enough to evacuate Afghanistan civilians sooner, claiming that “many Afghans to whom we gave visas to come to the US chose to stay in their country, still hopeful.” But there is clear evidence some of these eligible Afghans have been trying to leave the country for weeks, and, moreover, some have been waiting years for visas. Bipartisan lawmakers and advocates have been telling the administration for months that the process was moving too slowly.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has described the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan as “bitter, dramatic and terrible,” calling on the international community to increase aid to Afghanistan’s neighboring countries to prevent Afghan asylum seekers from traveling onwards to Europe.”
“This is a particularly bitter development. Bitter, dramatic and terrible…it is terrible for the millions of Afghans who have worked for the freedom of a society,” Merkel said during a televised news conference on Monday.
“We need to make sure that the many people who have big worries and concerns…have a secure stay in countries neighboring Afghanistan…we should not repeat the mistakes of the past when we did not give enough funds to UNHCR and other aid programs, and people left Jordan and Lebanon toward Europe,” she added.
Earlier this month, the US State Department announced new parameters to its Refugee Admissions Program, requiring Afghan citizens to first reach a third country before they are able to apply for asylum in the US.
Turkey later criticized the US program, warning that the decision would “cause a major refugee crisis” in the Mediterranean.
On Monday, hundreds of people were seen pouring onto the tarmac at Kabul’s Hamid Karzai international airport, desperately seeking a route out of the country.
While some evacuation flights have been able to take off, commercial flights have been suspended, making it virtually impossible for Afghan citizens to leave the country.
According to German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, 1,900 of Germany’s 2,500 local workforce in Afghanistan have been evacuated so far.
Addressing the ongoing evacuation efforts, Merkel told reporters that a “Bundeswehr aircraft is on approach to Kabul but can’t land because of the chaotic situation on the ground.”
Afghanistan must not become a “haven for terrorists again” French president Emmanuel Macron said in a televised national address Monday.
“It is a challenge for international stability and peace and we will do everything with Russia, the United States and Europe to cooperate efficiently as our interests are the same,” Macron said.
Speaking from the Fort de Brégançonthe summer residence of French presidents, Macron said it was France’s duty to “protect those who helped us: interpreters, drivers, cooks and so many others.”
In an address that lasted just over ten minutes, Macron said the destabilization of Afghanistan could lead to migrant flows to Europe.
“We will therefore set up an initiative, with Germany and other European countries, to build a robust, coordinated and united response without delay, which will involve the fight against irregular flows,” he said.
Macron said the fight in Afghanistan was “just” and that “it is the honor of France to have committed ourselves to that fight. France has only ever had one enemy there: terrorism.”
A look back at Operation Enduring Freedom, the US mission in Afghanistan
The Taliban has swiftly regained control of Afghanistan 20 years after US forces began Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF).
The United States linked the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks to al Qaeda, a group that operated under the Taliban regime’s protection in Afghanistan. The operation was launched 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.
Operation Enduring Freedom began on October 7, 2001, under President George W. Bush’s administration, with allied air strikes on Taliban and al Qaeda targets.
On Oct. 14, 2001, the Taliban offered to discuss giving Osama bin Laden, then the lead of al Qaeda, to a third country for trial if the United States provided evidence of bin Laden’s involvement in the Sept. 11 attacks. The White House rejected the offer.
On Nov. 13, 2001, US airstrikes and ground attacks by the anti-Taliban Afghan Northern Alliance led to the fall of Kabul.
That same month many European countries offered troops to support OEF including, Germany, the Netherlands, France and Italy. US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld also announced that the US doubled the number of its troops based in the country.
Over the next 20 years, the US along with allied nations and coalitions worked to create a stable Afghan led nation and also create and train an Afghan national army. Here’s a timeline:
Dec. 2-5, 2001 – The United Nations hosts the Bonn Conference in Germany, results from the Bonn Agreement creates an Afghan Interim Authority and outlines a process for creating a new constitution and choosing a new government.
Dec. 20, 2001 – The United Nations authorized the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) to provide security support to the Afghans. The United Kingdom agrees to lead the force initially.
Dec. 22, 2001 – Hamid Karzai is sworn in as head of an interim power-sharing government.
March 25, 2002 – Rumsfeld announces that there are plans under way for US and coalition forces to help train and create an Afghan national army.
January 2004 – Afghanistan passes a new constitution by consensus.
Oct. 9, 2004 – Afghanistan’s first direct democratic election is held.
Dec. 7, 2004 – Karzai is sworn in as the first democratically elected president of Afghanistan.
Dec. 1, 2009 – Obama announces the deployment of 30,000 additional US troops. This new deployment, set for 2010, brought US troop totals to almost 100,000, in addition to 40,000 NATO troops.
January 2010 – Representatives from more than 60 nations meet in London for the International Conference on Afghanistan, pledging to support the development of the Afghan National Security Forces.
May 2, 2011 – In the early morning hours, a small group of US Forces, including Navy Seals, raid a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan and kill Osama bin Laden.
June 22, 2011 – Obama announces a plan to reduce the number of troops in Afghanistan and that US combat operations in the country will end by 2014.
Feb. 1, 2012 – Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announces that the US hopes to end its combat mission in Afghanistan in 2013, transitioning primarily to a training role.
May 27, 2014 – President Obama announces that the United States combat mission in Afghanistan will end in December 2014.
Sept. 30, 2014 – The US and Afghanistan sign a joint security agreement that will allow US troops to stay in Afghanistan beyond the previous December deadline to withdraw.
Jan. 1, 2015 – After more than 13 years of combat operations in Afghanistan, the US begins Operation Freedom’s Sentinel (OFS). The new mission conducts counterterrorism operations targeting terrorist groups like al Qaeda and the local ISIS affiliate and also focuses on building up local Afghan security forces to help fight the Taliban.
Dec. 9, 2019 – Confidential documents obtained by The Washington Post reveal that top US officials misled the American public about the war in Afghanistan in order to conceal doubts about the likelihood that the United States could be successful in the nearly 20-year effort since its earliest days, the paper reports.
April 14, 2021 – US President Joe Biden formally announces his decision to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan before September 11, 2021, deeming the prolonged and intractable conflict in Afghanistan no longer aligns with American priorities. “It’s time to end America’s longest war,” he says.
August 2021 – The Taliban take control of Afghanistan’s capital city, Kabul, almost two decades after they were driven out by US troops. President Biden sends an additional 5,000 troops to Kabul to evacuate US personnel.
Tom Tugendhat, the chair of the UK Foreign Affairs Select Committee, said the reference of the war in Afghanistan as the “forever war” is a nod to how serious the situation has been in the country for decades.
