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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1:00 a.m. ET, August 16, 2021

South Korea and New Zealand evacuating their citizens in Afghanistan

From CNN’s Jake Kwon in Seoul, South Korea, and Angus Watson in Sydney, Australia

South Korea temporarily closed its embassy and evacuated most of its staff from Kabul to another country in the Middle East, the South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement on Sunday.

South Korea's ambassador and a few embassy staff members are still in Afghanistan, as is one South Korean civilian, the ministry said. Seoul is coordinating with its allies, including the United States, to evacuate one remaining civilian.

President Moon Jae-in issued an order on Monday to safely evacuate the diplomatic staff and Korean citizens "to the last person," according to his office.

What New Zealand is doing: New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Monday that the country will begin evacuating its citizens from Afghanistan, as well as Afghan nationals who worked alongside the New Zealand Defense Force. Ardern said her government is aware of 53 New Zealanders in Afghanistan and 37 other individuals who worked alongside the NZDF.

"We are gravely concerned by the advance of the Taliban and the threat that poses to those attempting to get out, including foreign nationals," Ardern said.

She said that New Zealand will assist in evacuating other nationals if there are "reasonable grounds to believe that the safety or well-being of the individual, or their immediate family has been put at risk from near association with New Zealand in Afghanistan."
12:39 a.m. ET, August 16, 2021

Some airlines are rerouting and suspending their flights to avoid Afghanistan airspace

Aircraft are seen on the tarmac of Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul on August 14.
Aircraft are seen on the tarmac of Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul on August 14. Wakil Kohsar/AFP/Getty Images

At least three airlines are either suspending flights or rerouting them to avoid Afghanistan airspace after the country's government fell to the Taliban.

United Airlines said in a statement would reroute flights around Afghanistan and would "continue to work closely with the FAA and IATA to evaluate the situation." The US-based carrier's flights to India will be affected.

Emirates said on its website it had suspended flights to and from Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, due to the “developing situation."

A media spokesperson for FlyDubai told CNN it too has suspended operations to Kabul and continues to monitor the situation. 

CNN has reached out to Virgin Atlantic, British Airways and Qatar Airways for their flight plans but has not yet received any responses.

An Air India spokesperson told CNN the airline is “monitoring the situation closely” and trying to operate scheduled flights to and from Afghanistan if the situation permits.

 

11:48 p.m. ET, August 15, 2021

Senior US Senate staffers working to help Afghan pilots who fled to Uzbekistan

From CNN's Jake Tapper and Nathan Hodge

Senior US Senate staffers were working with Pentagon officials Sunday night to help Afghan pilots who had fled the country and landed in Uzbekistan, where US officials feared they could be turned over to the Taliban, according to a US Senate source.

Senate staffers were also trying to deal with State Department officials, who are already overwhelmed with the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan, the source said.

With Taliban taking control of Afghanistan, more than a dozen Afghan pilots have fled the country on aircraft. The countries that border Afghanistan are grappling with the Taliban takeover and must decide how to deal with Afghans fleeing into their countries.

CNN obtained documentation showing identification of the pilots, whom the US is seeking to protect, but is not sharing the information publicly.

CNN has reached out to the Defense Department and State Department for comment.

What Uzbekistan is saying: Uzbekistan said it detained 84 people from the Afghan Armed Forces at the two countries' shared border Saturday.

The group of Afghan military personnel did not resist when they were detained by Uzbekistan's State Security Service, according to a statement from the Uzbek Foreign Ministry published Monday. They asked for help and medical assistance for three people that were wounded.

"The necessary screening procedures and sanitary and epidemiological measures were carried out with these Afghan citizens, medical assistance was provided to some, food and their temporary accommodation were organized as well," the Uzbek Foreign Ministry statement read.

The ministry said that there was "a growing presence" of Afghan military forces seen on the Afghan side of the Termez-Hairaton bridge, which connects the town of Hairatan in the northern Balkh province of Afghanistan with Termez in the Surxondaryo region of Uzbekistan.

"Measures are being taken to provide humanitarian assistance to these persons," the ministry said.

The ministry said it was negotiating with Afghan officials on the return of its citizens, though it did not specify if conversations were being held with the Taliban or the Afghan government that has just collapsed.

12:33 a.m. ET, August 16, 2021

All US Embassy personnel have evacuated, the State Department said

From CNN's Jennifer Hansler

Rahmat Gul/AP
Rahmat Gul/AP

All personnel have evacuated from the US Embassy in Kabul and are now at the Kabul airport, the State Department said Sunday night. 

“We can confirm that the safe evacuation of all Embassy personnel is now complete. All Embassy personnel are located on the premises of Hamid Karzai International Airport, whose perimeter is secured by the US Military,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price said in a statement.

11:39 p.m. ET, August 15, 2021

President Biden expected to address nation regarding Afghanistan in the next few days

From CNN's John Harwood

President Biden is expected to address the nation in the next few days about the crisis in Afghanistan, according to a senior administration official.

One option under discussion is to have Biden return to the White House, though the official cautioned that they had not completely ruled out making the remarks from Camp David.

