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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3:30 a.m. ET, August 31, 2021

Afghanistan begins its first day in two decades without US troops on the ground

Afghans queue up as they wait for the banks to open in Kabul on August 31.
Afghans queue up as they wait for the banks to open in Kabul on August 31. Aamir Qureshi/AFP/Getty Images

Maj. Gen. Chris Donahue stepped onto a C-17 in Kabul, Afghanistan, late Monday night and, for the first time in nearly 20 years, there were no US troops on Afghan soil.

America's longest war effectively ended late Monday when the last US military planes left Afghanistan. The aircraft carrying Donahue and the final US combatants in Afghanistan lifted off at 11:59 p.m. local time, with just a minute to spare before US President Joe Biden's August 31 deadline to withdraw from the country.

Here's what you need to know for Tuesday:

The last Americans: The US Department of Defense tweeted a picture of Donahue, boarding an aircraft to depart Kabul. That night-vision photograph will likely become an indelible image tied to the unceremonious and chaotic end to war that lasted about two decades.

Donahue and the top US diplomat in Kabul, Charge d’Affaires Ross Wilson, were the last two US officials to step off of Afghanistan soil and onto a US military aircraft out of Afghanistan.

The Taliban celebrates: Videos from Kabul airport following the US departure showed Taliban fighters inspecting military hardware and celebrating. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid on Tuesday congratulated the people of Afghanistan, saying "this victory belongs to us all."

The White House's next steps: Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Monday the US is starting "a new chapter" in Afghanistan. He outlined the US' plans for the "days and weeks ahead" that includes suspending their diplomatic presence in Kabul and creating a new team.

More details are expected to be forthcoming. President Biden will address the American people on the end of the war in Afghanistan from the White House on Tuesday afternoon.

US citizens left behind: Blinken said Monday that the State Department believes there is “a small number of Americans, under 200 and likely closer to 100, who remain in Afghanistan and want to leave.”

Blinken said the US and its allies, including Qatar and Turkey, are discussing ways to reopen the Kabul airport as quickly as possible to facilitate safe travel out of Afghanistan for Americans, US legal permanent residents and Afghans who worked with the United States who want to leave the country.

Afghanistan's future: Many in Afghanistan remain worried that, despite the Taliban's attempt to portray itself as a more moderate force, the militant group will govern by the draconian, fundamentalist religious law that marked its time in power in the late 1990s.

"They are terrified about being left behind. They are more terrified about being forgotten. Biden may say the war is over. It's not over for them," said Paul Rieckhoff, founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.

3:10 a.m. ET, August 31, 2021

Chinese envoy to UN blames "hasty" withdrawal of troops for chaos in Afghanistan

From CNN's Senior UN Correspondent Richard Roth and Artemis Moshtaghian

China's deputy permanent representative to the United Nations, Ambassador Geng Shuang, said the “hasty and disorderly withdrawal of foreign troops” caused the recent chaos in Afghanistan.

“Withdrawal is not the end of responsibility but the beginning of reflection and correction,” Shuang said Monday during an address to the UN Security Council.

China and Russia both abstained from voting Monday on a Security Council resolution to create a "safe passage" zone for people seeking to leave Afghanistan from Kabul airport after the US withdrawal from the country. The other 13 members of the Security Council all voted in favor of the proposal.

Shuang said China did not feel it was necessary for the Security Council to urgently pass the “safe passage” resolution.

Without directly mentioning the United States, Shuang said China hopes “relevant countries” change what he called “the wrong practice of imposing their own wills on the others” and refrain from imposing sanctions on Afghanistan.

Given Afghanistan’s current state, Shuang said the international community should actively engage with the Taliban and provide them with guidance. The ambassador added he hopes the Taliban will fulfill their commitment in completely cutting ties with all terrorist organizations.

8:03 a.m. ET, August 31, 2021

Taliban spokesperson congratulates Afghan people after US withdrawal

From CNN's Jonny Hallam

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, center, with shawl, speaks to the media at the airport in Kabul on August 31.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, center, with shawl, speaks to the media at the airport in Kabul on August 31. Wakil Kohsar/AFP/Getty Images

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid on Tuesday congratulated the people of Afghanistan following the complete withdrawal of US forces from the country.

Speaking from the runway of Kabul airport just hours after the last American troops had flown out, Mujahid told a small crowd of people that "this victory belongs to us all."

"We want to have good relations with the US and the world," said Mujahid, who appeared beside heavily armed fighters from the Taliban's special forces brigade. "We hope that Afghanistan is never occupied again, and this country stays prosperous, free, home for all Afghans and governed by the Islamic rule."

Mujahid specifically congratulated a group of fighters beside him, telling them he hoped Taliban combatants would now "treat the people nicely."

"This nation has the right to live in peace, the right to prosperity, and we are the servants of the nation not, God forbid, that we are dominant over the nation," he said. "I am praising your sacrifices; I thank you and I congratulate you." 
12:47 a.m. ET, August 31, 2021

Analysis: The battle for Biden's legacy is just beginning

Analysis from CNN's Stephen Collinson

America's chaotic, humiliating — yet, at times, heroic — final retreat from its defeat in Afghanistan will resonate for years after the last military jet lifted off from Kabul at 11:59 p.m. local time on Monday, ending the country's longest war.

The departing troops left somewhere between 100 and 250 Americans, tens of thousands of Afghans entitled to protection from former US comrades and an entire nation to their fates under fundamentalist Taliban rule — along with an even more extreme faction of ISIS.

For them, the "forever war" is far from over.

But any sense that the US is free of consequences of a war in which it bled for 20 years is belied by the history of a country that exacts a fierce price from its former occupiers. And the trauma of the two weeks since the fall of Kabul have already left an indelible mark on Joe Biden's presidency, Washington's bitter politics and the reputation of America among its disappointed allies.

Read more:

12:09 a.m. ET, August 31, 2021

Afghan translator's desperate journey from the clutches of the Taliban to a new life in the US

From CNN's Anna Coren and Jessie Yeung

Abdul Rashid Shirzad was quiet and nervous on the taxi ride with his family to the Kabul airport, the last American-controlled enclave in the Afghan capital.

"We hope to make it, and survive," Shirzad, 34, a former interpreter for United States Special Forces, said in a video filmed as they drove through Taliban checkpoints on August 20. "It's too tough to live here. We live in fear every day."

The hot air was filled with the blaring horns of cars and motorbikes, as thousands of people crammed around the airport's perimeter. Aircraft arrived and took off in the distance as desperate Afghans tried scaling the airport walls, hoping to get on an evacuation flight.

This was Shirzad's second attempt at reaching the airport, after failing just days earlier due to the dense crowds. He knew it was dangerous to try again, especially with his wife and three young children in tow, but he believed staying in Afghanistan would have been a death sentence — possibly for the whole family.

As the crowds pushed forward, they became caught in the pandemonium. Shirzad hurt his leg jumping over the wall. His 8-year-old son was nearly trampled. Soon after, his 2-year-old son became sick with diarrhea.

They made it out of the mayhem in one piece, but their hopes of escape were once again dashed.

They returned home, not knowing which day might be their last.

As an interpreter for US forces for five years, Shirzad had faced enemy militants on battlefields alongside US soldiers. But now, that role was a target on his back. Though the Taliban said they would not harm those who worked with foreign forces, revenge attacks have been reported; one interpreter was dragged out of his car and beheaded by Taliban militants in May, according to witnesses.

Aside from his work as an interpreter, Shirzad is also part of the persecuted Hazara ethnic minority group, and has spoken to several Western news organizations including CNN — making him even more vulnerable.

Read more:

11:50 p.m. ET, August 30, 2021

President Biden to speak on Afghanistan Tuesday

From CNN's Jason Hoffman

US President Joe Biden will address the nation on the end of the war in Afghanistan from the State Dining Room on Tuesday afternoon.

On Monday, Biden thanked the final US forces serving in Afghanistan for executing the “dangerous retrograde from Afghanistan as scheduled,” with no further loss of American lives, in a statement released Monday evening, making the end of the United States’ longest war.