“For some reason nobody describes the defense of Germany until 1991 as a forever war or the US military contribution to South Korea as a forever war,” he said. “They are not because we recognize that these are essential elements to defending ourselves by extending the perimeter of our security and making sure that allies stand with us when we ask for them.”
Tugendhat said he thinks one of the mistakes countries made is to “confuse sum cost with the future cost.” The sum cost is the trillions of dollars spent in Afghanistan.
“I can point to the graves of men I’ve buried, and I’m sure many other soldiers can do the same, but they are not going to rise again just because we leave. That is a sunk cost I’m afraid. It is a sunk cost many of us have to live with every day,” he said.
In contrast, an enduring cost is different. That is something that needs to be affordable and sustainable, Tugendhat said, adding that he thinks it could have gotten to that point in Afghanistan, but politics got in the way.
“We chose not to. That is a political choice,” he said.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has expressed his intention to host a virtual meeting of G7 leaders in the coming days to discuss the situation in Afghanistan, a Downing Street spokesperson said Monday.
According to Downing Street, Johnson stressed the need for the international community to “come together and take a unified approach on Afghanistan, both in terms of recognizing any future government and in working to prevent a humanitarian and refugee crisis.”
Downing Street’s remarks come after talks between the prime minister and his French counterpart, Emmanuel Macron.
The prime minister’s spokesperson confirmed that the two leaders emphasized the ongoing importance of working together on the long-term future of Afghanistan and the immediate need to help British and French nationals, as well as others, to be evacuated to safety.
“They agreed that the UK and France should work together at the UN Security Council, including on a possible joint-resolution,” the spokesman added.
Earlier on Monday, UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab confirmed that hundreds of British and Afghan nationals are in the process of being evacuated from Afghanistan.
“We’re concentrated on the evacuation effort for British nationals and those Afghan nationals who have served the United Kingdom so loyally,” Raab told members of the press.
“What matters right now is focusing on getting British nationals out, getting out those who have so loyally served the UK, and making sure that the gains that we’ve made over twenty years are not lost,” he added.
Raab acknowledged that the government had been surprised by the “scale and pace” at which the Taliban managed to seize control in Afghanistan, but affirmed that the British government will continue to hold the group to account through various means, including potential sanctions.
A United Nations Security Council meeting on Afghanistan is held on August 16 at the United Nations in New York. (Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images)
After holding a Monday morning meeting and subsequent closed-door consultations on Afghanistan, the United Nations Security Council collectively issued a statement calling for an “immediate cessation of all hostilities” and for “a new government that is united, inclusive and representative – including with the full, equal and meaningful participation of women.”
The Security Council also “expressed deep concern” about reported international humanitarian law and human rights abuses and “stressed the urgent and imperative need to bring the perpetrators to justice.”
Additionally, the council called on strengthened international efforts to provide humanitarian aid to Afghanistan and called on all parties to allow unhindered access for UN agencies to provide humanitarian assistance.
“The members of the Security Council reaffirmed the importance of combating terrorism in Afghanistan to ensure the territory of Afghanistan should not be used to threaten or attack any country, and that neither the Taliban nor any other Afghan group or individual should support terrorists operating on the territory of any other country,” the statement reads.
Canadian military remains on the ground at Kabul airport alongside US troops, prime minister says
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the Canadian military remains on the ground at Kabul airport alongside US troops to establish an “airbridge” for evacuations.
“We have evacuated the Canadian diplomatic staff, there remain a number of special forces and Canadian armed forces on the ground to help secure the airport alongside the Americans,” he said at a news conference in Quebec.
Trudeau says they continue to work closely with the US to evacuate Canadian citizens still in Afghanistan.
“We are working very closely with the US, the UK and other allies to establish ways in which we are going to be able to get more and more people out of Afghanistan in the coming weeks. But we have to recognize the situation is extremely fluid right now and exceedingly dangerous,” he said.
“We have military still in Afghanistan right now, we are staging out of Kuwait, including with military aircraft. We are looking at, very closely with our allies, at what those next steps could be,” Trudeau added.
Trudeau says many around the world are “dismayed” and “surprised” by the speed at which things have happened on the ground. He says they are trying to establish an “airbridge” to evacuate all other citizens and those Afghans seeking safe passage to Canada and other allied countries.
Last week, Canada pledged to resettle at least 20,000 Afghans.
President Joe Biden steps off Marine One as he arrives at Fort McNair in Washington, DC, on August 16. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)
President Biden was wheels down at Fort McNair at 1:11 p.m. ET – from there, Biden will motorcade to the White House.
On background, from the White House, provided to the pool: This morning, the President was briefed by his national security team, including the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman Milley, on the security situation at Hamid Karzai International Airport, and ongoing efforts to safely evacuate American citizens, US Embassy personnel and local staff, SIV applicants and their families, and other vulnerable Afghans.
Preparations are underway now at the White House for Biden to deliver remarks to the nation at 3:45 p.m. ET from the East Room.
Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen CNN
In an interview on Monday, CNN’s Christiane Amanpour asked Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen what he would say to Afghans who are “terrified” and “desperate to be airlifted out of Afghanistan” for fear that they will be targeted by the Taliban for having worked with international forces in the past. He said those individuals “should not be terrified.”
“Our guarantees, our official statements ensuring that they will be no danger to their property, honor and life. That is our commitment…and they can see right now in the districts…all the people they lead their normal life. The schools are open. The offices are open. And the businessmen do their trade and business. So this is our practical example. So why they are terrified? They should not be terrified.”
Asked about checkpoints that are being set up and fears among those who may be known for having helped international forces that the Taliban is going to come to their homes and harm them, Shaheen said that the checkpoints are a security measure.
“About the checkpoints, they are to prevent any insecurity that the teams, the burglars, and the kidnappers do not carry out what they want to do,” he said. “Checkpoints are for the security of the people. These checkpoints have not been set up to harass people.”
Amanpour pressed Shaheen on the Taliban’s treatment of women, asking what they can guarantee for women in terms of letting them keep the rights and freedoms they’ve gained over the past 20 years. Shaheen said that women and girls “will be going to schools, as teachers, as students. So you will see it. In a few days. That is my expectation,” he said.
Videos appear to show bodies falling from airplane departing Kabul airport
Amid chaotic scenes at Kabul international airport, video has emerged of several people clinging to the fuselage of a US military C-17 aircraft as it taxied Monday.
There are scores more people watching or following the plane, some of them underneath its engines. Other video shows a US military Apache helicopter swooping low over the tarmac in what appears to be an effort to disperse the crowds.
