August 16, 2021, Afghanistan-Taliban news

By Melissa Mahtani, Meg Wagner, Michael Hayes, Melissa Macaya, Aditi Sangal, Brad Lendon, Joshua Berlinger and Kara Fox, CNN

Updated 12:05 a.m. ET, August 17, 2021
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5:49 p.m. ET, August 16, 2021

"There has not been a formal transfer of power" in Afghanistan, State Department spokesperson says

From CNN's Jennifer Hansler

State Department spokesperson Ned Price on Monday said “there has not been a formal transfer of power” from the Afghan government to the Taliban following the capitulation of former President Ashraf Ghani, and said the US was working with the international community as to who the US recognizes as the leader of Afghanistan.

Price did not rule out US recognition of a Taliban government, saying that it would be dependent upon their actions.

“Ultimately when it comes to our posture towards any future government in Afghanistan, it will depend upon the actions of that government, it will depend upon the actions of the Taliban. We are watching closely,” he said at a department briefing.

“The fact is that a future Afghan government that upholds the basic rights of its people, that doesn’t harbor terrorists and that protects the basic rights of its people, including the basic fundamental rights of half of its population, its women and girls, that is a government that we would be able to work with,” he said.

“The converse is also true. We’re not going to support a government that does not do that, a government that disregards, the guarantees enshrined in basic documents like the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, that is not a government that the United States would be able to work with. That itself is important,” Price said, also noting a UN Security Council statement calling for “the establishment, through inclusive negotiations, of a new government that is united, inclusive and representative – including with the full, equal and meaningful participation of women.”

Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen claimed in a CNN interview Monday that the Taliban would allow the education of women and girls, but the militant group has a history of sharp repression of the rights of women and minorities.

State Department officials had previously said the US would not recognize a government that came to power by force.

7:50 p.m. ET, August 16, 2021

How Democrats are grappling with the fallout from Afghanistan 

From CNN's From Lauren Fox, Jeremy Herb and Annie Grayer 

As horrific images pour out of Kabul with residents desperately trying to flee, Democrats on Capitol Hill are grappling with the political fallout in Washington of a crisis they warned the Biden administration months ago could become a fiasco on the world stage. 

Democrats are now in the midst of a political firestorm and struggling to find a way to both back President Biden on an exit from Afghanistan many thought was long overdue while acknowledging the administration made major tactical mistakes that may have been avoided. 

Congressional Democrats nearly all backed Biden when he announced plans to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan in April, but many have been infuriated by the administration’s slow response to evacuating Afghans who worked alongside the US military and are now at risk. The images of a hasty withdrawal of Americans and the chaos at the Kabul airport now conflicting with the administration’s claims that they were carrying out an orderly withdrawal.

“These past few days have been difficult to process, and not because the Taliban’s progress was surprising. In fact, the opposite. We sounded the alarm, and our dire warnings fell on deaf ears,” said Rep. Chrissy Houlahan, a Pennsylvania Democrat and Air Force veteran.

For some Democrats silence has been the best course of action. Many have not issued statements since the Taliban raced into Kabul over the weekend and seized power as former Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled the country.

Republicans, meanwhile, have launched a barrage of criticism at Biden over the collapse in Afghanistan, charging that the Taliban takeover is a stain on his presidency – and one that will have political consequences that bleed into the midterm elections next year. While many of the Republicans have ignored Trump’s push for an even quicker withdrawal when he was president, they’ve argued that Biden deserves the blame for the way the drawdown of US forces has been carried out.

Democrats have defended Biden’s underlying decision, arguing that the rapid fall of the Afghan military underscored the fact that the government was likely to fall no matter when the US military pulled out.

Several Democrats and senior Biden officials have blamed the Trump administration for negotiating the drawdown with the Taliban that preceded Biden’s decision to complete the withdrawal. During a briefing call with both Republicans and Democrats Sunday, top US security officials also pointed out the failure of the Afghan army, which surrendered in many places far before the US anticipated they would. 

Still, Biden has not deviated from his decision, saying in a speech on Monday that “I stand squarely behind my decision.”

Read the full story here.

8:01 p.m. ET, August 16, 2021

Afghan journalist to Pentagon spokesperson: I left from the Taliban 20 years ago, now we're back to square one 

From CNN's Maureen Chowdhury


Afghan journalist Nazira Karimi became emotional when pressing Pentagon press secretary John Kirby about the location of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani during a briefing.

