September 1 Afghanistan-Taliban news

By Joshua Berlinger, Adam Renton, Lauren Said-Moorhouse and Aditi Sangal, CNN

Updated 0353 GMT (1153 HKT) September 2, 2021
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1:34 p.m. ET, September 1, 2021

UK deploying teams to Pakistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan to process arrivals from Afghanistan

From CNN's Amy Cassidy 

The UK has sent a “rapid deployment team” to Pakistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan to process arrivals from Afghanistan, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab announced Wednesday.

A “rapid deployment team” of 15 people will arrive “in the “next 36 hours,” he told lawmakers, later tweeting that they will “reinforce our Embassy staff to process arrivals from Afghanistan, including British Nationals and the Afghans who supported us.” 

“We’re working with the international community to secure safe passage for those who wish to leave,” he added in a tweet. 

It comes as the European Union says it is considering alternative options to facilitate further evacuations from Afghanistan, including potential “land corridors” with neighboring countries. 

1:33 p.m. ET, September 1, 2021

"The majority" of Afghan visa applicants were left behind, State Department official says

From CNN's Jennifer Hansler

"The majority" of Afghans who worked for the United States during its two decade military campaign were likely left behind in the chaotic and rushed evacuation from Afghanistan, a senior State Department official said Wednesday.

The official said the they did not have a specific count of the Afghan Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) applicants and family members who did not make it onto evacuation flights, "but I would say it's the majority of them, just based on anecdotal information about the populations we were able to support."

This official described an evacuation effort confronted by numerous challenges, including Taliban checkpoints with “variable” and “unpredictable” criteria for allowing people to pass.

“Despite our best efforts to come up with an approach on a day-to-day, sometimes hour-by hour-basis that would allow groups to pass, it was unpredictable as to whether they would actually be able to get through,” the official told reporters Wednesday.

They said the shifting Taliban criteria for the checkpoints as one of a number of challenges that faced the massive US and international evacuation effort – one that left US officials who worked on the ground “haunted by the choices we had to make and by the people we were not able to help depart in this first phase of the operation.”

“It wasn't pretty. It was very challenging,” the senior official said, “and it involved some, some really painful trade-offs and choices for everyone involved.”

The official spoke of the difficult physical access points to the airport, the stream of threats from ISIS-K, viral communications which led to huge swaths of Afghans having identification meant for a priority group, and mischaracterization by outside groups of the people they were trying to get into the airport.

The official told reporters that in early stages of the evacuation the US tried to prioritize access for late-stage SIV applicants and other categories, but said the effort was unsuccessful because “every credential we tried to provide electronically was immediately disseminated to the widest possible pool.” 

“Every day was a constant improvisational effort to figure out what was going to work that day,” they said. “As we got deeper into the process, we unfortunately had to start prioritizing the people to whom we had a legal obligation first and foremost, and that was our fellow American citizens.”

The official said that “one of the most searing experiences for many of my colleagues, all of whom received direct outreach from a wide range of advocates on behalf of individual Afghans, on behalf of groups of Afghans, was the level of criticism to which they were subjected by these individual advocacy groups, who, you know were essentially trying to get us to prioritize Afghan nationals over American citizens. And we have a fundamental obligation under the law, and I would say also moral obligation, to try to take care of our fellow citizens.”

The senior State Department official said the “level of pragmatism” displayed by the Taliban and described by other US officials “was focused on ensuring that we would be able to depart on the schedule that our President had set and that we would not be lingering or providing reasons why we needed to stay longer than August 31.”

They said the idea that the US handed the Taliban “a holistic list” of Special Immigrant Visa applicants and other vulnerable Afghans seeking to leave the country “is incorrect,” but that they did “on a couple of occasions” provide bus manifests to try to facilitate those vehicles’ passage through Taliban checkpoints.

“This was to try to provide a degree of confidence that the Afghans who were on those buses were in fact, Afghans who were locally employed staff of our diplomatic mission or other allied diplomatic missions, that they were foreign passport holders, so in some cases dual nationals, in other cases, native born citizens of those particular countries, and in some other cases that they were individuals for whom we had a particular interest and wanted to facilitate the departure of,” they explained.

“When it worked well, and it did for a couple of days, for periods, it enabled us to move through those checkpoints, thousands of people that we and NATO allies and partners were seeking to have depart,” they said.

However, the official told reporters there were also days where it did not work well.

“We had a couple of instances where buses were a mix of foreign nationals and Afghan local employees of other missions, and the Taliban would only let pass the foreign nationals, and they turned away or they held at that location the Afghan citizens who were on that particular movement,” they said. “In some of those cases, we were able to successfully persuade them to then, in subsequent days, to allow that group to go forward.”

