August 31 Afghanistan-Taliban news

By Joshua Berlinger, Adam Renton, Lauren Said-Moorhouse, Aditi Sangal, Meg Wagner, Melissa Macaya and Melissa Mahtani, CNN

Updated 12:00 a.m. ET, September 1, 2021
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10:11 a.m. ET, August 31, 2021

WHO: Current situation in Afghanistan will worsen food insecurity

Prior to recent developments, half of the children in Afghanistan were expected to be severely malnourished in 2021, and the current situation will further worsen access to food, according to a World Health Organization situation report on Monday.

About 12.2 million people were projected to experience food insecurity before the Taliban takeover, according to WHO. Afghanistan’s food insecurity and malnutrition crisis has been intensified by the Covid-19 pandemic, food price hikes and the loss of more than 40% of the country’s crops due to this year’s drought, the report states.

Nine of the country’s 13 provinces, that were highly affected by the drought, “far exceed the WHO emergency threshold of Global Acute Malnutrition (15%,) with some districts reporting figures as high as 35%,” according to the report.

10:18 a.m. ET, August 31, 2021

The US withdrawal from Afghanistan is taking a toll on vets who fought there. Here are some ways to help.

From CNN's Ben Burnstein

Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The Taliban's takeover of Afghanistan can be particularly disheartening to Americans who fought there. Across 20 years of combat, almost 800,000 troops deployed to the war zone – many of them more than once.

Images of the American withdrawal and questions about the war's legacy now aggravate long-held frustrations that have been contributing to veterans' already high suicide rate.

CNN has compiled several organizations offering help to veterans troubled by events in Afghanistan.

For immediate assistance:

  • Veterans Crisis Line has people ready to listen and help. Call them at 1-800-273-8255, then select 1. You can click here to access a counselor through text or chat.
  • The National Alliance on Mental Illness provides advice and guidance for veterans facing anger, traumatic brain injury or PTSD.
  • Blue Star Families offers advice for veterans' families dealing with the strains and struggles of military service.

Read about organizations offering more long-term help here.

9:18 a.m. ET, August 31, 2021

US senators call on VA secretary to connect veterans with mental health services as war ends

From CNN's Ryan Nobles 

US Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough speaks during a press briefing on March 4, 2021 at the White House.
US Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough speaks during a press briefing on March 4, 2021 at the White House. Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

A bipartisan group of 34 US senators wrote a letter to Veteran Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough urging him to help veterans struggling with mental health issues following the end of the 20-year Afghanistan war.

The letter called on McDonough to "quickly develop a comprehensive outreach plan to connect Afghanistan and Global War on Terrorism veterans to VA benefits and services,” including “clinical mental health services and community-based support systems.”

“This has been an incredibly challenging time for the veteran community and VA must ensure that there is a sustained, comprehensive plan to reach veterans and connect them with potentially life-saving resources," the statement continued.

Politico was first to report on the initiative. 

9:08 a.m. ET, August 31, 2021

Taliban meet with Indian Ambassador to Qatar to discuss cross-border terrorism concerns

From CNN’s Vedika Sud and Swati Gupta

The Indian ambassador to Qatar met the deputy head of the Taliban’s political office, Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanekzai, Tuesday to discuss cross-border terrorism concerns. 

According to a news release issued by the Indian Ministry of External Affairs, ambassador Deepak Mittal raised concerns that, “Afghanistan’s soil should not be used for anti-Indian activities and terrorism in any manner.”

Over the weekend, the Taliban had issued a statement asking for a “cultural, economic, trade and financial relationship” with India.

“India is another great and close neighboring country in the region. India is an important country in the region for us and we want to have positive relationship with them as well,” Stanekzai said in a speech posted online.

India has not addressed the issue of recognizing the Taliban leadership in Kabul yet and has asked for time and clarity before it makes a decision. 

“Discussions focused on safety, security and early return of Indian nationals stranded in Afghanistan. The travel of Afghan nationals, especially minorities, who wish to visit to India also came up,” said the news release.

9:06 a.m. ET, August 31, 2021

Pentagon: Gear left behind in Afghanistan was demilitarized and made unfit to use

Following the complete withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan, images from the airport in Kabul showed members of the Taliban making their way through an abandoned hanger strewn with equipment, including helicopters, that the US left behind.

However, the equipment was demilitarized and made unusable before troops left, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said.

"They can inspect all they want. They can look at them, they can walk around, but they can't fly them. They can't operate them. We made sure to demilitarize, to make unusable, all the gear that is at the airport — all the aircraft, all the ground vehicles. The only thing that we left operable are a couple of fire trucks and forklifts so that the airport itself can remain more operational going forward," Kirby told CNN.

Since the departure of the last US troops from Afghanistan, the Pentagon is relieved about safely evacuating 123,000 people out of the country, but concerned about those who were left behind, he added.

"Although we don't think the numbers are large, we are obviously concerned about our friends, allies and fellow American citizens that are still there," he said, adding that the US government will remain mindful of its commitment to those citizens that remain behind.

"Though the military mission has ended, the United States commitment to them has not," he said.

In the meantime, the threat in Afghanistan "remains high."

"Obviously, we are concerned about the potential for Taliban retribution going forward," he said Tuesday. "We certainly are mindful of the threat ISIS-K continues to pose inside Afghanistan."

However, Kirby does not foresee the need for military involvements to get the remaining citizens and allies out.

Watch:

10:12 a.m. ET, August 31, 2021

What it's like to drive around Kabul on the first day without US troops on ground in 20 years

From CNN's Nathan Hodge

Remnants of US and international military presence are still visible in the center of Kabul on the first full day after the troops withdrew from Afghanistan.