Earlier today, CNN's Jeff Zeleny reported that while Biden can receive the same level of briefings from Camp David, as he has been doing throughout the weekend, officials are aware of the optics of the President being out of town during this perilous moment.

Several administration officials have also been on vacation, but began returning to work remotely Sunday or in the West Wing.

11:53 p.m. ET, August 15, 2021

In the largest Afghan enclave in the US, frustration and heartbreak

From CNN's Ray Sanchez

Mizgon Darby was an 18-year-old college freshman when she started a journal 20 years ago giving a voice to the growing numbers of Afghans living in the United States.

"There was a sense of hope, of wanting to help, and wanting to do more and do better and go back to the country, and this sentiment of belonging and being both Afghan and American," said Darby, now 38 and the executive director of an educational program in the San Francisco Bay area.

But that sense of rebuilding their fractured country is rapidly fading as provincial capital after provincial capital in Afghanistan fell to the Taliban decades after their regime collapsed at the hands of the US military and Afghan opponents.

"It's the complete reverse now," Darby said. "The Afghanistan that those in the diaspora, especially those in Fremont, had hoped for is no longer."

The San Francisco Bay Area is home to about 60,000 Afghan immigrants, the largest concentration in the cities of Hayward and Fremont, where the climate, the surrounding mountains and a strip of small businesses and Afghan social organizations known as Little Kabul reminds them of their native land.

"The whole community is frustrated," said Rona Popal, 63, executive director of the Afghan Coalition, a community organization.

"They're very mad. They are confused. They're mad not only at the United States but also at the Afghans themselves, those leaders who are sitting in the government with the power and are still talking about 'we're going to fight' and every day you see the Taliban coming."

Read the full story below:

11:41 p.m. ET, August 15, 2021

UN secretary general calls for restraint in Afghanistan and access for humanitarian aid workers

From CNN's Elizabeth Joseph

Citing the ongoing situation in Afghanistan, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged the Taliban and all other parties to “exercise utmost restraint in order to protect lives and ensure that humanitarian needs can be addressed.”

The secretary-general called for all parties to allow humanitarian actors access to provide relief and services across the country.

Guterres is expected address to the United Nations Security Council Monday morning.

7:22 a.m. ET, August 16, 2021

Here’s how the Taliban regained control in Afghanistan

After 20 years of US intervention, thousands of deaths and at least $1 trillion dollars, the Taliban's advance in the country has been strikingly swift — here’s a look back at how the situation evolved to where it stands today:

Less than a month after terrorists linked to al Qaeda carried out the 9/11 attacks, American and allied forces begin an invasion of Afghanistan called Operation Enduring Freedom, to stop the Taliban from providing a safe-haven to al Qaeda and to stop al Qaeda’s use of Afghanistan as a base of operations for terrorist activities.

On Dec. 7, 2001, the Taliban lost its last major stronghold as the city of Kandahar fell. Since then, the Taliban have attempted to gain ground in Afghanistan throughout the time US forces have been there and throughout multiple US administrations.

More recently, in January 2017, the Taliban sent an open letter to then-newly elected US President Trump, calling on him to withdraw US forces from the country.

Between 2017 to 2019 there were attempts at peace talks between the US and the Taliban that never finalized into an agreement.

During a surprise trip to Afghanistan in November 2019 for a Thanksgiving visit with US troops, Trump announced that peace talks with the Taliban were restarting. The peace talks resumed in Doha, Qatar, in December of that year.

The US and the Taliban signed a historic agreement in February 2020, which set into motion the potential of a full withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan. The "Agreement for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan" outlined a series of commitments from the US and the Taliban related to troop levels, counter terrorism, and the intra-Afghan dialogue aimed at bringing about "a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire."

In the month following the signing of the Trump administration’s peace deal with the Taliban, the insurgent group increased its attacks on America’s Afghan allies to higher than usual levels, according to data provided to the Pentagon’s Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction.

In August 2020, Afghanistan’s grand assembly of elders, the consultative Loya Jirga, passed a resolution calling for the release of the last batch of some 5,000 Taliban prisoners, paving the way for direct peace talks with the insurgent group to end nearly two decades of war. The release of the 400 prisoners was part of the agreement signed by the US and the Taliban in February.

In March 2021, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and the Biden administration proposed to the Afghan government that they enter into an interim power-sharing agreement with the Taliban.

In April 2021, President Biden announced that the US would withdraw forces from Afghanistan by September 2021.

In August, just months after the US began withdrawing forces, the Biden administration sent in 5,000 troops into Afghanistan after the Taliban began gaining control in the country.

On Aug. 15, after the Taliban seized control of every major city across Afghanistan, apart from Kabul, in just two weeks, the Taliban engaged in talks with the government in the capital over who will rule the nation. 

The Taliban is now edging closer to taking full control of the country and have seized the presidential palace in Kabul after President Ghani fled the country. Earlier talks to form a transitional government appear to have been scuppered by Ghani's departure.

CNN's Clarissa Ward, Tim Lister, Vasco Cotovio, Angela Dewan, Mostafa Salem and Saleem Mehsud contributed reporting to this post.