The latest on Afghanistan as US troop withdrawal deadline looms

By Melissa Macaya, Meg Wagner, Melissa Mahtani, Mike Hayes and Veronica Rocha, CNN

Updated 8:08 p.m. ET, August 24, 2021
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12:46 p.m. ET, August 24, 2021

G7 leaders agree Taliban must allow people to leave Afghanistan after Aug. 31, UK prime minister says

From CNN’s Sharon Braithwaite

Afghans gather on a roadside near the military part of the airport in Kabul on August 20.
Afghans gather on a roadside near the military part of the airport in Kabul on August 20. (Wakil Kohsar/AFP/Getty Images)

G7 leaders have called on the Taliban to guarantee safe passage for all those wishing to leave Afghanistan after Aug. 31, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Tuesday, describing this as the G7’s “number one condition” for the Taliban.

“The number one condition we are setting as G7 is that they've got to guarantee right the way through – through August 31 and beyond – safe passage for those who want to come out," Johnson said after a virtual meeting of G7 leaders.

“We have got together, the leading Western powers and agreed, not just a joint approach to dealing with the evacuation, but also a roadmap for the way in which we're going to engage with the Taliban, as probably there will be a Taliban government in Kabul," he added.

When asked about the Aug. 31 deadline earlier today, Taliban spokesperson Zabiullah Mujahid said the Taliban are not in favor of allowing Afghans to leave the country.

"The Afghans leaving, we are not going to allow that, and we are not even happy about it," Mujahid said.

The spokesperson said the Taliban will not accept an extension to the evacuation deadline, saying "my message to the Americans is to get out all the nationals before the 31st".

12:26 p.m. ET, August 24, 2021

Evacuation operation in Afghanistan remains top priority for G7 leaders, official says

From CNN's Nada Bashir

Evacuation efforts in Afghanistan continue to be the top priority for G7 leaders, European Council President Charles Michel said Tuesday after meeting with those leaders over videoconference. 

“We tackled what remains our most pressing priority, the safe evacuation of the coalition citizens, Afghan staff and their families,” Michel said.  

“The EU and its member states will spare no effort to evacuate EU citizens and those who have partnered with us,” he added, noting that G7 leaders remain concerned over people’s ability to reach and access Kabul airport. 

According to the latest briefing from the Pentagon, there are “a little bit above 5,000” people in the airport in Kabul waiting to get on evacuation flights — a significant improvement in the speed of the evacuation process at the airport over recent days. 

The European Council president said Tuesday that the EU had discussed the matter of airport evacuations with the United States, with a particular focus on securing Kabul’s international airport “as long as necessary to complete the operations” and to ensure fair access to the airport for all nationals entitled to evacuation. 

“We call on the new Afghan authorities to allow free passage to all foreign and Afghan citizens who wish to get to the airport,” Michel continued. 

“The EU will do its part to support the safety and proper living conditions of Afghans who flee their country,” he added. 

12:25 p.m. ET, August 24, 2021

President Vladimir Putin says Russia does not plan to get militarily involved in Afghanistan 

From CNN's Zahra Ullah and Anna Chernova

Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers a speech during the opening ceremony of the International Military-Technical Forum "Army-2021" held in the Patriot Park, in Kubinka outside Moscow on August 23.
Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers a speech during the opening ceremony of the International Military-Technical Forum "Army-2021" held in the Patriot Park, in Kubinka outside Moscow on August 23. (Ramil Sitdikove/Sputnik/AFP/Getty Images)

Russia is closely monitoring the situation in Afghanistan but is not going to get involved militarily in the country, President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday at an event for ruling party United Russia ahead of upcoming local elections next month.

"Of course, it goes without saying that we are not going to interfere in Afghanistan's domestic affairs, let alone involve our armed forces in a conflict," Putin said.

Putin said Russia has learned from the Soviet experience in Afghanistan:

"The USSR had its own experience in that country. We have learnt the necessary lessons."

Earlier, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Moscow opposes the idea of having US troops in Central Asian countries which border both Russia and Afghanistan and is against allowing Afghan refugees to be processed in these countries before being sent to the US, according to Russian state media TASS. 

11:34 a.m. ET, August 24, 2021

Biden decides to stick with Aug. 31 deadline to withdraw from Afghanistan, according to official

From CNN's Kevin Liptak 

President Biden, in consultation with his national security team, has decided to stick with the Aug. 31 deadline for withdrawing US troops from Afghanistan, according to a senior administration official.

Biden made the decision mindful of the security risks in remaining the country longer, the official said.

He has asked for contingency plans in case he determines at a later date the US needs to remain in the country longer.