Separate video circulated on social media shows a US C-17 soon after take-off.
At least two objects, or people, can be seen falling to the ground as the plane gains altitude.
CNN has not been able to independently confirm the images.
People who say they witnessed the event have posted on social media and spoken to other media outlets, saying that people who were clinging to the outside of the aircraft had fallen to the ground as the plane took off.
Another video shows a C-17 ascending over a Kabul neighborhood. At least one person or object appears to fall from the fuselage. Seconds later another person or object appears to fall.
Local people posted video and images of at least one body that they said had fallen from the sky and landed on the roof of a building, according to social media posts.
CNN cannot independently verify that anyone was still clinging to the aircraft when it took off— and it’s not known if it was the same plane, or whether the crew was aware that people were clinging to the plane at all.
Multiple US Defense Officials told CNN they could not confirm the incident.
Taliban members visit homes of two female journalists in Kabul, source tells CNN
The homes of two female journalists were visited by Taliban fighters on Sunday, a contact of the women told CNN, adding that both women were severely shaken psychologically.
According to the source, one of the female journalists whose home was visited by the Taliban on Sunday said: “I am very worried about my safety and that of my family.”
Several female journalists are said to have received threatening calls from the Taliban, with the calls increasing over recent days, the source added. One prominent female journalist in Kabul said she had received a threatening call from the Taliban, telling her they “will come soon.”
On Monday, Amnesty International’s Secretary General, Agnès Callamard, said in a statement: “what we are witnessing in Afghanistan is a tragedy that should have been foreseen and averted. It will only be compounded further without swift and decisive action from the international community.”
“Thousands of Afghans are at serious risk of Taliban reprisals – from academics and journalists to activists and women human rights defenders – and are in danger of being abandoned to a deeply uncertain future,” she added.
A quiet Kabul: CNN journalist describes what it’s like in the city ahead of Biden’s speech
Ahead of President Biden’s speech on Afghanistan, the streets of Kabul are “quite calm” for now, according to reporting by a CNN journalist on the ground.
CNN International Security Editor Nick Paton Walsh said that even as foreigners, they’ve been able to “drive around the city freely” and members of the Taliban can be seen walking around the city holding their guns and sitting on street corners. It’s a sight that is “stunning to see” in a city that many people have only known to be secured by Afghan soldiers and US troops, Walsh said.
“What’s been so remarkable is how quiet Kabul has been. I can’t speak for that universally, we haven’t had eyes on every single part of the city,” Walsh said, noting that they have not witnessed street-to-street clashes between security forces and the Taliban. They have heard an “occasional crackle of gunfire,” including in the direction of the airport, where they could be moving crowds away, the journalist described.
Walsh said the situation at the Kabul airport earlier in the day was “completely out of control” and there were shots fired in the air “to get people to move away” at the airport where individuals were jumping fences and running through gates in an effort to get onto the airfield.
“There are the occasional rumors, reports that possibly Taliban are looking for former government employees, for those who worked with the Americans. But at the same time too, you simply have to look at the streets and observe the calm, the shops are open, a sense of order, frankly,” Walsh described.
“At times, briefly, on the streets it seemed almost slightly more orderly than when the Afghan government police were running the show. That may change. That’s not to say there won’t be backsliding human rights issues for women here and and others possibly in the years ahead,” he added.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas gives a press statement at the Foreign Ministry in Berlin on August 16. (Odd Andersen/AFP/Getty Images)
The German federal government and its intelligence services “misjudged the situation” in Afghanistan, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said in a statement Monday.
“There is nothing to gloss over. We all, the Federal Government, the intelligence services, the international community, have misjudged the situation. The speed with which the Afghan security forces have withdrawn, capitulated, neither we nor our partners nor our experts foresaw that far,” Maas said.
US intelligence analysts had predicted it would likely take several more weeks before Afghanistan’s civilian government in Kabul fell to Taliban fighters. But on Sunday, after encroaching toward the city, the militants took control of the presidential palace and ousted Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled the country.
Germany was one of several countries who took the decision on Sunday to move its embassy to a section of the Hamid Karzai international airport currently under military control, and is still in the process of evacuating staff from the country.
Speaking on Monday, Maas said 1,900 of Germany’s 2,500 local workforce in Kabul have now been evacuated from the country, adding that the government would be looking to help evacuate Afghan human rights activists and families who have worked alongside German companies.
“We have already brought 1,900 of the 2,500 local forces to Germany, we have now expanded this circle due to the developments,” Maas said.
US soldiers stand guard as Afghan people wait at the Kabul airport on August 16. (Wakil Kohsar/AFP/Getty Images)
There are approximately 2,500 US troops at the airport currently, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said during an off-camera briefing on Monday.
Over the next 24 hours, the Department of Defense expects additional forces to arrive “from both the 82nd Airborne Division and battalions from a marine expeditionary unit,” Kirby said. Once those additional forces arrive, there will be about 3,000 US troops at the airport by tomorrow, he said.
The rough number, in the next two or three days once additional forces that have been authorized by Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin arrive at Hamid Karzai International Airport (HKIA), will be about 6,000 US troops.
“Two to three days from now, we’re still looking at roughly 6,000. Again, the secretary authorized the third battalion now to go in, but I think we still think the numbers will roughly shake out to around 6,000,” Kibry said.
“We will continue to expand our security presence as needed,” Kirby said.
Austin authorized a third battalion of the 82nd Airborne Division brigade combat team that was headed to Kuwait to head to HKIA airport instead.
“They will flow in immediately and they will be there in coming days,” Kirby said.
There were two security incidents at the Hamid Karzai International Airport airfield “involving armed individuals shooting at US forces,” Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said during an off-camera briefing on Monday.
“In two separate incidents, US forces did respond to hostile threats, and that resulted in the death of two armed individuals,” Kirby said.
Kirby reiterated that while the mission at HKIA airport is “not offensive,” US forces “have the inherent right of self-defense.
The Pentagon press secretary said that “there is no indication” that the two Afghans who were shot and killed during this incident at Hamid Karzai International Airport were Taliban.
Kirby said the incident occurred “within the last 24 hours.”
Kirby also said there has been “some preliminary indications that there may have been one” US military member “wounded,” but Kirby said he could not confirm it yet.
Farzana Kochai (CNN via Skype)
Farzana Kochai, who was serving as a member of the Afghan parliament, says she doesn’t know what comes next – for both the structure of the new government and her freedoms as a woman in Afghanistan.
