August 27 Afghanistan-Taliban news

By Aditi Sangal, Jessie Yeung, Brad Lendon, Tara John, Melissa Macaya, Meg Wagner, Fernando Alfonso III and Veronica Rocha, CNN

Updated 0301 GMT (1101 HKT) August 31, 2021
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5:12 a.m. ET, August 27, 2021

Kabul death toll increases to more than 90 Afghans killed, 150 wounded, according to the Afghan Health Ministry

Volunteers and medical staff unload bodies outside a hospital after the bomb blasts at the Kabul airport on August 26.
Volunteers and medical staff unload bodies outside a hospital after the bomb blasts at the Kabul airport on August 26. (Wakil Kohsar/AFP/Getty Images)

The death toll from Thursday's blasts in Kabul has increased to more than 90 people killed, an official with Afghanistan’s Ministry of Public Health told CNN Friday.

There are also more than 150 people wounded by the blasts, the official said.

According to initial reports, the dead and wounded in these counts were all Afghans, the official added.

8:18 a.m. ET, August 27, 2021

Australia and New Zealand end evacuation missions from Kabul

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern speaks during a press conference on Thursday, August 26, in Wellington, New Zealand.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern speaks during a press conference on Thursday, August 26, in Wellington, New Zealand. (Mark Mitchell/Pool/Getty Images)

Australia and New Zealand have both ended their evacuation flights from Kabul, as Afghanistan reels from the deadly bombing attacks.

New Zealand's final evacuation flight had landed in the United Arab Emirates on Thursday night local time, before the attacks took place. No members of the national defense force were in Kabul at the time of the attack, and no New Zealanders were left at the airport, the government said.

However, there are still New Zealand citizens in Afghanistan, who are in contact with the Foreign Ministry.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said there would be no more evacuation flights from Kabul.

“We strongly condemn what is a despicable attack on many innocent families and individuals who were simply seeking safety from the incredibly difficult and fragile situation in Afghanistan,” Ardern said.

Australian Defense Minister Peter Dutton also confirmed Australia has finished the country's evacuation mission.

He added on Friday that he was "grateful" for the work of Australian forces and commended their success of evacuating more than 4,000 people from Kabul. 

He called the attack "horrific," and said it wasn't clear if there were any Australians caught up in the attacks, but added the country's Foreign Ministry had sent a message to all Australian citizens to steer clear of the airport.

For Australian citizens that might still be in Afghanistan, many will likely try to make their way to other borders, he said.

4:15 a.m. ET, August 27, 2021

Here are the groups vying for power in Afghanistan

Analysis by Zachary B. Wolf

Taliban fighters sit inside the presidential palace in Kabul on August 15.
Taliban fighters sit inside the presidential palace in Kabul on August 15. Zabi Karimi/AP

After the frantic evacuation effort in Kabul and the bombing attacks at the airport on Thursday, what is becoming painfully clear is that we have no idea what will happen in Afghanistan when US forces leave at the end of the month.

Here's an attempt to collate what we know about who will take over.

  • Who are the Taliban? The group dates to 1994 and controlled Afghanistan until the US and NATO invaded in 2001. They regrouped over the past two decades; as recently as February, they were thought to have fewer than 100,000 fighters.
  • What about al Qaeda? In recent years, the Taliban have kept al Qaeda in check; they pledged in 2020 to prevent al Qaeda and other terror groups from using Afghan soil. But experts say many of the prisoners released by the Taliban sympathize with al Qaeda -- and could regroup whats left of al Qaeda in Afghanistan.
  • Who are ISIS-K? ISIS-Khorasan is a branch of the ISIS terror group that first emerged in Syria and Iraq. While the affiliates share an ideology and tactics, the depth of their relationship with regards to organization and command and control has never been entirely established. ISIS-K has been orchestrating attacks in Kabul since 2016 and is a sworn enemy of the Taliban.
  • What about resistance to the Taliban? The Northern Alliance, a coalition of Uzbek and Tajik forces, managed to keep the Panjshir Valley in northern Afghanistan free from the Taliban during its five-year rule. It was led by Ahmad Shah Massoud before he was assassinated by al Qaeda operatives just before 9/11; the coalition is now led by his son, who has vowed to continue fighting the Taliban.
  • What has become of the US-backed power structure? It's gone. The ousted Afghan president has fled the country; his vice president has fled to the Panjshir Valley, the one stronghold of resistance to the Taliban; previous leaders and former presidents are effectively under house arrest.
11:55 p.m. ET, August 26, 2021

Key things to know about ISIS-K, the ISIS affiliate in Afghanistan

President Biden said Thursday that he has ordered up plans to strike ISIS-K targets following the attack near the Kabul airport.