In recent days, some of the T-walls have been removed. They are high concrete blast barriers that protected government offices and elite compounds but also created major traffic snarls.

But the fortified US embassy near Massoud Circle – a traffic roundabout that connects to the main airport road – is still behind high walls.

Taliban fighters are now manning the checkpoints around the entrance to the large diplomatic compound. 

Signs that might have offended the Taliban have already been taken down after the collapse of the government.

But some large posters of Ahmad Shah Massoud – the legendary Tajik guerrilla fighter who fought against the Soviets – remain. His son, Ahmad Massoud, has vowed to continue the fight against the Taliban in the Panjshir Valley. 

Interestingly, some posters of former Afghan President Ashraf Ghani also remain. Ghani fled Afghanistan as the Taliban marched on the capital just a few weeks ago.

WATCH:

8:13 a.m. ET, August 31, 2021

Fighting resumes around Afghanistan's Panjshir valley, a pocket of Taliban resistance

From CNN's Nilly Kohzad, Saleem Mehsud and Nathan Hodge

Afghan resistance movement forces take part in a military training in Panjshir province on August 30.
Afghan resistance movement forces take part in a military training in Panjshir province on August 30. Sahel Arman/AFP/Getty Images

Fighting has restarted around the Panjshir valley, the last major pocket of resistance against Taliban rule in Afghanistan, according to both National Resistance Front and Taliban commanders.

Communication with the mountainous region has been sporadic, but a commander fighting against the Taliban told CNN that forces fighting the militant group had managed to repel a Taliban assault. 

"In the Khawak Pass area that connects to Panjshir, heavy fighting is going on," the commander said. "We didn’t have internet until just now. The resistance forces are in Puli Hisar and clashes continue. The Taliban have hundreds of casualties.”

CNN was not immediately able to verify claims of casualties or gauge the scale of the fighting. In a video message on Monday, Maulvi Abdul Khaliq Fateh, a Taliban commander on the front line, dismissed earlier reports of fighting, saying they hoped for a negotiated solution. Later in the day, a Taliban source confirmed a resumption in fighting. 

“There was a gentlemen's agreement that no side would attack but they tried to attack and enter Panjshir yesterday from the south and north," said Ali Nazary, spokesperson for the anti-Taliban National Resistance Front of Afghanistan (NRF). "Fortunately, the NRF's forces repelled the attacks and set a few of their armored vehicles on fire. The Taliban forces that came from Gulbahar retreated to Charikar city.”

The main Taliban spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

9:11 a.m. ET, August 31, 2021

Evacuating remaining Americans has "shifted" from military to diplomatic mission, Sullivan says

From CNN's Betsy Klein

White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan is pictured during a press briefing at the White House on August 23.
White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan is pictured during a press briefing at the White House on August 23. Drew Angerer/Getty Images

National security adviser Jake Sullivan defended the withdrawal from Afghanistan that has left at least 100 Americans behind, emphasizing the Biden administration’s commitment to getting those remaining people out of the country through diplomatic means. 

“We continue our mission to get them out, it’s just that it has shifted from a military mission to a diplomatic mission. And we have considerable leverage over the Taliban to ensure that any remaining American citizen will be able to get out,” he said during an appearance on “Good Morning America” Tuesday, noting that between 5,500 and 6,000 Americans were evacuated. 

The 100 who are left, he said, were contacted “repeatedly” during the evacuations to come to the airport or rally point. 

But, he continued, “The small number that remain, we are committed to getting out and we will work through every available diplomatic means with the enormous leverage that we have and that the international community has to make that happen.”  

Pressed on criticism from Sen. Tom Cotton and others who say Biden left behind Americans and other vetted Afghan allies, Sullivan said Biden made decisions in the best interest of the US and noted he got “unanimous recommendations” from the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense, all of his civilian advisors, all of his commanders on the ground, and all of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, “that the best way to protect our forces and the best way to help those Americans was to transition this mission at the end of the day.”

Those who are criticizing are not are not the ones who have to sit in the Situation Room and make the hard calls about the threats that we face and the objectives we’re trying to obtain,” Sullivan said. 

Sullivan also would not rule out giving the Taliban aid in the future. He said that the US will continue to provide humanitarian assistance “directly” to the Afghan people, which, he said, would not flow through the Taliban but through international institutions like the World Health Organization and other nongovernmental organizations.

But, going forward, aid to Afghanistan through the Taliban directly will be conditioned upon the Taliban’s behavior, including whether the remaining Americans are able to safely evacuate. 

“That will be about the Taliban's actions. It will be about whether they follow through on their commitments, their commitments to safe passage for Americans and Afghan allies, their commitment to not allow Afghanistan to be a base from which terrorists can attack the United States or any other country, their commitments with respect to upholding their international obligations. It's going to be up to them. And we will wait and see by their actions how we end up responding in terms of the economic and development assistance,” he said.

7:43 a.m. ET, August 31, 2021

US service members in Kabul airport attack were flown to medical center in Germany

From Atika Shubert and Claudia Otto at Landstuhl Regional Medical Centre, Germany

Right after the Kabul attack last week, 20 US service members were medevaced to the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center (LRMC) in Germany, Col. Andrew Landers, Commander of the LRMC told media Tuesday. 

The injured suffered a wide variety of injuries consistent with an explosion such as blast injuries and penetrating wounds but also a number of gunshot wounds, Landers said. 

Some of the injured required medical intervention onboard and mid-flight the C-17 flights which evacuated them, the public affairs office said but would not give details on specific cases.

At least 10 Afghan civilians were also medevaced to LRMC, Landers said. 

The 20 service members have now all been flown to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in the US. All were stable and conscious, most were speaking and in relatively good spirits, according to Landers.