There's less than a week until the US's Afghanistan withdrawal deadline

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

Updated 8:00 p.m. ET, August 25, 2021
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7:45 p.m. ET, August 25, 2021

US embassy warns Americans at certain gates in Kabul to "leave immediately"

From CNN's Jennifer Hansler

U.S soldiers stand guard at the airport tower near an evacuation control checkpoint during ongoing evacuations at Hamid Karzai International Airport, in Kabul, Afghanistan, Wednesday, August 25.
U.S soldiers stand guard at the airport tower near an evacuation control checkpoint during ongoing evacuations at Hamid Karzai International Airport, in Kabul, Afghanistan, Wednesday, August 25. (AP Photo)

The US Embassy in Kabul advised US citizens at a number of gates at the airport to “leave immediately,” noting “security threats outside the gates.”

CNN reported earlier of “very specific threat stream" from ISIS-K against crowds.

Some context: The US believes ISIS-K, which is a sworn enemy of the Taliban, wants to create mayhem at the airport and has intelligence streams suggesting it is capable and planning to carry out multiple attacks, according to the official.

On Tuesday, as he confirmed his decision not to extend the evacuation deadline beyond Aug. 31, President Biden acknowledged the growing threat the group poses to the airport.

6:34 p.m. ET, August 25, 2021

UK foreign office advices against all travel to Afghanistan, citing "high threat of terrorist attack"

From CNN’s Mitchell McCluskey and Robert Iddiols

The British foreign office has warned its nationals against all travel to Afghanistan in an update to its travel advisory issued on Wednesday.

The United Kingdom Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) cited the “high threat of terrorist attack” as the rationale for the updated advice.

The office also advised nationals currently in Afghanistan to avoid traveling to Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul.

“If you are in the area of the airport, move away to a safe location and await further advice. Commercial flights are not currently operating. If you can leave Afghanistan safely by other means, you should do so immediately,” the office said in a statement. 

The foreign office noted that they suspended all nonessential operations at the British Embassy in Kabul as the security situation becomes more volatile.

The FCDO will offer “extremely limited” consular assistance remotely at the moment, the statement said.

The UK has rushed to evacuate thousands of people from Afghanistan in the wake of the Taliban’s rapid takeover of the country.


5:58 p.m. ET, August 25, 2021

British armed forces have evacuated more than 11,000 people from Afghanistan

From CNN’s Robert Iddiols in London

A handout photo released on August 23, by the British Ministry of Defence, shows members of the UK Armed Forces taking part in the evacuation of  from Kabul airport.
A handout photo released on August 23, by the British Ministry of Defence, shows members of the UK Armed Forces taking part in the evacuation of from Kabul airport. (British Ministry of Defence)

UK armed forces have extracted 11,474 British and Afghan nationals out of Kabul since the mission began on Aug.13, the UK Defense Ministry said in a statement Wednesday. 

According to the statement, “the evacuation process will run as long as the security situation allows in joint coordination with our US partners. No firm date has yet been set for the end of evacuation flights.” 

Tensions continue to build around Kabul's airport perimeter as Afghans face down Taliban harassment in hopes of fleeing the country. Given the Taliban said they do not want Afghans traveling to the airport, UK troops will need to have the final civilian evacuations from Kabul wrapped up within 48 hours, David Richards, the former head of the British armed forces, said on Wednesday. 

The UK has evacuated almost 7,000 Afghans and their families during the operation, the ministry confirmed.  

Named Operation Pitting, the military evacuation includes embassy staff, British nationals, those eligible under the Afghan Relocation and Assistance Policy (ARAP) program and a number of nationals from partner nations. 

4:54 p.m. ET, August 25, 2021

Baby born on evacuation flight named "Reach" for the aircraft's call sign

From CNN's Michael Conte

The top US general in Europe said that the baby girl that had been born on a US C-17 military aircraft to Afghan evacuee parents has been named Reach for the call sign of the aircraft.

“Being an Air Force fighter pilot, it’s my dream to watch that young child called Reach grow up and be a US citizen and fly United States Air Force fighters in our Air Force,” joked head of European Command, Gen. Tod Wolters, to reporters at the Pentagon.

Reach was delivered on a C-17 plane en route from Qatar to Ramstein Air Base in Germany.

In a Twitter thread Sunday, the US Air Mobility Command said the woman went into labor aboard a C-17 transport aircraft during the second leg of her journey fleeing the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan. The flight was from a staging base in the Middle East to the large US air base in Germany.

4:42 p.m. ET, August 25, 2021

Here's what we know about key figures in the Taliban's leadership structure

From CNN's Saleem Mehsud, Kara Fox, Natalie Croker and Henrik Pettersson and Tim Lister

The Taliban's leadership structure has long been a mystery, with little known about how it works beyond the group's most influential figures.

After seizing control of Afghanistan, the Taliban are moving to form a new government, with pledges of inclusivity and reform. But a look at the group's leadership structure suggests that the nature of the new government could very well mirror the Taliban's previous hard-line regime.

