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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7:12 p.m. ET, August 31, 2021

Joint Chiefs chair tells troops who served in Afghanistan: "Your service mattered"

From CNN's Oren Liebermann

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley participates in a meeting between U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Qatari Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Dr. Khalid Bin Mohammed Al-Attiyah at the Pentagon on August 19, in Arlington, Virginia.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley participates in a meeting between U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Qatari Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Dr. Khalid Bin Mohammed Al-Attiyah at the Pentagon on August 19, in Arlington, Virginia. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

The top US general spoke directly to troops who have served in Afghanistan, saying "to each of you, your service mattered," as he mourned the service members who were killed in the 20-year mission, including the 13 troops killed in last Thursday's bombing.

Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley and Senior Enlisted Advisor to the Chairman Ramon Colon-Lopez told service members in a letter written to the military Tuesday that "you can hold your head high that we prevented an attack on the United States homeland."

Earlier Tuesday, President Biden remarked that 800,000 Americans have served in Afghanistan during two decades of fighting. During that time, 2,641 US troops lost their lives, while 20,744 were injured in combat.

One day after the withdrawal of the last US forces from Afghanistan, Milley wrote, "11 Marines, a Soldier, and a Navy Corpsman paid the ultimate price to save over 124,000 people and gave them an opportunity to live in freedom."

"Your actions honor the sacrifice of our brothers and sisters in arms who lost their lives or were wounded in Afghanistan. Over the last two decades and the last 2 weeks, you embodied our American values of equality, liberty, and human dignity for all."


5:35 p.m. ET, August 31, 2021

White House: Biden believes families of 13 service members have "right to convey whatever they would like"

From CNN's Allie Malloy

Asked about critical comments from some families of the 13 service members who died in Kabul last Thursday, press secretary Jen Psaki said President Biden’s message to all of the families is that he is “grateful to their sons and daughters, the sacrifice they made to the country.”

Psaki added that Biden would not “speak to” the private conversations between the families, but added that those families “of course have the right to convey whatever they would like.”

“He knows firsthand what it’s like to lose a child and the fact that no one can tell you anything, or say anything, or there’s no words that are going to fill that hole that is left by that,” Psaki said.

Psaki said that Biden was “deeply impacted” by the family members and that he talks about them “frequently in meetings.”

“That is not going to change their suffering but I wanted to convey that still,” Psaki added.

At least one of the family members of the 13 service members has criticized Biden publicly.        

4:23 p.m. ET, August 31, 2021

Biden: Afghanistan withdrawal marks end of an era of US military effort to "remake other countries"

From CNN's Maegan Vazquez

President Joe Biden.
President Joe Biden. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

President Biden said the end of the war in Afghanistan marks the end of an era for the United States’ military efforts “to remake other countries.” 

“This decision about Afghanistan isn’t just about Afghanistan. It’s about ending an era of major military operations to remake other countries,” the President said during a speech at the White House Tuesday marking the end of US military operations in Afghanistan.

“We saw a mission of counterterrorism in Afghanistan, getting the terrorists and stopping attacks, morph into a counterinsurgency, nation-building, trying to create a democratic, cohesive, and united Afghanistan, something that has never been done over many centuries of Afghanistan’s history. Moving on from that mindset and those kind of large-scale troop deployments will make us stronger and more effective and safer at home,” he added.

The President also said he refuses to send another generation of young men and women “to fight a war that should have ended long ago.”

“It was time to be honest with the American people again. We no longer had a clear purpose in an open-ended mission in Afghanistan,” Biden said.

7:08 p.m. ET, August 31, 2021

Biden: I refuse to continue a war that no longer serves the vital national interest of Americans

From CNN's Maureen Chowdhury

President Joe Biden.
President Joe Biden. (Evan Vucci/AP)

President Biden defended his decision to withdraw troops from Afghanistan during remarks from the White House, stating that he refused to start another "decade of warfare."

"My fellow Americans, the war in Afghanistan is now over. I am the fourth president that must face the issue of whether to end this war. When I was running for president, I made a commitment to the American people that I would end this war. Today, I've honored that commitment. It was time to be honest with the American people again. We no longer had a clear purpose in an open ended mission in Afghanistan. After 20 years of war in Afghanistan, I refuse to send another generation of America's sons and daughters to fight a war that should've ended long ago," he said.

Biden continued to address the estimated $2 trillion cost of the war and how the money spent may have hindered American national interests over the years.

"What have we lost as a consequence in terms of opportunities? I refuse to continue a war that was no longer in the service of the vital national interest of our people," he said.

Biden also addressed the human cost that Americans suffered during the 20 years spent in Afghanistan.

"And most of all, after 800,000 Americans serving in Afghanistan ... After 20,744 American servicemen and women injured, and the loss of 2,461 American personnel, including 13 lives lost just this week, I refuse to open another decade of warfare in Afghanistan," Biden said.

"We've been a nation too long at war. If you're 20 years old today, you've never known an America at peace. So when I hear that we could have, should've continued this so-called low-grade effort in Afghanistan, at low risk to our service members, at low cost, I don't think enough people understand how much we have asked of the 1% of this country who put that uniform on, willing to put their lives on the line in defense of our nation," the President said.

