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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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. 

8:07 a.m. ET, August 31, 2021

American University of Afghanistan students stranded in Kabul report "threats to life and safety"

The American University of Afghanistan is pictured in Kabul in March 2017.
The American University of Afghanistan is pictured in Kabul in March 2017. Wakil Kohsar/AFP/Getty Images

Hundreds of students, relatives and staff from the American University of Afghanistan (AUAF) are stuck in the country after evacuation attempts to reach Kabul's airport on Sunday were unsuccessful.

Ian Bickford, President of AUAF, who was able to get out of the country on an earlier flight, told CNN's New Day that the convoy at the weekend was "the last day of a two-week long effort to help our students relocate from Afghanistan to safe sites where they can continue their learning without fear."

Bickford said, "Sunday was, we thought, our best hope. We organized a convoy of more than a dozen buses. Something like 500 students, close to 600 students, family, staff, faculty boarded those buses with the sincere hope that they would be given permission to enter the airport, board flights, and begin their journey to a better life." 

However, the college president said it became clear over the course of the day that the security situation at the airport was worsening, and "it was the best thing for us to ask our students to return home and stay safe."

Bickford said the university had been attempting to relocate 1,200 students, educators and staff out of Afghanistan but the number of the wider AUAF community was much greater.

He said the AUAF "represents the brightest light of the American engagement in the country" and highlighted how the college was targeted by gunmen in a shocking 2016 attack that killed 13 people.

"The future of our students, our faculty in the country, our staff in the country remains unclear. We don't know the level of persecution but it's very important that they're able to continue their studies so that they can bring their ambition, their optimism and their hope for Afghanistan back home, perhaps in the distant future, but still they're very hopeful that their country will resume some level of free and fair civil society," Bickford continued.

He said students had reported intimidating actions by the Taliban in recent days.

"Many report anything from harassing behavior, entering homes by the Taliban, asking who's there, what they do, including whether they're students at the American University of Afghanistan," Bickford added.

"Some have received calls from people adopting fraudulent identities, claiming to be representatives of the university asking for identifying information. And others have received direct threats to life and safety."

7:25 a.m. ET, August 31, 2021

China pledges support to Afghanistan and calls on the US to "shoulder its responsibilities"

From CNN’s Beijing bureau

China has promised to help support Afghanistan's peace and reconstruction process in accordance with the wishes of the country's people, according to China's Foreign Ministry spokesperson.

Wang Wenbin told a press conference on Tuesday that China has provided support and assistance to Afghanistan's economic and social development and improved people's livelihoods.

Wang said the US should work with the international community to provide much needed economic and humanitarian assistance to the country and "maintain the normal operation of government institutions, maintain social security and stability, curb currency depreciation and price rises and embark on the road to peaceful reconstruction as soon as possible."

8:54 a.m. ET, August 31, 2021

Afghan refugees try to cross borders via land, overwhelming neighbors, after Kabul airport evacuations end

From CNN’s Clarissa Ward at the Torkham border crossing, Pakistan

A Taliban fighter, left, and Pakistani paramilitary soldier stand guard on their respective sides of the border crossing between Pakistan and Afghanistan, in Torkham, Pakistan, on August 21.
A Taliban fighter, left, and Pakistani paramilitary soldier stand guard on their respective sides of the border crossing between Pakistan and Afghanistan, in Torkham, Pakistan, on August 21. Muhammad Sajjad/AP

The doors to evacuation via Kabul airport are now shut, but Afghans are still on the move, trying to get out of the country due to fear of social, political and economic instability.

As a result, border crossings such as one with Pakistan are starting to fill up. Pakistan is now discouraging this movement, saying it cannot cope with the flow of more refugees.

Some 1.4 million Afghan refugees already live here in Pakistan, according to the UN, more than in any other country in the world. So this border is basically closed to Afghans. 

That hasn't stopped people lining up and a large group has gathered. 

Some of them are very sick. They're desperately hoping for medical attention. Pakistan authorities have been providing some dispensation on that front.

Context:

Earlier in August, the UN warned that Afghanistan could see its highest-ever documented civilian casualties in a single year, and urged neighboring countries to keep their borders open.

Afghans, already afraid of economic deterioration, are lining up outside banks, withdrawing money to ensure their finances are in order in case they needed to leave.

A lot of people are now choosing to move via land borders to Uzbekistan, to Pakistan, to Iran. But many of these neighboring countries are saying: we can't cope with this. That's why so many countries have a vested interest in trying to make the situation inside Afghanistan work.