The group is led by the reclusive Haibatullah Akhundzada, a senior religious cleric in his 50s who was named chief after a US airstrike killed his predecessor in 2016. Hailing from the Taliban heartland of Spin Boldak, in southern Kandahar province, he was involved in the mujahedeen — or holy Islamic fight — against the Soviet invasion in the 1980s, and was appointed as the leader of jihadi matters in 2001, according to a Taliban spokesperson Zabiullah Mujahid.

His deputy, Abdul Ghani Baradar, was a prominent member of the Taliban regime when it was last in power, and as the head of the group's political committee is currently one of the militants' most public facing leaders. Baradar arrived back in Afghanistan after a 20-year-exile last week.

Here's a look at what else we know about key figures and how the Taliban's power structure functions.

4:20 p.m. ET, August 25, 2021

Biden was briefed on contingency plans, but remains committed to Aug. 31 deadline

From CNN's Kevin Liptak

President Biden was briefed early Wednesday on contingency plans in case he determines US troops should remain in Afghanistan past Aug. 31. 

That date remains the deadline by which Biden believes the US airlift mission will be complete. But in making his determination on Tuesday, the President asked military commanders to prepare alternate plans in case he feels US forces should remain longer.

Those plans were presented during a morning meeting at the White House with members of Biden's national security team, including Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley.

"The President was briefed this morning on contingency plans and continues to have optionality should he decide to change plans, even as we are on track to complete our mission by August 31," press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters at the White House.

She said commanders on the ground have been "empowered" to make adjustments they deem necessary, including on the American footprint at the Kabul airport. 

CNN reported on Tuesday that troops had begun departing Kabul ahead of the deadline, and the Pentagon has said that time will be needed to pack up equipment and weapons ahead of next week's deadline.

Psaki said the contingency plans amounted to an "ongoing discussion" that Biden has weighed during daily meetings with his national security team.

"These are incredibly serious issues and discussions happening internally," she said.

4:00 p.m. ET, August 25, 2021

White House not putting cap on number of SIV applicants they hope to get out by Aug. 31

From CNN's Allie Malloy 

(Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
(Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

White House press secretary Jen Psaki told CNN’s Phil Mattingly that the White House does not have a cap on the number of Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) applicants they hope to get out of Afghanistan by Aug. 31. 

Asked by Mattingly if the administration has a specific numbers of SIV applicants it wants to get out in order to deem the evacuation mission a success, Psaki said the administration has “never put a cap on the number.”

“We are continuing to work every day to get as many people evacuated as we can,” Psaki added.  

“I’d also note that as the secretary of state said we will continue and we are continuing to look at a range of options to provide support and provide a means for departing Afghanistan even after our US military departs,” Psaki said. 


3:54 p.m. ET, August 25, 2021

White House confirms it was not aware of recent Afghanistan trip made by 2 members of Congress

From CNN's Maegan Vazquez  

(Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
(Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Wednesday confirmed that the White House was not aware of a recent Afghanistan trip by two US Representatives “when they were en route."

Reps. Seth Moulton and Peter Meijer, both Iraq War veterans, said in a recent joint statement that they secretly traveled to Afghanistan to see the situation themselves.

“Our guidance continues to be, to all American citizens – including elected officials, this is not the time to travel to Afghanistan,” Psaki said. “And our focus, our objectives, our resources need to be laser-focused on evacuating Afghan partners, evacuating American citizens. That’s best done in the hands of the Department of Defense and State Department professionals who are on the ground.”
3:54 p.m. ET, August 25, 2021

Mexico receives more than 100 Afghan journalists and their families 

From CNN's Karol Suarez

Mexico has received 124 Afghan nationals who requested humanitarian protection, Mexico's foreign ministry announced Wednesday in press statement. 

The group of Afghan nationals who arrived early Wednesday at Mexico City International Airport are made up of media workers and their families whose lives are in danger. The Foreign Ministry said travel and living costs during their stay in Mexico will be covered by private sponsors and civil society organizations.

"The arrival of this group of Afghan citizens is the result of joint work between the Mexican embassies in Iran and Qatar, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of the Interior, and other entities of the federal government, whose support has been invaluable in protecting the lives of these people," the statement said.

"This decision is congruent with the historical position of Mexico," Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said, "it's about those who are risking their lives to inform, to communicate; who are committed to freedom of expression."

"I received reporters and local staff members from many media who have applied for humanitarian visas to Mexico due to the latest events in Kabul, Afghanistan. They arrived with their families, 124 people in total, including minors, after 20 hours of flight," Ebrard tweeted

The director of International News for the New York Times, Michael Slackman, was among those who thanked Mexico for "the invaluable support provided to our Afghan colleagues and their families," and highlighted "the rapid dispatch by Mexico's government of safe transportation for journalists."

Earlier, CNN reported that five women from Afghanistan's renowned robotics team also arrived in Mexico on Tuesday.