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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10:08 a.m. ET, August 24, 2021

UN: More than 3.5 million people internally displaced in Afghanistan

From CNN’s James Briggs 

Internally displaced Afghan families, who fled from Kunduz, Takhar and Baghlan province due to battles between Taliban and Afghan security forces, sit in front of their temporary tents at Sara-e-Shamali in Kabul on August 11.
Internally displaced Afghan families, who fled from Kunduz, Takhar and Baghlan province due to battles between Taliban and Afghan security forces, sit in front of their temporary tents at Sara-e-Shamali in Kabul on August 11. (Wakil Kohsar/AFP/Getty Images)

An estimated 270,000 people in Afghanistan have been forced to leave their homes since January 2021, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said Tuesday, bringing the total number of internally displaced people in the country to more than 3.5 million. 

“We can expect that significant numbers of people will seek refuge in neighbouring countries or outside the region,” UNHCR continued in a statement. 

“The United Nations is committed to stay and deliver aid to those in greatest need, to support efforts to restore peace and stability and to promote the rights and dignity of all Afghans,” the statement added. 

The organization further stressed that there is a “fundamental red line” with regards to the treatment of women and girls in Afghanistan, urging the Taliban to ensure “ongoing respect for the international human rights commitments made by the State,” along with providing public services, such as education, “without discrimination.”

UNHCR’s statement comes a day after UNICEF urged the Taliban to ensure the charity has “safe, timely and unfettered access to reach children in need” across Afghanistan, highlighting that an estimated 10 million children require “humanitarian assistance to survive.”

“An estimated 1 million children are projected to suffer from severe acute malnutrition over the course of this year and could die without treatment. An estimated 4.2 million children are out of school, including more than 2.2 million girls,” UNICEF said, adding that the UN has documented more than 2,000 grave violations of children’s rights since January.

In its statement, UNICEF said the organization will remain on the ground in Afghanistan “now and in the days to come” to provide “essential services,” including medical aid, food and water, along as working to ensure that “all girls in Afghanistan receive a quality education.”

9:26 a.m. ET, August 24, 2021

G7 will discuss whether to recognize Taliban as Afghan government 

From CNN's Kevin Liptak 

While the extension of the Aug. 31 deadline is the most pressing item on the G7 agenda today, the leaders also plan to discuss whether or when they should jointly recognize the Taliban as Afghanistan’s government, western officials familiar with the planning say. 

That’s a decision with enormous consequence that could be used as leverage to compel the group to respect human rights, the officials said. 

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who is hosting the meeting as the current G7 President, is advocating for a unified approach to the Taliban, according to western officials. He wants the world’s leading Democracies to come up with a plan on how to recognize the government or potentially apply economic sanctions or withhold aid.

So far, no governments have recognized the Taliban as the official government of Afghanistan. Doing so could allow the country access to previously committed foreign aid. Non-G7 powers like China and Russia have also been in contact with the Taliban. 

Tuesday’s G7 call, set for 9:30 a.m. ET, is also expected to include the Secretaries General of NATO and the United Nations. Both organizations are expected to play a role going forward in Afghanistan. 

Biden has said he wants to see “harsh conditions” applied to the Taliban, particularly in how they treat women and girls, before lending their government legitimacy. He said Sunday he was open to applying sanctions. 

Read more about today's G7 meeting here.

8:43 a.m. ET, August 24, 2021

Special immigrant visa holders in Kabul now allowed to enter airport after Monday pause

From CNN's Nick Paton Walsh and Brad Lendon

Soldiers stand guard near a canal as Afghans wait outside the foreign military-controlled part of the airport in Kabul, hoping to flee the country following the Taliban's military takeover of Afghanistan, on August 22.
Soldiers stand guard near a canal as Afghans wait outside the foreign military-controlled part of the airport in Kabul, hoping to flee the country following the Taliban's military takeover of Afghanistan, on August 22. (Wakil Kohsar/AFP/Getty Images)

An estimated 6,500 people were waiting for evacuation flights inside Kabul airport on Tuesday morning, a source close to the situation told CNN, as G7 leaders prepared to meet for an emergency summit to discuss the Aug. 31 deadline for the withdrawal of American troops.

The vast majority of those still trying to get out of Kabul were Afghans, the source said, adding that applicants for the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program – an avenue for Afghans who worked for United States forces and agencies to get out of the country – are now permitted onto the airport.

SIV applicants were told not to come to the airport on Monday as the US tried to clear backlogs of evacuees and ensure US passport and green card holders got on aircraft out of Kabul before the Aug. 31 deadline to complete evacuations.

But solid estimates of the number of people both on and leaving the airport were hard to determine.

The Pentagon said early Tuesday that 17 US military and partner nation aircraft evacuated approximately 16,000 people from Harmid Karzai International Airport within the previous 24 hours, with the US Air Force transporting just under 11,000 of them.

That gave an opening to expand the evacuation, the source said.

"The aperture has widened," they said. SIV holders plus immediate family and anyone who can "clearly and credibly articulate a clear and credible connection" with the US government could now get out, the source said.

Despite that relaxation of restrictions, the gates to the airport remained closed, the source said.

"But the people who are already there or being pulled in individually, they're flexing a bit," they said.

About 300 US citizens had been brought in overnight, and moves were coordinated with the Taliban, the source said.

The closure of the airport's gates, however, significantly reduces the number of SIV applicants who can reach the base.

Afghan security forces continued to use unofficial means to get their colleagues and friends onto the base, the source said. "Not sure who the Afghans are still pulling in, but it seems to be a steady trickle," they said.