Watch:

6:31 a.m. ET, August 31, 2021

In photos: The scene at Kabul airport this morning

A member of the Taliban walks out of an Afghan Air Force aircraft at Kabul airport on Tuesday, August 31.
A member of the Taliban walks out of an Afghan Air Force aircraft at Kabul airport on Tuesday, August 31. Wakil Kohsar/AFP/Getty Images

In the moments following the end of America's presence of nearly 20 years in Afghanistan, jubilant Taliban fighters were seen celebrating as they took over Kabul's airport. Videos showed Taliban fighters filling the night air with gunfire as they walked through a hanger operated by US troops just hours earlier.

As the sun rose on Tuesday morning, photographs from the airport showed members of the Taliban making their way through an abandoned hanger strewn with equipment the US left behind.

An Afghan Air Force A-29 attack aircraft is pictured inside a hangar at Kabul airport on Tuesday.
An Afghan Air Force A-29 attack aircraft is pictured inside a hangar at Kabul airport on Tuesday. Wakil Kohsar/AFP/Getty Images

In a press conference on the tarmac hours after the last US troops left the country, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the US withdrawal was a lesson to others.

"We have a message to any possible invader, that anyone who looks to Afghanistan with bad intention, they will face what the United States has faced today," Mujahid said.

The group also restated their pledge to engage with the world. Mujahid added, "The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan wants to have good relations with the whole world on behalf of the nation. We want to have strong diplomatic relations with all, including the United States. We want to gradually re-establish good relations with the United States in the future."

Taliban fighters sit in the cockpit of an Afghan Air Force aircraft at Kabul airport.
Taliban fighters sit in the cockpit of an Afghan Air Force aircraft at Kabul airport. Wakil Kohsar/AFP/Getty Images

Members of the Taliban stand inside an Afghan Air Force aircraft at the airport.
Members of the Taliban stand inside an Afghan Air Force aircraft at the airport. Wakil Kohsar/AFP/Getty Images

A Taliban fighter takes a picture of a damaged Afghan Air Forces MD 530 helicopter at Kabul airport.
A Taliban fighter takes a picture of a damaged Afghan Air Forces MD 530 helicopter at Kabul airport. Wakil Kohsar/AFP/Getty Images

5:44 a.m. ET, August 31, 2021

Afghanistan’s health care system could collapse due to lack of support, MSF says

From Hannah Ritchie

Afghanistan’s health care system is at risk of collapsing as foreign donors stop providing aid following the Taliban takeover, according to the international medical humanitarian organization Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), also knows as Doctors Without Borders.

“The old health system in Afghanistan was supported from the outside — foreign aid, mainly, the World Bank, the EU, and some of the donors. And as you may know, the World Bank, but also the IMF and some others, froze the funds for Afghanistan, and one of the great risks for the health system here is basically to collapse because of lack of support," country representative Filipe Ribeiro warned on Monday.

"The overall health system in Afghanistan is understaffed, under-equipped and underfunded, for years. And the great risk is that this underfunding will continue over time,” he added.

MSF is one of the largest medical aid agencies in Afghanistan and has vowed that its teams across the country “will stay put” following the Taliban’s takeover. 

During Taliban rule in Afghanistan from 1996-2001, MSF had a fraught relationship with the group and was eventually expelled from the country in 1998.

The Taliban claims it welcomes foreign donors and has vowed to protect the rights of international aid staff who wish to remain in the country. It's not yet known if they will follow through on this pledge.

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

Almost 14,000 evacuees awaiting onward travel from Ramstein airbase in Germany

From Atika Shubert at Ramstein Air Base, Germany

People evacuated from Afghanistan are seen between tents at Ramstein Air Base in Germany on August 30.
People evacuated from Afghanistan are seen between tents at Ramstein Air Base in Germany on August 30. Uwe Anspach/dpa/picture alliance/Getty Images

The Ramstein US Air Base in Germany has so far received approximately 106 aircraft carrying vulnerable Afghans, according to a daily update from the public affairs officer.

Ramstein is one of the largest US airbases outside America, and has now been transformed into a temporary transit point for evacuees to the US.

How the numbers look:

  • Currently, there are 13,900 evacuees at the Ramstein Air Base awaiting travel onward
  • The public affairs officer says that within the next 12 hours, the base is anticipating a further 2,300 evacuees to arrive
  • So far, 10,000 evacuees have departed on approximately 42 flights from Ramstein to their resettlement locations
  • And, within the next 12 hours, over 2,700 evacuees will depart Ramstein. 

Brig. Gen. Josh Olson told CNN Saturday that evacuees will stay roughly 48 to 72 hours at Ramstein, adding that per the US agreement with Germany, they would not stay longer than 10 days.