“There has been no clear announcement about the form of the government in the future – do have parliament in the future government or not?” she said.
Kochai said aside from her role in parliament, she is more concerned about being a woman. She said she can work in a different role, but many questions remain about if she will even have the freedom to do that.
“This is something that concern me more,” she said. “Every woman is thinking about this.”
“We are just trying to have a clue that are we allowed… would be women allowed to work and to have occupied job or not. This is a question that made us, and every woman and international community, concern more about Afghan woman,” she said.
Kochai said as a politician, she thinks Western countries, and specifically the United States, left Afghanistan too quickly.
“They have to leave the country responsibly, but they did that so irresponsibly. You saw that just today and last day,” she said.
She said the scenes of crowds of people desperate to get out of the country, rushing the gates of the airport in Kabul and hanging on to US planes was caused by the international community’s swift exit.
“This power transfer could be done in much better way, like political settlement based on something that could happen,” Kochai said.
New satellite images from Maxar showed a crowd of people on the tarmac at Kabul International Airport earlier today.
“While one Turkish airliner prepares to takeoff from the airfield, security forces can be seen near one of the airport’s main runways attempting to prevent crowds of people from moving toward other aircraft and from blocking flight operations,” Maxar said of the images.
Satellite images near the airport shows significant crowds and a traffic jam.
Earlier today, video from on the ground at the airport showed people clinging to the fuselage of a US military aircraft as it taxied.
Here’s a look at the satellite images from Maxar:
Crowds of people at a terminal at Kabul International Airport. (Maxar Technologies)
People walk along a runway at Kabul International Airport. (Maxar Technologies)
People crowd a tarmac. (Maxar Technologies)
Crowds are seen near the entrance to Kabul International Airport. (Maxar Technologies)
A traffic jam is seen near the airport. (Maxar Technologies)
Afghan Ambassador to the United Nations Ghulam M. Isaczai said during Monday’s ongoing Security Council meeting that the UN must call for an end to violence in Afghanistan.
“There is no time for a blame game anymore. We have an opportunity to prevent further violence, prevent Afghanistan descending into civil war, and becoming a pariah state. Therefore the Security Council and the UN Secretary-General should use every means at its disposal to call for an immediate cessation of violence and respect for human rights and international humanitarian law,” Isaczai said.
The ambassador stressed on Monday that he was speaking on behalf of millions of people in Afghanistan “whose fate hangs in the balance, and are faced with an extremely uncertain future.”
“I am speaking for millions of Afghan girls and women who are about to lose their freedom to go to school, to work, and to participate in the political, economic, and social life of the country. I am speaking for thousands of human rights defenders, journalists, academics, civil servants, and former security personnel whose lives are at risk for defending human rights and democracy. I am speaking for thousands of internally displaced people who are desperately in need of shelter, food, and protection in Kabul and other places,” Isaczai said.
Isaczai added that the UN should also call upon the Taliban to abide by humanitarian laws, call on Afghanistan’s border counties to open their borders to displaced civilians and humanitarian goods, and call for a transitional and representational government.
He also called upon the United Nations to “stress that the council and the United Nations will not recognize any administration that achieves power through force or any government that is not inclusive and representative of diversity of the country,” Isaczai said.
The leader of the opposition in the UK, Keir Starmer, has said the situation in Afghanistan is “shocking, and it’s tragic.”
Starmer told journalists on Monday the world is seeing “the unravelling of 20 years of progress, and of huge sacrifice.”
The labour leader criticized the response of Prime Minister Boris Johnson saying he needs to “to step up to the plate, show some leadership, and some urgency.”
However, he acknowledged that the decision to leave the country “was not the government’s decision alone.”
Starmer said, “It’s absolutely clear what the priorities have to be,” focusing on the evacuation of EU nationals and eligible Afghans.
He also stressed it is important to ensure there is a process in place “for the safety of those that are remaining there and the assertion of the human rights of everybody in Afghanistan,” particularly for women and young girls.
An Italian military flight carrying about 70 embassy staff and former Afghan employees who worked with Italian army has now landed at Rome’s Fiumicino airport, the Italian Defence and Foreign Affairs Ministry said on Monday.
The joint statement said the Air Force KC767 flight which departed on Sunday sought to evacuate and reunite embassy and former Afghan collaborators safely with their families after the Taliban took control of the presidential palace in Kabul.
The Defence Ministry said the operation will continue to be in force for “humanitarian evacuation” from Afghanistan in the “shortest possible time,” through an airlift secured by the Italian Air Force, the statement said.
The evacuation was directed by the Italian Joint Operations Command with support of the Italian Red Cross and was part of an international airlift after the Taliban took over the Afghan capital.
On Monday, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi thanked the armed forces for safely returning citizens back to Italy.
“Italy’s commitment is to protect the Afghan citizens who have collaborated with our mission,” Draghi said in a statement.
He added Italy is working with other European partners for a solution to the crisis in Afghanistan, ensuring to protect human rights.
White House says it has no calls with world leaders on Afghanistan to disclose
As chaos unfolds in Kabul, the White House says it has no calls between President Biden and his foreign counterparts regarding the collapse of government in Afghanistan to disclose. Although he participated in several virtual briefings with top staff Sunday, including his national security team, those aides say there are no calls with world leaders to summarize, as is common procedure at the White House.
“I don’t have anything to read out,” a National Security Council official told CNN when asked specifically if there were any calls with foreign leaders Sunday.
While Biden apparently made no calls, Secretary of State Antony Blinken was on the phone with his Australian, French, German and Norwegian counterparts about efforts to bring “citizens to safety and assist vulnerable Afghans,” according to a State Department spokesperson.
Coming up: President Biden is heading back to Washington and the White House said he will deliver remarks at 3:45 p.m. ET from the East Room.
Biden will deliver remarks on Afghanistan from the White House this afternoon
President Biden will return to the White House this afternoon to address the nation about the crisis in Afghanistan, an official tells CNN.
Preparations are underway now at the White House for the planned speech, the official said. The White House confirmed Biden will deliver remarks at 3:45 p.m. ET from the East Room.
Biden is expected to remain in Washington and not return to Camp David today.
I will be addressing the nation on Afghanistan at 3:45 PM ET today.
Russia is closely following the developments in Afghanistan, the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement Monday.
The foreign ministry added the transfer of power to the Taliban occurred “as a result of the almost complete absence of resistance from the national armed forces trained by the United States and its allies.”
“According to the available information, the situation in Kabul and in Afghanistan as a whole is stabilizing,” the statement read. “The Taliban started to restore public order, confirmed the guarantees of the safety of local residents and foreign diplomatic missions.”
