September 2 Afghanistan-Taliban news

By By Melissa Mahtani, Melissa Macaya, Meg Wagner, Tara John, Joshua Berlinger and Aditi Sangal, CNN

Updated 7:22 p.m. ET, September 2, 2021
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12:26 p.m. ET, September 2, 2021

Netherlands may help reopen Kabul airport, foreign minister says

From CNN’s Mick Krever in Doha

Taliban fighters stand guard next to an Afghan Air Force aircraft at the airport in Kabul on August 31, following the US withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Taliban fighters stand guard next to an Afghan Air Force aircraft at the airport in Kabul on August 31, following the US withdrawal from Afghanistan. (Wakil Kohsar/AFP/Getty Images)

The Netherlands is looking into whether it can help Qatar and Turkey reopen the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, Foreign Minister Sigrid Kaag told Dutch national broadcaster NOS in Ankara.

“We are looking into whether as the Netherlands, we can supply resources and possibly also people,” Kaag said. “We want to do everything we can to support the countries that are committed to making the safety and thus accessibility of the airport possible again.”

She said the Netherlands’ priority was to help Dutch citizens, residents and Afghans “that we want to bring to the Netherlands.”

“That depends on how far Qatar and Turkey get in their agreements with the Taliban. And how they assess the safety situation at and near the airport. How to make that safe. And we are investigating whether we can play a role in that.” 

Kaag has visited Qatar, Pakistan and Turkey in the past two days.

12:20 p.m. ET, September 2, 2021

Western Union restarts money transfer services to Afghanistan

From CNN’s Sarah Dean, Anna Stewart and Rob Picheta 

People line up in front of a bank in Kabul, Afghanistan, on August 31.
People line up in front of a bank in Kabul, Afghanistan, on August 31. (Kabir/Xinhua/Getty Images)

Western Union is restarting money transfer services to Afghanistan, the company said in a statement posted on Twitter on Thursday.

“Starting September 2, 2021, Western Union is pleased to announced that it is resuming its money transfer services to Afghanistan, enabling our customers from 200 countries and territories to once again send money to their loved ones in the country,” the statement said.

“We understand the urgent needs of our customers and we are committed to supporting them during this time,” it added.

The company said it will offer a $0 transfer fee for all money transfers into Afghanistan for two weeks, effective 3 to 17 September. Sending money from Afghanistan to another country remains suspended, Western Union said. 

The Taliban's takeover has already pushed the country to the brink of economic collapse. Banks are open but it can take hours, even a whole day, to reach the front of the line outside them. A weekly withdrawal limit of 20,000 afghanis, around $200, has also been imposed. 

Former Afghanistan central bank Governor Abdul Fitrat told CNN the banking system faces collapse. “There is a huge banking crisis in the country. If that run continues like this, the banking system will not survive for a while. For long, it may be only a matter of three, four weeks, or maybe a couple of months for the banking sector to collapse,” Fitrat said.

"No one has money," one current employee of Afghanistan's central bank told CNN last week. The employee, speaking anonymously due to fears for their safety, said many families don't have enough money for their daily spending and some paychecks have been halted.

Around 75% of the previous government’s budget came from overseas according, according to the World Bank. 

8:11 a.m. ET, September 2, 2021

Deadly stampede at border crossing as thousands try to flee Afghanistan

From CNN's Jonny Hallam in Atlanta, Sophia Saifi in Islamabad, and Asim Khan in Quetta

A screen grab taken from video on social media shows a crush of people in Spin Boldak, Afghanistan, at the Afghanistan-Pakistan border on Sept. 1.
A screen grab taken from video on social media shows a crush of people in Spin Boldak, Afghanistan, at the Afghanistan-Pakistan border on Sept. 1. From Ismail Saadar/Social Media

At least one person has died following a stampede at an Afghanistan-Pakistan border crossing Wednesday, according to witnesses who spoke to CNN.

Safi Ullah, a 64-year-old man from Afghanistan, died in the incident, his son Shahid Ullah confirmed to CNN.

"Me and my father were trying to cross the border with the rest of our family, I lost my father in the stampede, later we found him dead," Ullah said.

In a distressing video showing the desperation at the Spin Boldak-Chaman land border crossing on the day of the stampede, hundreds of people determined to flee Afghanistan are shown converging on the border, wanting to enter Pakistan.

People at the front barriers find they have nowhere to go, but a large throng of hundreds of people at the back of the crowd continues to push forward, trapping and crushing them against the border crossing building.

"Never have I ever seen such huge gathering at Spin Boldak," Abul Karim, a resident of the town, told CNN. "There was no space left, as thousands and thousands were moving towards the border gate."

Although Pakistan has said it will not accept any more Afghan refugees, the Spin Boldak-Chaman land border crossing between the countries has remained open.

Only Afghans who are traveling to Pakistan for medical treatment or have proof of residence in Pakistan, as well as holders of an Afghan identity document called a Tazkira, proving they live in Kandahar, are permitted to cross into Chaman, Pakistan.

Despite this, thousands of Afghans have attempted to cross over in recent days following the Taliban's takeover of the country.

At least 5,000 Afghan nationals were denied entry into Pakistan at the Spin Boldak crossing on Wednesday alone, an official from Pakistan's Federal Investigation Agency, who works at the crossing, told CNN on Thursday.

"Numbers might be higher" than that, he said.

The Taliban are "aware of the ongoing situation" at the border, spokesman Bilal Karimi said, adding that they are working to reduce the number of people trying to leave Afghanistan.

"We are taking measures, talking to locals, to ensure that issues at the border on the side of Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan are addressed," Karimi told CNN.

"We are optimistic that in (a) couple of days, formation of the government will be announced, which will help overcome issues including border crossings," he said. "The flow of people will surely decrease in coming days."

12:31 p.m. ET, September 2, 2021

The Taliban have declared victory. Now they must reckon with a country freefalling into chaos

From CNN's Rob Picheta

Taliban officials declare victory over the United States from the tarmac of Kabul airport on August 31, hours after the withdrawal of the last American troops.
Taliban officials declare victory over the United States from the tarmac of Kabul airport on August 31, hours after the withdrawal of the last American troops. (Wakil Kohsar/AFP/Getty Images)

The last American military flight left the airport and disappeared into the Kabul sky on Monday -- and minutes later, the Taliban flooded the streets around the city's last exit point, filling the night with celebratory gunfire.

It was a decisive and humbling final chapter to the United States' longest war, a two-decade effort that unraveled spectacularly in the space of a few weeks.

Standing on the runway on Tuesday, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid framed the militant group's dramatic takeover of Afghanistan as a nationalist success, telling a small crowd: "This victory belongs to us all."

But for thousands of Afghans, the final Western flights took with them a last chance to leave the country. Many now fear their new realities; in particular, women, religious minorities, LGBTQ people, journalists and others face brutal treatment under the group's radical interpretation of Sharia Law.

And for the Taliban's leaders, a rapid transition to national governance beckons. The group has virtually no experience of leading a country, and showed little familiarity with geopolitics during its five-year reign two decades ago. Their sincerity and capability now has repercussions for 38 million Afghans, many of whom will be displaced or thrust into economic crisis.

Afghanistan is a very different country to the one the Taliban ruled between 1996 and 2001. Most Afghans don't even remember that era -- more than 60% of the country is aged under 25. It is urbanizing, diverse, and better connected to the world, all of which place it in stark contrast to the war-torn nation the Taliban conquered 25 years ago.

What the Taliban now do with that country is arguably the world's most pressing geopolitical question.

"This is one of the most dramatic changes in government in the modern era," Benjamin Petrini, a research fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), told CNN.

The West is "pulling out not only ourselves but all the human resources that have worked with us for 20 years," he said. "Those will be replaced with what? That's a question mark."

Read the full story here:

6:21 a.m. ET, September 2, 2021

Qatar Foreign Minister hopeful for "good news" on Kabul airport reopening

From CNN’s Sam Kiley and Mick Krever in Doha

Qatar's Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani speaks during a press conference in Doha, Qatar, on September 2.
Qatar's Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani speaks during a press conference in Doha, Qatar, on September 2. Karim Jaafar/AFP/Getty

Qatar’s Minister of Foreign Affairs remains hopeful that there will be “some good news” on the re-opening of Kabul airport over the coming days, he said Thursday, adding that the Qatari government is engaging with both the Taliban and foreign partners to ensure the airport is operational “as soon as possible.” 