"As you know, I'm from Afghanistan, I'm very upset today, because Afghan women didn't expect that overnight all the Taliban came. They took off my flag. This is my flag. They put their flag. Everybody's upset, especially women," the reporter said to Kirby, pointing to the Afghan flag on her face mask.

The journalist went on to ask Kirby on the status of Ghani, who fled Afghanistan as the Taliban closed in on Kabul on Sunday.

"Where is my president, former President Ghani? People expected that he would be by with the people and immediately he ran away. We don't know where is he and we don't have a president. President Biden said that President Ghani knows he has to fight for us people, they have to do everything and we were able to financially help them. But we don't have any president, we don't have anything," the journalist said.

The journalist continued, "The Afghan people don't know what to do. Women has a lot of achievement in Afghanistan. I had a lot of achievement. I left from the Taliban like 20 years ago. Now we go back to the first step again. Do you have any comment?... Where is our President Ghani? He should answer to the Afghan people."  

Kirby said he could not speak for Ghani or "where he is or what his views are."

"But let me say with all respect, that I understand. And we all understand the anxiety and the fear and the pain that you're feeling. It's clear and it's evident, and nobody here at the Pentagon is happy about the images that we've seen coming out in the last few days," Kirby said. "And we're all mindful of the kind of governance that the Taliban is capable of. So heartfelt respect to what you're going through, and we understand that."

The Pentagon spokesperson continued: "We, too, have invested greatly in Afghanistan and in the progress that women and girls have made politically, economically, socially, and we certainly do understand and we do feel the pain that you're feeling. Probably not to the same extent. We're focused right now on making sure that we do the best we can for those Afghans who helped us."

Watch the moment below:

7:51 p.m. ET, August 16, 2021

The chaos in Kabul would have been "difficult for anybody to predict," Pentagon says

From CNN's Josiah Ryan

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby
Pentagon press secretary John Kirby (Pool)

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby today defended the US military's chaotic withdrawal from Kabul, telling CNN he took issue with any characterization of the situation at Hamid Karzai International Airport as a planning failure.

"I would take issue with your designation of this operation at the airport as a failure," said Kirby, after CNN's Barbara Starr asked him "what failed in your planning?"

"We do plan for all manner of contingencies, but it's not a perfect process," he continued. "Plans are not always perfectly predictive ... and as is well known in military maximum, plans don't often survive first contact, and you have to adjust in real time."

"When you look at the images out of Kabul, that would have been difficult for anybody to predict," added Kirby, speaking in a news conference at the Pentagon.

Kirby defended the preparation of the US, saying they did plan "noncombatant evacuation operations as far back as May" and that "there were drills being done here at the Pentagon to walk through what different noncombatant evacuation operations might look like."

Kirby said one of the exercises was done as recently as two weeks ago to examine what a noncombatant evacuation "would look like out of the Hamid Karzai International Airport."

"And we think that those exercises did prepare us in terms of having their resources forward, secretary forward deployed troops, including Marines, off of their ship and into Kuwait so that they could be more readily available as well as other forces in the region," he said.

"A lot of what you're seeing transpire, the reason we can be so quick with upwards of 6,000 troop, is because we anticipated the possible need to do this," he said, noting again that they could not have predicted "every single scenario and every single breach around the perimeter of the airport" and there are "changes that happen."

Some more background: Violence erupted at the Kabul airport on Monday as hundreds of people poured onto the tarmac desperately seeking a route out of Afghanistan after the Taliban's sudden seizure of power sparked a chaotic Western withdrawal.

US forces shot and killed two armed men who fired on them Monday, according to a US defense official, and the US resumed temporarily suspended operations at the airfield after clearing crowds off the runways.

5:12 p.m. ET, August 16, 2021

State Department: US special representative for Afghanistan continues to engage with the Taliban

From CNN's Jennifer Hansler

Special Representative for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad is continuing to engage with the Taliban and Afghan government representatives in Doha, State Department spokesperson Ned Price said Monday.

Price said “the situation changed markedly when President Ghani left the country and as the Taliban continued to encroach on Kabul,” and discussions changed from focusing on peace negotiations to averting violence. 

“When it became clear that the government of Afghanistan was on the verge of collapse, that President Ghani had fled, and that the Taliban were encroaching on Kabul, the focus of course changed. It shifted from supporting peace negotiations along with the international community to working assiduously and urgently to do all we can with the international community on an urgent to avert violence, to attempt to maintain order in Kabul, and very, very importantly, to guarantee that the Taliban would not seek to threaten our people or our operations. It was a very fluid situation,” he said at a State Department briefing.