“We call on all Afghan parties to refrain from violence and to help resolve the situation peacefully,” the statement added.
The foreign ministry said that the Russian Embassy in Kabul continues to function as usual and “working contacts have been established with representatives of the new authorities in order to ensure the security of the Russian mission abroad.”
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres opened the UN Security Council meeting on Afghanistan on Monday by expressing his concern about reports of human rights violations, particularly against women and girls.
“I call upon the Taliban and all parties to respect and protect international humanitarian law and the rights and freedoms of all persons. We are receiving chilling reports of severe restrictions on human rights throughout the country,” Guterres said.
“I am particularly concerned by accounts of mounting human rights violations against the women and girls of Afghanistan who fear a return to the darkest days. It is essential that the hard-won rights of Afghan women and girls are protected,” he added.
Guterres added the women and girls of Afghanistan are “looking to the international community for support — the same international community that assured them that opportunities would be expanded, education would be guaranteed, freedoms would spread and rights would be secured.”
Russian President’s special envoy for Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov had a phone conversation Monday with his US counterpart, Zalmay Khalilzad, who is currently in Doha, Kabulov said, according to Russian state media.
Kabulov did not provide any details on the contents of the call.
Speaking Monday on Russia 24 TV Channel after the call, Kabulov criticized the American mission in Afghanistan.
“We expected that the Afghan military forces, prepared by the Americans and NATO, will last at least some time and will control at least part of the country which will allow to hold negotiations on a coalition transit government. Apparently, we overestimated the talents of our American colleagues, and this army gave up without a fight,” Kabulov said.
“When the Soviet Union left Afghanistan, the regime they supported held up for three years. The regime that the Americans had been creating for 20 years, did not even last until the Americans left completely,” he added.
“[The US experts] need to justify themselves first of all in front of their taxpayers explaining why this happened: 20 years, 1 trillion [dollars], almost 2,500 American lives, not counting the other allies. They need to justify that somehow and to show this failure as a success,” he said.
Earlier Russia announced it will not be evacuating its embassy in Kabul. Explaining this decision, Kabulov said that for the last 7 years, the Russian diplomats have been analyzing thoughtfully and “working with all sides of the conflict in a civil war.”
“As a result, the Russian diplomacy ensured quite comfortable conditions for itself regardless of the regime change in Kabul,” Kabulov said.
The capital of Afghanistan is safe now, according to the Russian official.
“Safety is a conditional concept, but at the moment it is safe [in Kabul]… The situation in Kabul itself is absolutely calm. And we shouldn’t mix this with the chaos created at the airport,” he said.
According to the Russian special envoy, the “chaos and mess” at Kabul airport was created by the US decision to send in a few thousand soldiers to evacuate its staff.
“It has nothing to do with the situation inside Kabul,” he said.
United States Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield said during Monday’s ongoing UN Security Council meeting on Afghanistan that the US promises to be generous in resettling displaced Afghan people.
“The United States promises to be generous in resettling Afghans in our home country and I’m heartened by the pledges we’re seeing from other nations to do the same. We need to all do more and the time to step up is now,” Thomas-Greenfield said, while also urging other nations to do what they can to protect the safety of Afghan civilians.
Thomas-Greenfield said the United States is calling upon all parties to protect civilian populations, including journalists and noncombatants, and to allow urgent humanitarian aid deliveries and services to continue, particularly as Covid-19 continues to ravage the population.
“The Afghan people deserve to live in safety, security, and dignity. We in the international community stand ready to assist them,” Thomas-Greenfield said.
CNN journalist on the ground describes “utterly startling scenes” at Kabul airport
Taliban forces are trying to control crowds rushing to get into the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, CNN International Security Editor Nick Paton Walsh said while describing the “utterly startling scenes” as people desperately try to get out of the country.
Military flights just resumed after being temporarily paused Monday, but Walsh said large groups of people were storming some of the gates and scaling the 10- to 20-foot concrete walls to get onto the airfield.
The Taliban are pushing crowds back, using vehicles taken from Afghan security forces to control people, Walsh said, adding that the volume of people were a “reminder of the panic felt by US troops trying to security that area.”
“It’s startling too to see the Taliban trying to bring some degree of order to those crowds running toward the airport,” Walsh reported.
Some context: Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said that the Department of Defense is working to evacuate Americans as well as up to 30,000 Afghan Special Immigrant Visa applicants into the US.
White House Deputy National Security Adviser Jon Finer said the US has made clear to the Taliban “in no uncertain terms” not to interfere with Afghans who are attempting to get to the Kabul airport for potential evacuation, however those Afghans should wait until they are told it is time for their evacuation before going to the airport.
US resumes air operations at Kabul airport but officials expect sporadic suspensions
US military flights have resumed at the Kabul airport for now, a US defense official tells CNN. The flights were suspended because of crowds of Afghans on the airfield.
The crowds have been cleared but the military anticipates continuing sporadic clearing operations if crowds continue to gather.
After the Taliban rapidly gained control over Afghanistan, leaving scores of people scared, helpless and desperate to flee, the United States’ withdrawal strategy has been greatly criticized.
“Clearly, there’s no plan B. There’s clearly been no contingency, there’s clearly even no intelligence among the most sophisticated intelligence operation in the world that this could have happened so fast,” CNN’s Christiane Amanpour said.
“The 20 years of American effort collapsed in a whimper,” she added.
The future of Afghanistan under the Taliban is uncertain as of today.
“We don’t know whether there’s any serious effort in Kabul today to actually construct some kind of transitional process that is a peaceful process and one that actually involves various different constituencies in Afghanistan. That’s what the Taliban says but we haven’t seen any evidence of it. It’s never been the case in the past,” she said.
Amanpour had reported out of Afghanistan when the Taliban first took over in 1996, when she made certain observations.
“They have never governed any space. They are not a government. At least they certainly they weren’t then and we don’t know what they are now,” she explains. “They have imposed their form of fundamentalism and radical Islamic Sharia on a population, not all of whom believe in that. We do not know how they are going to react to now being in charge.”
This puts the fate of many women, children and journalists at risk.
“Last time they didn’t give a hoot about what the rest of the world thought. They did exactly what they wanted, backed by enough power from Pakistan and certain other quarters of the world … certainly, women are right to be incredibly scared,” Amanpour said.
“Let us not forget that the designation of the Taliban as a terrorist organization still stands, and it’s a very big ask to think this is going to be some kind of inclusive government with rights for all,” she added.
Planes carrying more than 100 Afghan soldiers have landed at the airport in the city of Bokhtar in Tajikistan, an official from the Tajikistan Ministry of Foreign Affairs told CNN on Monday.
Tajikistan shares a border with Afghanistan.
“After receiving an SOS signal from Afghanistan’s side, in accordance with international obligations, Tajikistan gave permission to land the Afghan aircrafts at the airport in the city of Bokhtar,” a spokesman with Tajikistan’s MFA said.
The official said he didn’t know how many planes landed.
He added that all the arrived Afghan servicemen are temporarily accommodated in the city of Bokhtar.
Repatriation efforts on hold for Indians stranded in Afghanistan
The Indian government has been forced to pause its repatriation efforts for citizens stranded in Afghanistan due to the closure of commercial operations at Kabul airport.
“The situation in Afghanistan is being monitored on a constant basis at high levels. The Government will take all steps to ensure the safety and security of Indian nationals and our interests in Afghanistan,” read a statement issued by the Ministry of External Affairs Monday.
“We are in constant touch with the representatives of Afghan Sikh and Hindu communities. We will facilitate repatriation to India of those who wish to leave Afghanistan. There are also a number of Afghans who have been our partners in the promotion of our mutual developmental, educational and people to people endeavours. We will stand by them,” stated the official ministry spokesperson.
Flights to Kabul from India were suspended today, and according to the government-run Air India airlines spokesperson, they have no flights scheduled till the airspace over Afghanistan opens up again.
US forces at the Kabul airport shot and killed two armed men Monday after they fired on US forces, according to a US defense official.
The official would only say the men were armed and the US has not verified they were Taliban members. The US for now believes it was an isolated incident.
Additionally, the military has a report that one US troop has been injured by a gunshot in another incident at the airport, but the circumstances have not been confirmed, the official said.
An Afghan Air Force aircraft crashed in Uzbekistan on Sunday
An Afghan Air Force aircraft crashed in the Surxondaryo region of Uzbekistan on Sunday, while trying to cross the border, an official from the Ministry of Defense of Uzbekistan told CNN on Monday.
“Yesterday the air defense forces suppressed an attempt to violate the state border,” a representative from the press-service of the Ministry of Defense of Uzbekistan said.
It was not immediately clear what the intent of those on board the aircraft was.
The official would not clarify when pressed further if suppressed meant shot down.
“Now representatives of the armed forces and security forces are conducting an investigation into this fact. After its completion, the media and the public will be provided with detailed information,” said press-service of the Ministry of Defense of Uzbekistan.
Russian state media RIA Novosti is reporting two pilots survived and are in serious condition in a hospital in Termez, according to an employee of the Termez branch of the Republican Scientific Center for Emergency Medical Aid. MOD of Uzbekistan wouldn’t give other details to CNN and said more information would be available after an investigation is completed.
EU to hold emergency meeting on Tuesday to discuss Afghanistan
European Union foreign ministers will hold an emergency meeting on Tuesday to discuss the seizure of power in Afghanistan by the Taliban, EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell said Monday.
“Following latest developments in Afghanistan, and after intense contacts with partners in the past days and hours, I decided to convene an extraordinary VTC
of EU Foreign Ministers tomorrow afternoon for a first assessment,” Borrell tweeted.
“Afghanistan stands at a crossroad. Security and wellbeing of its citizens, as well as international security are at play,” he added.
European Parliament President David Sassoli also called for a “united EU response” to the situation unfolding in Afghanistan, adding that asylum “must be granted” to all those in danger of persecution.
“The country needs a lasting and inclusive political solution that protects the rights of women and allows Afghans to live in safety and with dignity,” Sassoli tweeted.
In an earlier joint statement shared by the EU External Action Service (EEAS), members of the international community stated their readiness to assist the Afghan people, affirming their right to “safety, security and dignity.”
“We support, are working to secure, and call on all parties to respect and facilitate, the safe and orderly departure of foreign nationals and Afghans who wish to leave the country,” the joint statement read.
“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 added.
President Joe Biden meets virtually with his national security team for a briefing on Afghanistan at Camp David on Sunday, August 15. (The White House/AP)
National security adviser Jake Sullivan said Monday the American people can expect to hear from President Biden “soon” but would not say if that would be today.
Biden, who remains at Camp David on his August vacation, is “deeply engaged” on the situation and in contact with his national security team regarding the mission of getting Americans and Afghans evacuated, according to Sullivan.
Secretary of State Tony Blinken on CNN’s State of the Union Sunday refused to say Biden bears some burden for the hasty US exit from the country as the Taliban swiftly took control of the capital city Kabul yesterday.
Blinken argued that Biden took prudent steps to have the resources in place to get out US diplomats.
“What the President has done is make sure that we were able to adjust to anything happening on the ground, and the fact that we – that he sent additional forces in, we had those forces at the ready, fully prepared to go in the event that this moved in a direction where we needed forces in place to ensure that our personnel, was safe and secure, to ensure also that we could do everything possible to bring out of Afghanistan. Those Afghans most of the risks, that’s exactly what we’re doing,” Blinken said Sunday.
When pressed by Jake Tapper as to why the US did not remove the US diplomats and Afghans who worked with the US first, before drawing down troops, Blinken said that the situation with the troops on the ground was not sustainable because deal with the Taliban which was struck under former President Trump that all US troops would leave by May 1. The Biden administration has repeatedly pointed to that deal as a major factor which fueled the US troop withdrawal from the country.
“That status quo was not sustainable,” Blinken said. “Like it or not, there was an agreement that the forces would come out on May 1st. Had they – he we not have we not begun that process, which is what the president did, and the Taliban saw, then we would have been back on board with the Taliban, and we would have been back at war with 10s of 1000s of troops having to go in because the 2500 troops we had there, and the airpower would not have sufficed to deal with the situation, especially as we see, alas the hollowness of – the Afghan security forces.”
Blinken argued that keeping US troops in Afghanistan is “simply not in the national interest.”
Blinken also would not point to anything that the Biden administration should have done anything differently in their approach to withdrawing from Afghanistan.
Pentagon press secretary John Kirby confirms to CNN that the Department of Defense is aiming to relocate up to 30,000 Afghan Special Immigrant Visa applicants into the US, a reversal of President Biden’s previous assertion that “the law doesn’t allow that to happen.”
The State Department will identify the individuals for transport, according to Kirby, and the Defense Department will facilitate their transportation to and housing at Fort Bliss in Texas and Fort McCoy in Wisconsin.
Kirby said DoD is aiming to get several thousand people transported immediately and tens of thousands more to follow, though how the US government will achieve that is unclear.