 

1:41 p.m. ET, September 1, 2021

US military has many strategic lessons to learn from Afghanistan, top general says

Alex Wong/Getty Images
Alex Wong/Getty Images

Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the military will learn from the last 20 years in Afghanistan, saying there are "many operational and strategic efforts to be learned."

He said he military plans to approach this analysis with "humility, transparency and candor."

"We will learn from this experience as a military and how we got to this moment in Afghanistan will be analyzed and studied for years to come," Milley said.

Milley said counterterrorism efforts in Afghanistan and the Middle East has protected the American people and the "men, women and children who were just evacuated will ultimately be the legacy to prove the value of our sacrifice."

Moving forward, he said the military is committed to continuing to protect Americans.

"For the past 20 years, there has not been a major attack on a homeland and it's now our mission to ensure that we continue our intelligence efforts, continue our counterterrorism efforts and continue our military efforts to protect the American people for the next 20 years – and we in the American military are committed to do just that," Milley said.

1:44 p.m. ET, September 1, 2021

Defense secretary: US and allies evacuated 6,000 American citizens and more than 124,000 civilians

From CNN's Ellie Kaufman

Susan Walsh/AP
Susan Walsh/AP

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said the US military and its allies evacuated about 6,000 American citizens and a total of more than 124,000 civilians from Afghanistan during a speech at the Pentagon on the end of America’s longest war on Wednesday.

Gen. Frank McKenzie, commander of US Central Command, previously said the US and allies had evacuated more than 123,000 civilians and 6,000 American citizens.

“Our commanders never flinched, and our allies and partners were extraordinary. The United States evacuated some 6,000 American citizens and a total of more than 124,000 civilians, and we did it all in the midst of a pandemic and in the face of grave and growing threats,” Austin said.

On the day of the terrorist attack outside of Abbey Gate at the Hamid Karzai International Airport, Austin said US troops and ally partners still got 89 rescue flights off of the ground and evacuated “12,500 souls to freedom” in the span of 24 hours.

“It is noteworthy that on the day of the attack at the airport, our troops and their partners pushed hard and carried on, putting 89 rescue flights in the air in the span of 24 hours, and lifting 12,500 souls to freedom,” Austin said.

1:47 p.m. ET, September 1, 2021

Defense secretary remembers the 13 US service members killed in last week's Kabul blast

From CNN's Adrienne Vogt

US President Joe Biden and other officials attend the dignified transfer of the remains of fallen service members at Dover Air Force Base in Dover, Delaware, August, 29, after 13 members of the US military were killed in Afghanistan last week.
US President Joe Biden and other officials attend the dignified transfer of the remains of fallen service members at Dover Air Force Base in Dover, Delaware, August, 29, after 13 members of the US military were killed in Afghanistan last week. Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin paid tribute to the 13 US service members who were killed in an attack outside Kabul's airport last Thursday, saying the military will always "honor their heroism."

"Our forces risked their own lives to save the lives of others, and 13 of our very best paid the ultimate price. Many of them were too young to personally remember the 9/11 attacks. The United States military will always honor their heroism. We mourn with their families, and we owe them support through the days and years ahead," Austin said in remarks after the last US troops pulled out of Afghanistan on Monday.

Austin also commended all those who participated in the evacuation effort.

"Our outstanding men and women showed steady judgment under crushing pressure, including some very young service members who summoned up exceptional courage at close quarters. They ran an international airport. They sped up visas. They fed the hungry. They comforted the desperate. And they got plane after plane after plane into the sky," he said.

Austin said it was "noteworthy" that on the day of the Kabul attack, troops and allies were still able to evacuate 12,500 people on 89 rescue flights.

1:19 p.m. ET, September 1, 2021

"It was heroic": Defense secretary honors those who died in Afghanistan as war ends

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is honoring those who died over the course of the war in Afghanistan, as he says the US has ended its last mission.

"America's longest war has come to a close," he said.

"We have just concluded the largest air evacuation of civilians in American history. It was heroic. It was historic," Austin said.

As evacuations conclude, he said this has been a busy time as well as a "proud one and a solemn one, too." He said his thoughts have been with the Americans who served after the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

During remarks, Austin took a minute to remember the service members who died in Afghanistan during the conflict and those who were wounded, "some still carrying the scars that you cant' see on the outside," he added.

"I hope that all Americans will unite to thank our service members for their courage and compassion. They were operating in an immensely dangerous and dynamic environment. But our troops were tireless, fearless and selfless. Our commanders never flinched. And our allies and partners were extraordinary," Austin said.

He also thanked international partners and other allies including Afghan soldiers, police officers and civilians.