“To those who carried out this attack as well as anyone who wishes America harm know this: We will not forgive. We will not forget. We will hunt you down and make you pay,” Biden said.

ISIS in Khorasan, known as ISIS-K, claimed that an ISIS militant carried out the suicide attack, but provided no evidence to support the claim.

US officials have been warning over the past week that a threat of a terror attack at the airport was becoming more acute. Earlier on Thursday local time, US diplomats in Kabul warned American citizens to "immediately" leave several gates into the airport, citing security threats.

But who are ISIS-K? ISIS-Khorasan is a branch of the terror group that first emerged in Syria and Iraq. While the affiliates share an ideology and tactics, the depth of their relationship with regards to organization and command and control has never been entirely established.

US intelligence officials previously told CNN the ISIS-K membership includes "a small number of veteran jihadists from Syria and other foreign terrorist fighters," saying that the US had identified 10 to 15 of their top operatives in Afghanistan. The group's name comes from its terminology for the area that includes Afghanistan and Pakistan: "Khorasan." 

The US Defense Department Inspector-General for Afghanistan (SIGAR) said in a report covering the months April to June of this year that "ISIS-Khorasan exploited the political instability and rise in violence during the quarter by attacking minority sectarian targets and infrastructure to spread fear and highlight the Afghan government's inability to provide adequate security."

ISIS-K has formed cells in Kabul which have carried out a number of devastating suicide attacks in and beyond the Afghan capital since 2016. 

The group has built up a presence in eastern Afghanistan in recent years, especially in the provinces of Nangahar and Kunar. Last August, the group attacked the main prison in Jalalabad, the capital of Nangahar, in an effort to free dozens of their supporters who had been captured by the Afghan army and police.

Read more about the group here.

CNN's Nikki Carvajal, Jim Sciutto and Tim Lister contributed reporting to this post.

12:38 a.m. ET, August 27, 2021

A lot has happened following the attack near Kabul's airport. Here's what you need to know

Smoke rises from a deadly explosion outside the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Thursday, August 26.
Smoke rises from a deadly explosion outside the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Thursday, August 26. (Wali Sabawoon/AP)

Thirteen US service members have died as a result of the attack at the Kabul airport Thursday, according to a statement from US Central Command.

The total number of US service members injured is now 18, said Capt. Bill Urban, a spokesperson for CENTCOM.

Here's the latest:

  • The casualties: In total, more than 60 Afghans were killed and at least 140 were injured, according to Afghanistan’s Ministry of Public Health. Gen. Kenneth "Frank" McKenzie, head of the US Central Command, confirmed US that service members were killed and injured in the attack, saying, "it's a hard day today."
  • Nature of the attack: McKenzie said the attack included two suicide bombers followed by gunmen opening fire. There were at least two explosions near a gate at the Kabul airport today. They came as the US and other countries race to evacuate people ahead of President Biden's Aug. 31 withdrawal deadline.
  • "We will hunt you down": Biden issued a warning to those responsible for the Kabul airport attack in Afghanistan Thursday, saying, "We will hunt you down and make you pay." "To those who carried out this attack, as well as anyone wishes America harm, know this: We will not forgive. We will not forget. We will hunt you down and make you pay. I will defend our interests and our people will every measure at my command," he said at the White House.
  • Biden orders plans to strike: Biden revealed Thursday that he has ordered military commanders “to develop operational plans to strike ISIS-K assets, leadership and facilities.” “We will respond with force and precision in our time, in a place we choose in a manner of our choosing,” the President said, declining to give specifics on timing.
  • Threats persist: McKenzie, head of the US Central Command, said that while they continue to investigate the perpetrators of today's attack against Kabul airport, they are also focused on other "extremely active threat streams" to the airfield. The general explained that these threats mean they could be "imminent" and "could occur at any moment" and could include rocket attacks, vehicle attacks or a vest-wearing suicide attacker. McKenzie said they are coordinating with the Taliban on security for the airport and that the US mission is continuing despite the attack, and that the US will “go after” the people responsible for the attack.
  • Americans still in Afghanistan: There are roughly 1,000 Americans left in Afghanistan following the attack, according to the Pentagon.
  • Evacuation efforts will continue: While the "threat from ISIS is extremely real," troops are still assisting with bringing people onto the airfield at Kabul's airport, McKenzie said. "We just brought a number of buses aboard the airfield over the last couple or three hours. We'll continue to process and flow people out. The plan is designed to operate under stress and under attack," he said.
  • Paying their respect: Flags across the United States were lowered to half-staff “as a mark of respect” for the victims of the terror attack in Afghanistan, the White House said. During remarks on the attack in Afghanistan Thursday, Biden held a moment of silence "for all those in uniform and out of uniform, military and civilian, of giving the last full measure of devotion."