"We are still in the evaluation process, there is no clear indication of when it is going to be fully operational yet," Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani said during a press conference in Doha, Qatar. 

We are working very hard and also engaging with the Taliban to identify what the gaps and the risks are for having the airport back up and running. We remain hopeful that we will be able to operate it as soon as possible,” he added. 

Responding to a question from CNN, Al-Thani noted that Qatar is also working with the Turkish government to assess whether Turkey may be able to provide technical assistance to support the re-opening of the airport.  

“Hopefully in the next few days we will hear some good news,” Al-Thani added, stressing that the Taliban must first demonstrate their commitment to ensuring “safe passage and freedom of movement” for the people of Afghanistan.

UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab is in Doha to speak with Qatari officials about the situation in Afghanistan, with the prospect of Kabul airport re-opening "and safe passage for foreign nationals and Afghans across land borders top of the agenda," according to a press release by the Foreign Office.

Speaking alongside Al-Thani, Raab told reporters the UK would not "be recognizing the Taliban anytime in the foreseeable future."

However, he believes there is scope for "engagement and dialogue" with the Taliban over the assurances they have made.

So far, Raab said, the UK had secured safe passage out of Afghanistan for more than 17,000 "British nationals, Afghan workers, other special cases since April. But I do think we feel [a] responsibility to make sure that the remaining British nationals and Afghan workers can come to the UK."

12:04 a.m. ET, September 2, 2021

Analysis: America's withdrawal from Afghanistan held an unflattering mirror to its often ugly politics

Analysis from CNN's Stephen Collinson

Like the pandemic, America's final withdrawal from Afghanistan held an unflattering mirror to its often ugly politics. It also revealed characteristics of Joe Biden's leadership that the President had previously shielded from the public.

While saying the buck stopped with him, the President frequently shifted it elsewhere. His attack on the vanishing Afghan army ignored years of sacrifices of thousands of soldiers and his own withdrawal of military support. Biden ran for office on competence, empathy and as a foreign policy expert who would always level with voters. That image is now badly tarnished. The deaths of several children in an Afghan family caught in a US airstrike aimed at an ISIS-K vehicle bomb meanwhile betrayed the risks of Biden's new "over the horizon" terror war.

A few Republicans advanced necessary, tempered criticism of the events in Kabul. But the crisis also exposed the hypocrisy and craven loyalty to ex-President Donald Trump that is their party's major operating principle.

While savaging Biden, few Republicans acknowledged that Trump's capitulation to the Taliban in a withdrawal deal set the stage for the disaster. Only hours after the deaths of 13 US service members and more than 170 Afghans in a suicide bomb attack, Republicans demanded Biden's resignation and impeachment. These were the same lawmakers who appeased and are still enabling Trump's assault on American democracy, and who claimed that impeaching him for gross abuses of power was pure politics. There are just not many serious people left in the GOP these days.

Partisan media on the right churned out its usual torrent of falsehoods. But some liberal journalists, in their zeal to defend Biden, also let partisanship blind them to the truth of the failures of the evacuation.

The crisis did also highlight brighter sides of America. Once roused, the military in coordination with allies conducted a stunning airlift that rescued more than 122,000 people. The troops who died did so while offering foreign strangers a chance at a new life.

Covid-19 has pried open the ideological divides cleaving US society, and the Afghan drama showed how impossible it now is to have a reasonable argument about a key national security issue in Washington. Biden's inauguration plea for national unity seems more elusive than ever.

Editor's Note: This post was excerpted from the September 1 edition of CNN's Meanwhile in America, the daily email about US politics for global readers. Click here to read past editions and subscribe.

8:56 p.m. ET, September 1, 2021

After Afghanistan withdrawal, questions intensify over who got it wrong

From CNN's Jeremy Herb and Natasha Bertrand

With the US withdrawal from Afghanistan officially complete, the White House is set to begin the difficult process of reviewing the chaotic and deadly evacuation operation that lurched into high gear after Kabul fell to the Taliban, forcing Biden officials to confront how they got things wrong in Afghanistan and ramping up the blame game inside the administration.

The internal assessment, known as a "hotwash," will examine "everything that happened in this entire operation from start to finish and the areas of improvement, where we can do better, where we can find holes or weaknesses and plug them as we go forward," national security adviser Jake Sullivan said last month.

But administration officials and members of Congress are not waiting for that analysis to start pointing fingers. The White House has publicly blamed many external factors for the chaos, including former President Donald Trump's February 2020 deal with the Taliban and the Afghan security forces themselves, who President Joe Biden and his aides have said refused to fight for their own country.

Privately, White House and State Department officials have grumbled about why they are getting the bulk of the blame rather than the intelligence community, which they say failed to predict just how quickly Kabul would fall. Many officials are also angry at the rosier assessments presented by US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, who they say should have been more realistic about the Taliban's true intentions.

But intelligence officials and lawmakers in both parties charge that the White House is trying to use the intelligence community as a scapegoat. They argue that the National Security Council and the State Department ignored the grim intelligence assessments in the spring and summer that warned the government could quickly collapse — and that the White House overruled the Pentagon's desire to keep US troops in Afghanistan before Biden originally announced the withdrawal in April.

Read more:

8:59 p.m. ET, September 1, 2021

Two dozen Sacramento-area students believed to be stuck in Afghanistan

From CNN's Cheri Mossburg

More than two dozen students who attend San Juan Unified School District near Sacramento remain in Afghanistan days after the last military planes left the country, ending America’s longest war.

The 27 students, from 19 different families, are of all age levels, from elementary school to high school and were in Afghanistan for personal reasons, most visiting relatives over the summer break, district spokesperson Raj Rai tells CNN.

“San Juan Unified stands with our Afghan community and all those whose loved ones are currently in Afghanistan. We sincerely hope for their speedy and safe return back to the US and back to our school communities,” said Rai.

The district is working closely with state officials to provide them information as it is received from the families and has been contacted by multiple congressional offices to coordinate information and offer help.

“A significant portion of our San Juan Unified community, including students, families and staff members, have family ties and connections to Afghanistan. I want to let those that are personally being affected by these events know that we are here to support them in any way that we can,” Superintendent Kent Kern said in a letter to the community.

San Juan Unified School District serves about 40,000 preschool through high school students.

8:43 p.m. ET, September 1, 2021

Taliban show off captured weapons at Kandahar victory parade

From CNN's Jonny Hallam and Mick Krever

Taliban forces celebrate the withdrawal of US forces in Kandahar.
Taliban forces celebrate the withdrawal of US forces in Kandahar. (Stringer-EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

The Taliban on Wednesday showed off dozens of American-made armored vehicles along with newly seized weapons at victory celebrations in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar.

In videos posted on social media, the Taliban paraded hardware left behind by both Afghan and US forces after the withdrawal of the last American troops left Afghanistan in the grip of the militant group.

Fighters waved white Taliban flags from Humvees and armored SUVs at the military parade, where many of the vehicles appeared in near perfect condition. The Taliban also organized an air display with a recently seized Black Hawk helicopter flying past the militants along the road while also trailing a white Taliban flag.

The parade came the day after video footage showed the militants making their way through an abandoned hangar in Kabul airport strewn with equipment the US left behind.

In one video, militants dressed in US-style uniforms and holding US-made weapons examined a CH-46 Sea Knight helicopter parked inside a hangar. Taliban fighters were also seen posing for photographs while sitting in the cockpits of planes and helicopters that once belonged to the Afghan Air Force.

'Unusable' gear: Pentagon press secretary John Kirby told CNN Tuesday he wasn't "overly concerned about these images" of Taliban fighters examining the abandoned aircraft.

"They can inspect all they want," Kirby said. "They can look at them, they can walk around -- but they can't fly them. They can't operate them."

He added that the US military had made "unusable all the gear that is at the airport — all the aircraft, all the ground vehicles," leaving only some fire trucks and fork lifts operational.

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