White House Deputy National Security Adviser told CNN Monday morning there is no plan for US forces to provide safe passage for Americans, locally employed Afghan staff of the US embassy and other Afghan visa applicants from within the city of Kabul to the airport.
Finer said the US has made clear to the Taliban “in no uncertain terms” not to interfere with Afghans who are attempting to get to the Kabul airport for potential evacuation, however those Afghans should wait until they are told it is time for their evacuation before going to the airport.
“We are asking people in an orderly way, when their flight is called. And again this is not going to be just a free for all. It can’t be for security reasons work that way. When people’s flights are timed, we are asking them to show up at the airport to be present to get on those flights. Not just whoever happens to come to the airport,” Finer said.
“Right now we have our hands full at the airport. I know of no ability to help secure safe passage to airport” at this time, a senior Pentagon official told CNN.
Reversing a Biden administration plan to prioritize Americans trying to leave Kabul, Kirby said the plan is to now evacuate “a mix” of Afghans and Americans.
Iran has shut three of its consulates in Afghanistan and reduced the number of personnel at its embassy in Kabul amid the deteriorating security situation in the country, Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said according to a statement.
Iran closed its missions in Mazar-i-Sharif, Herat and Kandahar, the statement said.
“At the moment, only the security guards and a few local colleagues are present at these three missions,” Khatibzadeh said.
“Iran has also drawn down staff members at its embassy in Kabul, and a number of our colleagues have returned, leaving only enough personnel to handle the embassy’s essential activities,” he added.
As the Taliban takes over Afghanistan, footage of chaotic scenes at the Kabul airport is surfacing, showing helpless and desperate people trying to flee, clinging on to US military planes.
Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute, who directed the Afghan strategy for former Presidents Bush and Obama, says he is “stunned” to see these scenes unfold, but this was bound to happen.
“This is obviously not what anybody wanted, but frankly the stage was set for the tragic and desperate events … 10 years ago, when we brought bin Laden to justice and decimated al Qaeda,” he told CNN.
Since then, Afghanistan has “made too little progress” and these scenes were unavoidable, Lute added.
“This has been the accumulation of a lack of progress over at least a decade, and perhaps, arguably longer than a decade,” he said Monday. “We can’t rewind the clock. And in a way, this is simply culminating because of too little progress. And while the Taliban made progress, the government did not. We built security forces that, in the end, could not withstand the pressure from the Taliban. I’m afraid that we built a house built on sand.”
President Joe Biden had been watching this situation closely over the years and “decided that it is time for Afghanistan to be decided by Afghans,” Lute said.
“The President decided that we would leave, but the scenes we see today suggest that we believed intelligence estimates … and we didn’t plan against the worst case estimates,” he said.
With where things stand today, “there’s no going back,” Lute explained.
“There is no Afghan army. There are no Afghan police. There is no Afghan government. The Taliban are in charge. So, we’re in no position to reverse what we see today. The best we can do is to cope with the circumstances at the airport. Obviously, prioritize the evacuation of Americans, but then right behind them, the Afghans who have served alongside of us.”
The situation in Afghanistan is “of great concern” to Germany, government spokesperson Steffen Seibert told reporters on Monday.
“We are concerned about the fate of individual Afghans, but we are also concerned about the situation as a whole. These are bitter developments when you see them in terms of the deployment of the Western community,” Seibert said.
Seibert outlined the “clear” task ahead for the German government: to safely evacuate German embassy employees and other nationals, and “to bring the Afghan employees seeking protection” as much as possible, alongside people with whom Germany has worked closely with there.
According to a spokesperson for the German Foreign Ministry, the situation at the airport in Kabul is “very chaotic,” adding that “there is no flight movement possible, because there are a large number of desperate people on the tarmac.”
One German military plane flew to Kabul on Monday morning to assist with evacuations, with two more planes to follow, the spokesperson told journalists.
Forty staff members from the German Embassy were flown out from Kabul to Doha on Sunday evening.
Germany has now urged its citizens in Kabul to wait to be individually contacted by the embassy instead of heading to the airport, as it can be “risky” and “people shouldn’t expect to be able to enter the airport until they are on a flight list.”
German airline Lufthansa said it is coordinating with the Federal Foreign Office to evaluate how it can support the government in the evacuations of German nationals and local workers from Afghanistan.
National security adviser Jake Sullivan said Monday the American people can expect to hear from President Biden “soon” but would not say if that would be today.
Biden, who remains at Camp David on his August vacation, is “deeply engaged” on the situation and in contact with his national security team regarding the mission of getting Americans and Afghans evacuated, according to Sullivan.
“At the right point he will absolutely address the American people,” Sullivan said during an interview on ABC Monday morning.
Sullivan continued to defend the President’s decision to withdraw US forces from Afghanistan, becoming the latest White House official to put the blame for the swift Taliban takeover of the country on the Afghan government and security forces.
Sullivan said President Biden did not think it was inevitable that the Taliban would take control of Afghanistan, something Biden himself said during July 8 remarks, and that the Afghan security forces should have stepped up to fight the Taliban, especially after nearly 20 years of US training.
“He thought the Afghan national security forces could step up and fight because we spent 20 years, tens of billions of dollars training them, giving them the best equipment, giving them support of US forces for 20 years and when push came to shove, they decided not to step up and fight for their country,” Sullivan said.
“And so the question facing the President back in April, and again as we’ve gone forward, is should US men and women be put into the middle of another country’s civil war, when their own army won’t fight to defend them. And his answer the question was, no. And that is why he stands by this decision,” he added.
Sullivan said the US achieved its objective in Afghanistan which was to hold those who carried out the Sept. 11 attacks accountable, and with that objective achieved, the President was not prepared to have US forces in the country for a third decade.
“A decade ago we got Osama bin Laden, we degraded al Qaeda, we stopped terrorist attacks against the United States from Afghanistan for 20 years. But what the President was not prepared to do was enter a third decade of conflict, flowing in thousands more troops, which was his only other choice, to fight in the middle of a civil war that the Afghan army wouldn’t fight for itself,” Sullivan said.
Sullivan however, as Secretary of State Antony Blinken did Sunday, admitted that the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan, specifically of Kabul, happened at an unexpected speed, which continues to shine a spotlight on the intelligence the administration received regarding its decision to withdraw from the country.
“As we watch the situation unfold, and it’s certainly unfolded at unexpected speed, we put that contingency plan in place,” Sullivan said of the administration’s ability to quickly send more troops to Kabul to help with evacuations.