Price said the State Department team was continuing to engage with the Taliban, and “the US military has spoken to engagement with the Taliban on the ground in Kabul.”

“We are working on a couple different fronts: first and foremost, to seek to preserve calm in Kabul, to maintain a semblance of security, and very importantly to underscore that any effort, any attempt to target, to threaten, to intimidate our personnel, our operations, would be met with a swift and decisive response,” Price said.

5:05 p.m. ET, August 16, 2021

US has not carried out airstrikes in the last 24 hours, but retains capability, military official says

From CNN's Oren Liebermann

Maj. Gen. Hank Taylor
Maj. Gen. Hank Taylor (Pool)

The US military has not conducted airstrikes in the last 24 hours but commanders on the ground retain the capability, Maj. Gen. Hank Taylor, vice director for logistics of the Joint Staff, said Monday.

“No strikes have been conducted in the last 24 hours, but the commander on the ground continues to maintain that capability if required to do so. The commander has the assets that are available there at HKIA and in support from other areas in the region," Taylor said.

5:28 p.m. ET, August 16, 2021

Americans in Kabul, should "shelter," and avoid the airport, State Department spokesperson says 

From CNN's Josiah Ryan

State Department spokesperson Ned Price
State Department spokesperson Ned Price (Pool)

Americans remaining in Kabul should not travel to the airport, which is under the control of US military forces, but instead "shelter" and wait for further instructions, State Department spokesperson Ned Price said this afternoon. 

"The situation is evolving quickly, and we will communicate information to US citizens as rapidly as possible," said Price, speaking from the State Department this afternoon.

"We are asking US citizens to shelter and not to travel to the airport until they hear otherwise from the Department of State," he continued. 

Violence erupted at the Kabul airport on Monday as hundreds of people poured onto the tarmac desperately seeking a route out of Afghanistan after the Taliban's sudden seizure of power sparked a chaotic Western withdrawal. US forces shot and killed two armed men who fired on them Monday, according to a US defense official.

4:40 p.m. ET, August 16, 2021

Former Afghan government officials say they have engaged in "fruitful conversations" with the Taliban

From CNN's Wali Shearzad and Hannah Ritchie 

Afghanistan’s former President Hamid Karzai and the chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation Abdullah Abdullah reported having “fruitful conversations” with the Taliban Monday. 

The two leaders, along with former Afghan prime minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, formed a “coordinating council” Sunday to facilitate dialogue with the Taliban, following news the group had gained control over Kabul, and President Ashraf Ghani had fled the country. 

“[Abdullah, Hekmatyar] and I continue making our efforts for further calm in the city of Kabul and the return to normal daily life; God willing, these efforts will bear fruits,” Karzai said in a Facebook video posted Monday.

“We are in contact with the leaders of the Taliban Islamic Movement; we had fruitful conversations; we talked regarding important issues; very good cooperation continues,” he added.

Speaking to CNN’s Christiane Amanpour Monday, the spokesman for the Taliban’s political office in Doha, Suhail Shaheen, said the group is committed to an “inclusive Islamic government” in Afghanistan, but refused to say whether Abdullah or Karzai would be part of it. 

Karzai served as the interim President of Afghanistan in 2001 when the Taliban was overthrown by US and NATO forces. He was subsequently elected for two consecutive terms as President in 2004 and 2009. 

Karzai has signaled that he plans to stay in Afghanistan to facilitate a peaceful transition of power. 


5:14 p.m. ET, August 16, 2021

Biden: If Taliban attacks US personnel, "we will defend our people with devastating force if necessary"

From CNN's Maureen Chowdhury

President Biden said that if the Taliban attacks US troops while they move forward with departure plans from Afghanistan, the "US presence will be swift and the response will be forceful."

"American troops are performing this mission as professionally and as effectively as they always do. But it is not without risks. As we carry out this departure, we have made it clear to the Taliban if they attack our personnel or disrupt our operation, the US presence will be swift and the response will be swift and forceful," Biden said. "We will defend our people with devastating force if necessary."

The President went on to describe the current US military mission happening on the ground now.

"Our current military mission, will be short in time, limited in scope and focused in its objectives: get our people and our allies as safely and quickly as possible. And once we have completed this mission, we will conclude our military withdrawal. We will end America's longest war after 20 long years of bloodshed," he said.

Watch here: