US to send troops to help evacuate personnel in Afghanistan, as Kandahar becomes latest city to fall

By Melissa Mahtani, Melissa Macaya, Maureen Chowdhury, Veronica Rocha, Meg Wagner, Steve George and Brad Lendon, CNN

Updated 11:42 a.m. ET, August 13, 2021
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12:55 a.m. ET, August 13, 2021

Kandahar, Afghanistan's second-largest city, falls to the Taliban

From CNN's Clarissa Ward in Kabul

A view of a closed market in Kandahar, Afghanistan on August 10.
A view of a closed market in Kandahar, Afghanistan on August 10. M Sadiq/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

The Taliban has taken control of the city of Kandahar, Afghanistan's second-largest city, Afghan Member of Parliament Gul Ahmad Kamin told CNN on Friday.

The Taliban said in a statement Friday that "during the conquest operation, the governor's office, police headquarters and many other centers in Kandahar city were cleared of the enemy last night and were under the control of Mujahidin."

"Hundreds of weapons, vehicles and ammunition were seized," the statement says.  

Kamin said he and many others have made their way to a military base by the airport and are awaiting a flight out.

"Many (government) soldiers surrendered and the rest fled," Kamin said.

12:20 a.m. ET, August 13, 2021

UN Security Council working on statement condemning the Taliban

From CNN's Richard Roth

The United Nations Security Council is considering a statement on the situation in Afghanistan making clear the Taiban would not receive international recognition should its advancing forces seize power, according to a draft obtained by CNN.

The statement would also condemn “in the strongest terms possible” armed attacks by Taliban forces across the country.

The statement was obtained by CNN from a UN diplomat.

There is no word on the timing of potential approval by all 15 Security Council countries, which is required.

7:55 p.m. ET, August 12, 2021

House Speaker Pelosi requests all-members briefing on Afghanistan 

From CNN's Zack Cohen

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has requested an all-members briefing on Afghanistan from the Biden administration during the week of Aug. 23, when members return from recess, according to a Pelosi aide. 

What we know: The United States is withdrawing personnel from its embassy in Kabul amid the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan, leaving only "a core diplomatic presence," the Biden administration announced Thursday as more cities fell to the Taliban.

Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said 3,000 US troops are being deployed to assist with the drawdown, which is expected to be completed by the end of August.

7:16 p.m. ET, August 12, 2021

Situation in Afghanistan is "a consequence of 20 years of American misjudgments," says retired general

From CNN's Maureen Chowdhury

Retired General Wesley Clark.
Retired General Wesley Clark. (CNN)

Retired Gen. Wesley Clark, former supreme allied commander of NATO, attributed the current dire situation in Afghanistan to "20 years of American misjudgments, of poor prioritizations and failed policies."

"For the Biden administration I think they reached the end of the road. It was clear that they weren't going to be able to create or help create an Afghanistan government that supported its people. And without that government support, its military did not have the support of the people. And this is the consequence of it. It's painful. It's tragic," Clark told CNN's Jim Acosta.

Watch the full interview:

6:59 p.m. ET, August 12, 2021

US tells Afghan president it remains "invested" in the country

From CNN's Jennifer Hansler

Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin stressed to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani “that the United States remains invested in the security and stability of Afghanistan in the face of violence by the Taliban,” according to a State Department readout of their call Thursday.

“Secretary Blinken and Secretary Austin informed President Ghani that the United States is reducing our civilian footprint in Kabul in light of the evolving security situation and will accelerate the tempo of Special Immigration Visa (SIV) flights,” the readout from State Department spokesperson Ned Price said. “The Secretaries both emphasized that the United States remains committed to maintaining a strong diplomatic and security relationship with the Government of Afghanistan.”

An unnamed State Department spokesperson denied reports that Austin and Blinken asked Ghani to step down in order to facilitate a ceasefire and transitional government.

“The United States has not asked President Ghani to resign and rumors indicating we have done so are completely false,” this spokesperson said. “Decisions about who leads the country are for Afghans to make.”

6:45 p.m. ET, August 12, 2021

The fall of Kandahar would be seen as a "death knell" for Afghan forces, CNN's Clarissa Ward says

From CNN's Clarissa Ward in Kabul

An Afghan security personnel stands guard along a road in Kandahar on July 14.
An Afghan security personnel stands guard along a road in Kandahar on July 14. (Javeed Tanveer/AFP/Getty Images)

The fall of Kandahar, Afghanistan's second largest city, would be viewed as "death knell" for the country's government and military, CNN's chief international correspondent Clarissa Ward reports from Kabul.

"If Kandahar falls... this will be a real game changer moment and certainly people here in the capital, in Kabul, feel like Kandahar going down would be the death knell for Afghan forces, for the Afghan government," she said.

Twelve provincial Afghanistan capitals are now under Taliban control after the militant group captured two more strategic cities on Thursday, leaving the Afghan capital of Kabul increasingly beleaguered and cut off from the rest of the country.

The city of Herat, Afghanistan's third-largest city and a major urban center in western Afghanistan, fell to the Taliban on Thursday evening local time, with the group taking control of the governor's office and Herat police headquarters, according to Afghan officials.

11:42 a.m. ET, August 13, 2021

Pentagon plans to airlift staff and special immigrant visa applicants out of Afghanistan

From CNN's Ellie Kaufman

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby speaks during a briefing at the Pentagon, on Thursday, August 12.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby speaks during a briefing at the Pentagon, on Thursday, August 12. Andrew Harnik/AP

Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said US troops being sent to Hamid Karzai International Airport to support the drawdown of civilian embassy personnel in Afghanistan will be “postured to support airlift” of those personnel and Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) applicants out of the country. Kirby made these comments during a news briefing at the Pentagon Thursday.

“We certainly anticipate being postured to support airlift as well for not only the reduction of civilian personnel from the embassy but also in the forward movement of special immigrant visa applicants,” Kirby said. “So we do anticipate that there will be airlift required of us, and we are working on final plans right now to put that into place.”

Kirby said SIV applicants will be sent to “locations overseas outside of the United States as well as US installations.” Kirby did not know exact locations of where SIV applicants will be sent, he said.

“We anticipate that we’ll be looking at locations overseas outside of the United States as well as US installations that belong to the United States either overseas and/or here at home,” Kirby said. “I don’t have a list for you right now, but I think it’ll be a mix of both.”

So far there have been six flights carrying 995 SIV applicants and their families to the US. Upward of 15,000 applicants remain in country. 

5:21 p.m. ET, August 12, 2021

Pentagon says sending 3,000 troops to Afghanistan is about "prudent preparation" 

From CNN's Josiah Ryan

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby today defended the Pentagon's decision to send 3,000 US troops into Afghanistan as "prudent preparation," suggesting it is necessary to send so many in order to plan for the worst case scenario. 

"This is about prudent preparation," said Kirby, responding to a reporter's question on why the US was sending such a "high" number of troops. "We want to make sure that we've got enough on hand to adapt to any contingencies."

"Your question about the numbers being too high, we believe it is appropriate to the security situation that we see now and that we can anticipate possibly in the future," he continued. 

"The secretary believes the safety and security of our people, not just American troops, but our allies and partners and our State Department colleagues is of paramount concern," Kirby added. "He is not going to add additional risk to that safe movement."

Two of the infantry battalions headed to Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul are US Marines and one is US Army, Kirby said. All three battalions are coming from the Central Command area of responsibility, which is the part of the US military based in the Middle East.  

4:12 p.m. ET, August 12, 2021

UK sending military personnel to Afghanistan to help British nationals leave

From CNN's Caitlin Hu

Additional UK military personnel will deploy to Afghanistan on a short-term basis to provide support to British nationals leaving the country, a joint news release from the Ministry of Defence and the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office said.

"The additional deployment of approximately 600 troops is in light of the increasing violence and rapidly deteriorating security environment in the country. In parallel, the number of staff working at the British Embassy in Kabul has been reduced to a core team focused on providing consular and visa services for those needing to rapidly leave the country," the statement released Thursday said.

“The security of British nationals, British military personnel and former Afghan staff is our first priority. We must do everything we can to ensure their safety,” UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace added.