The source also said there had been no progress in the evacuation of locally employed embassy staff, although planning was underway.

While the backlog of evacuees was being whittled down in Kabul, strain was showing up elsewhere in the route that would eventually lead evacuees to resettlement outside Afghanistan.

One of the main waypoints for evacuees, the massive US Ramstein Air Base in Germany, had reached its capacity of 7,800 evacuees on Monday.

8:48 a.m. ET, August 24, 2021

CIA director met with top Taliban leader in Kabul on Monday

From CNN's Veronica Stracqualursi

CIA Director William Burns and Taliban leader Abdul Ghani Baradar.
CIA Director William Burns and Taliban leader Abdul Ghani Baradar. (Pool/AFP/Getty Images)

CIA Director William J. Burns met face-to-face with the top Taliban leader in Kabul on Monday, according to two US officials, as the US continues airlifting American citizens and its Afghan allies out of Afghanistan by a looming Aug. 31 deadline.

The Biden administration has been in regular contact with Taliban officials throughout the course of the evacuation process, both on the ground in Afghanistan and in Doha, Qatar.

But the covert meeting, first reported Tuesday by The Washington Post, between Burns and Taliban co-founder and deputy leader Abdul Ghani Baradar amounts to the highest-level direct exchange of views since the militant group took control of the capital, a US official briefed on the matter told CNN.

The meeting also underscores the view inside the administration that they need a clearer understanding of where the Taliban stands on several issues as the clock ticks towards the Aug. 31 deadline to withdraw troops from the country, the official said.

The US official told CNN that the meeting occurred at President Biden's direction, which reflects the view inside the administration that Burns is the most seasoned and one of the most trusted veteran diplomats on Biden's team.

Another official called the meeting "an exchange of views on what needs to happen to be done" by August 31.

The CIA declined to comment to CNN about the meeting.

CNN has reached out to the White House for comment.

Some more background: Baradar and then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo were among the witnesses for the US and Taliban's signing of an historic agreement last year, which had set in motion the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan. Former President Trump and Baradar spoke over the phone shortly after the deal was signed.

After the Taliban retook control of Kabul, Baradar, who heads the group's political committee, had returned to Afghanistan last week after having been out of the country for 20 years.

CNN's Betsy Klein and Michael Callahan contributed to this report.

8:27 a.m. ET, August 24, 2021

US military evacuates 12,700 from Afghanistan in 24 hours — another daily record 

The Biden administration announced another set of Afghanistan evacuation numbers in the last 24-hour period from 3:00 a.m. ET Monday to 3:00 a.m. ET Tuesday.

More than 21,000 people were evacuated from the Kabul airport in total, per a White House official:

  • 37 US military flights carried 12,700 evacuees
  • 57 coalition flights carried 8,900 people

That brings the total to 58,700 evacuated since Aug. 14, and 63,900 people evacuated since the end of July.

The 12,700 number is the largest number evacuated on US military flights in a 24-hour period to date, far surpassing the administration’s target of 5,000 to 9,000 daily evacuations on those flights.

The US evacuated 10,400 people on US military flights in the previous 24-hour period.

8:17 a.m. ET, August 24, 2021

Biden will speak about Afghanistan after G7 meeting today

From CNN's Jason Hoffman

President Joe Biden speaks in the Roosevelt Room on the continuing situation in Afghanistan and the developments of Hurricane Henri at the White House on August 22 in Washington, DC. 
President Joe Biden speaks in the Roosevelt Room on the continuing situation in Afghanistan and the developments of Hurricane Henri at the White House on August 22 in Washington, DC.  (Samuel Corum/Getty Images)

US President Biden will speak about Afghanistan at 12 p.m. ET Tuesday from the White House.

According to the White House, Biden will talk about the US' "ongoing efforts in Afghanistan to evacuate American citizens, SIV applicants and their families, and other vulnerable Afghans, and his meeting with fellow G7 leaders on how our nations can come together in support of the Afghan people."

Biden on Tuesday morning is also expected to meet with his national security team to hear intelligence, security and diplomatic updates on the evolving situation in Afghanistan.

Following that meeting, the President will join a virtual gathering with top European allies, known as the Group of Seven, to discuss the situation in Afghanistan. Tuesday’s G7 call is set for 9:30 a.m. ET.

8:13 a.m. ET, August 24, 2021

Biden will face pressure from G7 to extend Afghanistan withdrawal deadline

From CNN's Kevin Liptak and Barbara Starr

US President Joe Biden, sitting between UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Canada Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, participates in a meeting at the G7 in Carbis Bay near Cornwall, England, on June 11.
US President Joe Biden, sitting between UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Canada Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, participates in a meeting at the G7 in Carbis Bay near Cornwall, England, on June 11. (Leon Neal/Getty Images)

Leaders from the top foreign allies of the United States are planning to press President Joe Biden to extend the deadline for US troops to withdraw from Afghanistan during a Tuesday morning meeting, officials familiar with the matter said.

The virtual gathering of the Group of Seven will be the first international forum for Biden to speak collectively with top European allies about the crisis in Afghanistan, which has caused anger and anxiety in foreign capitals over its chaotic execution.

Ahead of the talks, American and western officials were discussing the expected pressure from other leaders on Biden to maintain troops in Kabul past the Aug. 31 deadline.

Biden has not publicly committed to such a move, worrying some allies who fear there won't be enough time to get their citizens and Afghan allies who assisted in the war effort out of the country.

But the administration must decide on Tuesday whether it will try to extend the evacuation mission in Afghanistan beyond Aug. 31 according to a defense official directly familiar with the discussions.

Read more here.