4:24 p.m. ET, August 31, 2021

Biden vows to go after terrorism and warns ISIS-K: "We are not done with you yet"

From CNN's Allie Malloy

President Joe Biden.
President Joe Biden. (Evan Vucci/AP)

President Biden vowed to continue to go after terrorism around the globe, saying Tuesday the United States will “go after terror where it is today, not where it was two decades ago.” 

“To ISIS-K we are not done with you yet,” Biden said, vowing a “tough, unforgiving, targeted, precise strategy” for last Thursday’s attack that killed 13 US service members.

Biden also said that the terror threat has metastasized from Afghanistan to around the globe, adding, “the threat from terrorism continues, but it’s changed. Our strategy needs to change too.” 

The President also acknowledged the new challenges around the globe include those presented by China and Russia saying there’s nothing the two nations “would rather have and want more in this competition than for the United States to be bogged down another decade in Afghanistan."


4:30 p.m. ET, August 31, 2021

Biden on 13 fallen US service members: "We owe them and their families a debt of gratitude we can never repay" 

From CNN's Jason Kurtz

President Joe Biden.
President Joe Biden. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

In remarks following the end of the United States' war in Afghanistan, President Biden referenced the American lives lost during the conflict's final days.

"Twenty service members were wounded in the service of this mission. Thirteen heroes gave their lives," said Biden, speaking live from the White House.

Noting that the success of America's withdrawal from Afghanistan "was due to the incredible skill, bravery, and selfless courage" of the US military and diplomats, Biden promised that the 13 fallen service members who perished as part of the operation would not be forgotten.

"We owe them and their families a debt of gratitude we can never repay, but we should never, ever, ever forget," Biden said.

Knowing that ISIS-K terrorists were "lurking" amid the crowds at the airport in Kabul, Biden said American service members performed their duty despite a dangerous and ultimately deadly environment.

"Risking their lives, not for professional gains but to serve others," Biden said of America's military, noting that the work of evacuating Americans and Afghan partners was not "a mission of war" but rather "a mission of mercy."

"Our operation 'Allied Rescue' ended up getting more than 5,500 Americans out," Biden stated, adding that "we got thousands of Afghan translators and interpreters and others who supported the United States out as well."


3:58 p.m. ET, August 31, 2021

Biden praises military evacuation of Kabul, calling it an "extraordinary success"

From CNN's Allie Malloy and Jeff Zeleny

President Biden, in his first address since the end of the Afghanistan war, praised the “extraordinary success” of the military evacuation, calling it “not a mission of war, but in a mission of mercy.”

"The extraordinary success of this mission was due to the incredible skill, bravery and selfless courage of the United States military and our diplomats and intelligence professionals,” Biden said.

Biden also spoke at length about the evacuation efforts, saying 90% of Americans who wanted to leave were able to evacuate Afghanistan, adding that about 5,500 American citizens were evacuated.

“For those remaining Americans, there is no deadline,” Biden said, adding that the United States is “committed to get them out if they want to come out.”

Biden said the administration reached out to Americans to evacuate “19 times” over the last several weeks.

Biden touted the evacuation effort, pointing to the 120,000 people evacuated from Afghanistan saying, “no nation has ever done anything like it in all of history.”

3:57 p.m. ET, August 31, 2021

Biden: "I was not going to extend a forever war. And I was not extending a forever exit."

From CNN's Kevin Liptak

President Joe Biden.
President Joe Biden. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

President Biden offered no misgivings over his decision to end America’s longest war in forceful remarks from the White House.

"I was not going to extend a forever war. And I was not extending a forever exit,” Biden said, defending a decision that has drawn scrutiny for its execution.

Biden said the real decision in Afghanistan was "between leaving and escalating,” framing his choice to withdraw troops as the only option aside from surging more forces to the country.

“The fact is, everything has changed,” Biden said, citing the deal with the Taliban signed by his predecessor.

Biden said he takes “responsibility” for his decision to withdraw, but said he “respectfully disagrees” with those who say he should have begun mass evacuations earlier, claiming there would have been a “rush to the airport.”

"For those asking for a third decade of war, I ask, what is the vital national interest? In my view we only have one: to make sure Afghanistan can never again be used to launch an attack on our homeland," Biden said.

3:55 p.m. ET, August 31, 2021

Biden explains "guiding principle" behind Afghanistan decision

President Biden told the American public that he no longer believed "the safety and security of America" was enhanced by having troops on the ground in Afghanistan.

"The fundamental obligation of a president, in my opinion, is to defend and protect America. Not against threats of 2001 but against the threats of 2021 and tomorrow. That is the guiding principle behind my decisions about Afghanistan," he said in an address to mark the completion of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan,

"I simply do not believe that the safety and security of America is enhanced by continuing to deploy thousands of American troops and spending billions of dollars a year in Afghanistan," Biden continued.

"When I was running for president, I made a commitment to the American people that I would end this war. Today I've honored that commitment," the President said.