1:08 p.m. ET, September 1, 2021

Taliban checkpoints are "inconsistent" and "unpredictable," State Department official says

From CNN's Jennifer Hansler

A senior State Department official said that the criteria the Taliban used for allowing people through checkpoints to access the Kabul airport was “variable” and at times “inconsistent” with assurances given to the United States “that they would allow certain people to pass.”

“Despite our best efforts to come up with an approach on a day-to-day, sometimes hour-by hour-basis that would allow groups to pass, it was unpredictable as to whether they would actually be able to get through,” the official told reporters Wednesday.

This person described this shifting Taliban criteria as one of a number of challenges that faced the massive US and international evacuation effort – one that left US officials who worked on the ground “haunted by the choices we had to make and by the people we were not able to help depart in this first phase of the operation.”

“It wasn't pretty. It was very challenging,” the senior official said, “and it involved some, some really painful trade-offs and choices for everyone involved.”

The official spoke of the difficult physical access points to the airport, the stream of threats from ISIS-K, viral communications which led to huge swaths of Afghans having identification meant for a priority group, and mischaracterization by outside groups of the people they were trying to get into the airport. 

The senior State Department official said the “level of pragmatism” displayed by the Taliban and described by other US officials “was focused on ensuring that we would be able to depart on the schedule that our President had set and that we would not be lingering or providing reasons why we needed to stay longer than August 31.”

They said the idea that the US handed the Taliban “a holistic list” of Special Immigrant Visa applicants and other vulnerable Afghans seeking to leave the country “is incorrect,” but that they did “on a couple of occasions” provide bus manifests to try to facilitate those vehicles’ passage through Taliban checkpoints.

“When it worked well, and it did for a couple of days, for periods, It enabled us to move through those checkpoints, thousands of people that we and NATO allies and partners were seeking to have depart,” they said.

However, the official told reporters there were also days where it did not work well.

“We had a couple of instances where buses were a mix of foreign nationals and Afghan local employees of other missions, and the Talibs would only let pass the foreign nationals, and they turned away or they held at that location the Afghan citizens who were on that particular movement,” they said. “In some of those cases, we were able to successfully persuade them to then, in subsequent days, to allow that group to go forward.”

1:42 p.m. ET, September 1, 2021

NOW: Defense secretary and top US general speak about end of War in Afghanistan 

From CNN's Maegan Vazquez and Kevin Liptak

Alex Wong/Getty Images
Alex Wong/Getty Images

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff, are delivering remarks from the Pentagon about the end of the US military mission in Afghanistan.

President Biden on Tuesday offered a vigorous defense of his decision to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan, defending the chaotic withdrawal from Kabul.

The President, who faces a political reckoning for the US's handling of the withdrawal, said in a statement Monday that "it was the unanimous recommendation of the Joint Chiefs and of all of our commanders on the ground to end our airlift mission as planned." He's also argued that he thought chaos in the country was inevitable when US troops departed.

US Central Command Commander Gen. Kenneth "Frank" McKenzie acknowledged Monday that the US military "did not get everybody out that we wanted to get out."

A senior State Department official said the department believes there are fewer than 250 American citizens currently in Afghanistan — and Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Monday that number may be closer to 100 — who may wish to leave, as US officials stressed a Taliban commitment to let Afghans leave the country after the US and allies left.

12:54 p.m. ET, September 1, 2021

Camp in Indiana prepares to receive as many as 5,000 Afghan refugees for temporary housing

From CNN's Kiely Westhoff 

Camp Atterbury in Indiana is preparing to receive as many as 5,000 Afghan evacuees for temporary housing, beginning as soon as later this week, state officials said in briefing Wednesday. 

“Right now, our planning assumption is to plan for 5,000,” refugees, Brigadier General R. Dale Lyles, adjutant general of the Indiana National Guard, said. 

The camp – which has the capability of housing up to 10,000 people in dorm-like barracks and has a medical treatment facility – is expected to receive people in increments of 1,000 beginning later this week or next, he said. 

Officials said 800 soldiers from Fort Hood are coming to supplement the camp with a “robust package” of medical supplies and mental health practitioners.

Refugees will undergo a vetting process in Europe or the Middle East, and once they arrive in the US, they will undergo a second stage of vetting as well as medical screening including a 14 day hold.  

Lyles added, "We have identified potentially a cohort of evacuees who may have Covid, so they will receive three Covid tests en route to camp Atterbury.” 

"We are very cognizant of the pressure that we could put on the local community because of Covid,” Lyles said.

Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb said he as well as the congressional delegation were notified Tuesday by army command that evacuees would be coming to Camp Atterbury “for what has been described to us as a matter of weeks not months.”

“These are the same folks who for decades have assisted and aided us on a very dangerous terrain," he said. “We’ve got to be there for folks who were there for us. Period," he added.