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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3:42 a.m. ET, August 13, 2021

UK defense chief worried about potential return of al Qaeda to Afghanistan

From Amy Cassidy in Glasgow, Scotland

UK Defense Secretary Ben Wallace on Friday said he is “absolutely worried" the al Qaeda terrorist group “will probably come back” to Afghanistan after the pullout of United States and British troops there is complete.

“Failed states are breeding grounds for those types of people, of course I'm worried," Wallace said on Sky News.

"It's why I said I felt this was not the right time or decision to make because, of course, al Qaeda will probably come back,” he added. 

Wallace's comments come as Taliban forces, which supported al Qaeda before being ousted by the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, move ever closer to taking the capital, Kabul.

Senior Afghan intelligence officials told CNN that al Qaeda could be ready to attack the West by the end of 2022, as the group's presence in Afghanistan is thriving with support from the Taliban. 

3:33 a.m. ET, August 13, 2021

Herat provincial capital falls to the Taliban 

Taliban fighters stand guard along the road in Herat, Afghanistan on August 13.
Taliban fighters stand guard along the road in Herat, Afghanistan on August 13. AFP/Getty Images

Almost the entire city of Herat, except the Afghan army corps base, has fallen to the Taliban, the head of the Herat Provincial Council, Kamran Alizai, said Friday.

Herat's airport was captured Friday morning local time, while Shindand air base, in the neighboring Shindand district, was captured Thursday, Alizai said.

At least 14 of Afghanistan's 34 provincial capitals have now fallen to the Taliban. 

3:17 a.m. ET, August 13, 2021

Taliban takes Helmand province capital

Lashkar Gah, the capital of Afghanistan's Helmand province, fell to the Taliban on Thursday night, the head of the Helmand Provincial Council, Attaullah Afghan, confirmed to CNN.

Afghan said the Taliban now controls the city's police headquarters, governor's office and central jail. The Taliban raised its flag in the governor��s office early on Friday, he added. 

 The government controls only an army base and a few other locations, Afghan said. 

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.