“The past 17 days have seen our troops execute the largest airlift in US history, evacuating over 120,000 US citizens, citizens of our allies, and Afghan allies of the United States. They have done it with unmatched courage, professionalism, and resolve,” the President wrote in the statement released Monday. 
“Now, our 20-year military presence in Afghanistan has ended.”
11:25 p.m. ET, August 30, 2021

The last US military planes have left Afghanistan. Here's what we know

From CNN's Nicole Gaouette, Jennifer Hansler, Barbara Starr and Oren Liebermann

The last US military planes left Afghanistan, Gen. Kenneth "Frank" McKenzie, the commander of US Central Command, announced Monday at the Pentagon. The US departure marked the end of a fraught, chaotic and bloody exit from the United States' longest war.

"I'm here to announce the completion of our withdrawal from Afghanistan, and the end of the military mission to evacuate American citizens, third country nationals, and vulnerable Afghans," McKenzie told reporters. "The last C-17 lifted off from Hamid Karzai International Airport on August 30th, this afternoon, at 3:29 p.m. East Coast time, and the last manned aircraft is now clearing the airspace above Afghanistan."

"There's a lot of heartbreak associated with this departure," McKenzie said. "We did not get everybody out that we wanted to get out."

President Joe Biden weighed in with a statement later on Monday and thanked the final US forces serving in Afghanistan for executing the "dangerous retrograde from Afghanistan as scheduled," with no further loss of American lives.

As of Monday, more than 122,000 people in total had been airlifted from Hamid Karzai International Airport since July, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters Monday morning.

Since August 14, the Pentagon deployed US Special Operations Forces to bring in 1,064 US citizens and 2,017 at risk Afghans or Special Immigrant Visa applicants, McKenzie said. "We have evacuated more than 6,000 US civilians, which we believe represents the vast majority of those who wanted to leave at this time," he said.

There were no US citizens on the last five flights out of Kabul, McKenzie said, and no evacuees left at the airport when the last two US officials — Gen. Christopher Donohue and the embassy's chargé d'affaires Ross Wilson — stepped off Afghan soil and onto the final US aircraft leaving Afghanistan.

Read more:

12:15 a.m. ET, August 31, 2021

Video shows Taliban fighters at Kabul airport

Taliban fighters storm into the Kabul airport wielding American-supplied weapons and equipment after the United States military completed its withdrawal on August 31.
Taliban fighters storm into the Kabul airport wielding American-supplied weapons and equipment after the United States military completed its withdrawal on August 31. Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times/Shutterstock

Following the complete withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan, a video taken by Los Angeles Times correspondent Nabih Bulos showed a group of Taliban fighters entering a hangar at the Kabul airport early Tuesday local time. 

The video shows the fighters examining the CH-46 Sea Knight helicopter commonly known as the “Phrog” parked inside the hangar. 

Bulos — who is seen accompanying the Taliban fighters — posted the video on his verified Twitter account. The Taliban also posted video of what appeared to show its fighters celebrating at the airport.

It's unclear exactly how much US military equipment is in Taliban hands. Some of it was removed from the country and other items were disabled, Gen. Kenneth "Frank" McKenzie, Commander of US Central Command, told reporters during a briefing on Monday.

9:19 p.m. ET, August 30, 2021

Here's the last US soldier leaving Afghanistan

From CNN's Barbara Starr and Ellie Kaufman

Maj. Gen. Chris Donahue, commanding general of the All American Division XVIII Airborne Corps, boards a US Air Force C-17 on August 30.
Maj. Gen. Chris Donahue, commanding general of the All American Division XVIII Airborne Corps, boards a US Air Force C-17 on August 30. (From Department of Defense/Twitter)

The Department of Defense has tweeted a picture of Maj. Gen. Chris Donahue, commander of the 82nd Airborne Division, boarding a C-17 to depart Kabul.

He was the last soldier to depart the country. 

On Monday, Gen. Kenneth "Frank" McKenzie, the top general of US Central Command, told reporters that Donahue and the top US diplomat in Kabul, Charge d’Affaires Ross Wilson, were the last two US officials to step off of Afghanistan soil and onto a US military aircraft out of Afghanistan.

“On the last airplane out was Gen. Chris Donahue, commander of the 82nd airborne division and my grand force commander there, and he was accompanied by our charge Ambassador Ross Wilson, so they came out together,” McKenzie said.
“The state and defense team came out on the last aircraft and were in fact the last people to step on the ground, step on the airplane,” he added.