The Department of Homeland Security and its federal partners worked all hours of the weekend to pull long excel lists of names of special immigrant visa (SIV) applicants to push through systems and get security checks cleared as the situation deteriorated in Afghanistan, according to a DHS official.
It’s a meticulous effort that requires cross-checking.
Many SIV applicants consist of Afghans who worked alongside the US, who will likely be targets under Taliban rule.
China said on Monday that it has “maintained contact and communication with the Afghan Taliban” when asked if Beijing intends to recognize the Taliban as Afghanistan’s new representative.
“The Afghan Taliban have expressed on many occasions that they hope to develop good relations with China and look forward to China’s participation in the reconstruction and development of Afghanistan, and will never allow any forces to use Afghan territory to do things that endanger China. We welcome these,” Hua Chunying, spokesperson of China’s Foreign Ministry said at a daily press briefing on Monday.
Hua said China has always “respected the sovereignty of Afghanistan” and has always been “pursuing friendly policies for all Afghan people.”
Hua referred back to China’s State Councilor Wang Yi’s meeting with Taliban leadership in Tianjin in July.
“We hope that the Afghan Taliban, all parties and ethnic groups in Afghanistan can achieve an inclusive political structure for Afghanistan’s lasting peace,” Hua added.
“China respects the right of the Afghan people to independently determine their own destiny and future, and is willing to continue to develop good-neighborly and friendly cooperation with Afghanistan,” she added. “[China would like to] play a constructive role in the peace and reconstruction of Afghanistan.”
US military troops stand guard at Kabul’s airport on August 16. (Wakil Kohsar/AFP/Getty Images)
The US military has temporarily suspended air operations at Kabul airport while US troops try to clear the airfield of Afghans who have flooded onto the airfield, a US defense official tells CNN.
The suspension is “while we make sure the airfield is secure,” the official said.
A member of Afghanistan’s security forces walks at Bagram Air Base after the last American troops departed the compound in July 2021. (Rahmat Gul/AP)
Iran’s new president Ebrahim Raisi said the United States’ withdrawal from Afghanistan is a “military defeat” and should become an “opportunity to revive life” in the country, state-news agency IRNA said.
Raisi was meeting with outgoing Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif when he said that Iran “will help restore stability” in Afghanistan and is committed to “neighboring relations by observing the developments in the country,” while also calling on all groups to come to a national agreement, IRNA added.
“The military defeat and the US withdrawal from Afghanistan should become an opportunity to revive life, security, and lasting peace in the country,” he said according to IRNA.
Zarif also held talks with China’s special envoy for Afghanistan Yu Shiang Yung on the latest developments in Afghanistan, including the issue of those displaced from the escalation.
“The issue of the displaced fleeing to neighboring countries is one of the most important and pressing issues, especially considering the difficult conditions of the coronavirus pandemic,” Zarif said, according to the Iranian Foreign Ministry website.
People struggle to cross the boundary wall of Kabul’s Hamid Karzai international airport on August 16. EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
Afghans are adjusting to their new reality after the Taliban took Kabul on Sunday afternoon, sealing their control of the country.
Here’s where things currently stand:
There is chaos at Kabul’s airport: Scores of civilians are trying to flee the country, with chaotic scenes continuing to unfold at Kabul’s Hamid Karzai international airport.
Several men or youths were seen on video clinging to the fuselage of a US military C-17 aircraft as it taxied the runway on Monday afternoon, with scores more watching or running alongside the plane, some of whom were underneath the engines. A US military Apache helicopter was also seen swooping low over the tarmac in what appeared to be an effort to disperse the crowds of civilians, desperately trying to leave.
The US military has since suspended air operations while US troops try to clear the airfield of Afghans who have flooded the airfield, a US defense official told CNN. The temporary suspension is “while we make sure the airfield is secure,” the official said.
Witnesses CNN has spoken to at the airport in Kabul also said they have heard gunshots fired throughout the day. It’s unclear if the shots were fired at people or in the air to disperse crowds.
While flights at the Kabul airport are closed off to civilian aviation, evacuation flights are still being able to take off, data tracking shows.
France and Finland are the latest countries to close their Kabul embassies and evacuate its staff whilst Britain’s first flight carrying UK nationals and embassy staff has now arrived in the UK.
The streets of the capital feel eerie and surreal: In the capital, Taliban fighters are relaxed and jubilant, guarding the US embassy and the presidential palace.
The militant group is now everywhere in the capital, walking the streets of Kabul with ease (and with American weapons in hand.)
CNN spoke with a handful of Taliban fighters in Kabul on Monday morning, who said that their current focus is to ensure a smooth transition of power. But outside the US embassy, some were chanting death to America, with smiles on their faces.
Throughout, the Taliban’s influence on the city is becoming visible, with men proactively painting over images of uncovered women outside of several beauty salons.
The Taliban are signaling what the future will look like: Taliban spokesperson Suhail Shaheen told CNN Sunday that the new Taliban government will include non-Taliban Afghans but said it would be “premature” right now to name who the officials will be.
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.
Shaheen also said Taliban policies regarding the education for girls and women is clear and that women can continue education from primary to higher education.
The Taliban official said the success of the military offensive was because the group has “roots among the people,” calling it a “popular uprising of the people.” He said diplomats and journalists in Afghanistan can continue to work, including the American embassy.
Former President Ashraf Ghani is no where to be seen: The Taliban took control of the presidential palace in Kabul yesterday after ousted President Ashraf Ghani fled the country.
Ghani was rumored to have fled to neighboring Tajikistan, but in a statement on Monday, the country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs denied the Afghan president has entered the country or been in its airspace. It is still unclear where Ghani is.
Following his departure on Sunday, Ghani said in a Facebook post that he will “always continue to serve my nation through offering ideas and programs.”
“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. “In order to avoid the flood of bloodshed, I thought it was best to get out,” he added
US refugee resettlement agencies are preparing for a large influx of Afghan arrivals: The Department of Defense will potentially relocate up to 30,000 Afghan Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) applicants to the US, according to Pentagon press secretary John Kirby.
Fort Bliss in Texas and Fort McCoy in Wisconsin have the capability to house these applicants, Kirby said.
Video has emerged of several men or youths clinging to the fuselage of a US military C-17 aircraft as it taxied at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul on Monday.
There are scores more people watching or following the plane, some of them underneath its engines. Another video shows a US military Apache helicopter swooping low over the tarmac in what appears to be an effort to disperse the crowds.
Witnesses CNN has spoken to at the airport confirmed the chaotic scenes.
It’s unclear what happened to any of the people who can be seen clinging to the aircraft.
CNN has reached out to the US military for comment.