 

11:44 a.m. ET, August 24, 2021

Pentagon acknowledges "terrible" conditions at Qatar base holding Afghan evacuees, says they're "improving"

From CNN's Ellie Kaufnman

The Pentagon acknowledged “what had been some terrible conditions” at the Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar where the US military has temporarily stationed thousands of evacuees from Afghanistan in the process of relocating people evacuating the country, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said during a briefing on Tuesday.

“We are aware of and as concerned as anybody about what had been some terrible sanitation conditions at Qatar that were facilitated by the sheer numbers and the speed with which those numbers got there,” Kirby said. “We all recognize that, and nobody, nobody here wants anyone to be less than safe, secure comfortable and well cared for as they go through this process.”

There have been reports of unsanitary conditions at the Al Udeid Air Base. 

Kirby said the conditions are “improving now,” but “they’re not” perfect. Kirby said the US military continues to try and identify other temporary locations where evacuees can be sent to “ease the pressure” at the Qatari base.

“We’ll be the first to admit that conditions at Al Udeid could have been better. They are improving now,” Kirby said. “I’m not going to stand up here and tell you that they’re perfect, because they’re not, because evacuees continue to flow into Qatar, and there’s a lot on the ground right now, and as the General said, we’re working hard to clear out that population so we can ease the pressure there and continue to move these people along the way to their new lives.” 

An eight-hour pause in US military evacuation flights occurred Friday because the Al Udeid base had reached capacity. The US military determined more locations for evacuees to be sent temporarily in the process of relocating them, including Ramstein Air Base in Germany, locations in Italy, Spain and Bahrain, Kirby said.

11:38 a.m. ET, August 24, 2021

About 5,000 people waiting to get on flights at Kabul airport, Pentagon says

From CNN's Michael Conte

The Pentagon announced that there are "a little bit above 5,000" people in the airport in Kabul waiting to get on flights.

This is a significant improvement of the speed of processing and evacuation flights.

According to Army Maj. Gen. William "Hank" Taylor, Joint Staff deputy director for regional operations, they are “going through the processing, continuing to be manifested and ready to fly.”

Taylor said that gates at the airport are still open as well.

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said that there are about five to 600 Afghan security forces that are helping with the evacuation and will themselves be evacuated by US forces if they want to leave.

11:19 a.m. ET, August 24, 2021

Pentagon: US military will destroy weapons and military equipment if necessary during withdrawal

From CNN's Ellie Kaufman

The US military will destroy weapons and other military equipment if needed during the US withdrawal of troops and military equipment from Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said.

“Obviously there’s a strong bias to be able to get our material out with our people, if there needs to be destruction or other disposition of equipment there at Hamid Karzai International Airport, then we’ll do that, and we’ll do it appropriately,” Kirby said.

1:17 p.m. ET, August 24, 2021

Taliban spokesperson says they won't allow Afghans to flee the country

From CNN's Sarah Dean and Sharif Paget 

Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid looks on as he addresses the first press conference in Kabul on August 17.
Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid looks on as he addresses the first press conference in Kabul on August 17. (Hoshang Hashimi/AFP/Getty Images)

The Taliban are not in favor of allowing Afghans to leave the country, Taliban spokesperson Zabiullah Mujahid said during a news conference when asked about the Aug. 31 deadline. 

"The Afghans leaving, we are not going to allow that, and we are not even happy about it," Mujahid said.

Mujahid said the Taliban will not accept an extension to the evacuation deadline, saying "my message to the Americans is to get out all the nationals before the 31st".

"I should remind you that staying beyond 31st August is going to be a unilateral decision by the Americans and against the agreement," Mujahid said.

"They should evacuate all their forces, all their contractors before that date,” he added.

Asked if it is true the Taliban are doing targeted searches on houses in provinces, Mujahid said: “I can confidently tell you, I can assure you that nobody is going to be prosecuted or investigated in any part of the country [like] in the past.

“I would like to assure all my countrymen and women no one is going to be prosecuted, nobody is going to be chased because there has been general amnesty. We have forgotten about everything, we are not going to take anybody accountable for the past. Because of peace and security and prosperity, we are not going to do that.”

11:08 a.m. ET, August 24, 2021

Pentagon says 1,000 Afghan evacuees landed in the US in the past day 

From CNN's Michael Conte

Refugees from Afghanistan wait to board a bus after arriving and being processed at Dulles International Airport in Dulles, Virginia on August 23.
Refugees from Afghanistan wait to board a bus after arriving and being processed at Dulles International Airport in Dulles, Virginia on August 23. (Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images)

The Pentagon announced that four flights with more than 1,000 passengers landed at Dulles International Airport near Washington, DC, in the past day.

“These passengers and their families will go to one of the four military installations designated as processing locations,” said Joint Staff deputy director for regional operations Army Maj. Gen. William "Hank" Taylor at a briefing with reporters.