August 17, 2021, Afghanistan-Taliban news

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

Updated 0402 GMT (1202 HKT) August 18, 2021
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12:13 p.m. ET, August 17, 2021

Taliban pledge "no violence against women" but say international community “should respect our core values”

From CNN’s Hannah Ritchie and Nada Bashir

Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid said Tuesday that there would be “no violence against women” in Afghanistan and assured members of the international community that they “should not be concerned” on this matter, but added that they should respect the Taliban’s “core values” on women.

Talking about the rights of women is a change in approach from how the Taliban has approached the issue previously. However, Taliban officials did not go into detail, so the reality of what that will look like remains to be seen.

When the Taliban captured Kabul in 1996, the Sunni Islamist organization put in place strict rules. Women had to wear head-to-toe coverings, weren't allowed to study or work and were forbidden from traveling alone. TV, music and non-Islamic holidays were also banned under their rule at the time.

“Our sisters and mothers — as has been said in Sharia law, which is our value — women are an important part of society,” Mujahid said today during a televised press conference from Kabul.  

“There will be no violence against women, no discrimination against women within the framework of Islamic law,” he continued, adding that the Taliban will “guarantee all their rights within the limits of Islam.”

He provided no specific details about what "the framework of Islamic law" meant in their interpretation.

Pressed on whether Afghan women will be able to go to work, Mujahid said that the rights of women will be determined within the framework of Sharia Law. 

“Yes, with regards to women, as I stated earlier, it will be within the framework of Sharia Law. In all sectors in society, where they are required, it will be within this framework,” Mujahid said. 

12:05 p.m. ET, August 17, 2021

There are "many lessons to be learned" from Afghanistan, NATO secretary general says

From CNN’s Nina Avramova


The events of the last few weeks show a military and political collapse "at a speed which had not been anticipated," Jens Stoltenberg, NATO's Secretary General, said as he expressed deep sadness over the events unfolding in Afghanistan on Tuesday.

“Parts of the Afghan security forces fought bravely, but they were unable to secure the country, because, ultimately, the Afghan political leadership failed to stand up to the Taliban and achieve the peaceful solution that Afghans desperately wanted,” Stoltenberg told journalists at a virtual press conference.

“This failure of Afghan leadership led to the tragedy we are witnessing today,” he added. 

Stoltenberg also addressed NATO's engagement in the country, saying it needs an honest assessment. 

“Despite our considerable investment and sacrifice over two decades, the collapse was swift and sudden. There are many lessons to be learned,” he said

He described the dilemma NATO allies faced around the decision to withdraw from Afghanistan. Troops could either leave and risk seeing the Taliban regain control – or stay and risk renewed attacks and an open-ended combat mission, he said, adding, "We never intended to stay in Afghanistan forever."

Stoltenberg added that while the risk of the Taliban regaining control was clear when the block decided to end its military presence, the speed of the Taliban's seizure was a surprise. The big question to ask is why the forces, which NATO trained, supported and equipped, weren't able to stand up to the Taliban in a stronger way, he said.

NATO's focus currently is to ensure the safe departure of personnel from allied and partner countries as well as Afghan nationals, who have worked for them, Stoltenberg said. Around 800 NATO civilian personnel, working for example in air traffic control, have remained at Kabul's international airport, working under challenging circumstances, according to Stoltenberg.

"I would like to thank them," he said. Operations at the airport are resuming, and allies are sending additional airplanes.

The Secretary General urged the Taliban to respect safe departures of all those wishing to leave. 

“All Afghan men, women and children deserve to live in safety and dignity, there must be a peaceful transfer of power to an inclusive government with no revenge or retribution. A government that does not respect the fundamental rights of all Afghans and reinstates the reign of fear risks international isolation,” Stoltenberg warned.
3:27 p.m. ET, August 17, 2021

Afghan interpreter who assisted US military: I helped them, now they should help me

From CNN's Maureen Chowdhury

An Afghan interpreter who assisted US military and coalition forces on the ground in Afghanistan says he feels abandoned as he struggles to get a Special Immigrant Visa (SIV).

The interpreter, who has fled Afghanistan and spoke to CNN without appearing on camera, remained anonymous as he fears for his safety. He told CNN's Jim Sciutto that he is afraid the Taliban will attack him.

"I worked for US coalition Army special foreign coalition forces... for about ten years. So I was highly known and targeted by them. And the people like me, they are never forgiving them and never forgetting them," the interpreter told CNN.

He said that if he stayed in Afghanistan, that he would have died. He believes the country will become violent under Taliban rule.

"At night they come to your houses, they put hand grenades on them, they kill your kids, they kill the interpreters. So the interpreters are the people that they will never forgive them," he said, noting that the Taliban have been calling interpreters the "most dangerous enemy" because they are the "eyes in front of the US forces."

The interpreter said that after a lengthy process to get an interview with the US embassy, when he applied for a visa with the embassy, it was rejected.

"As I helped the US Army for ten years, as like brothers, so now I need your help. When they need my help, I helped them. Now I need your help, they should help me," the interpreter said.

Watch the interview:

Yesterday, President Biden said that in the coming days the US military will provide assistance to evacuate more Afghans eligible for special immigration visas and their families to the US.

The President on Monday claimed that the reason evacuations of SIV applicants were not conducted sooner — perhaps the biggest criticism his administration has received since announcing the withdrawal — was because some Afghans did not want to leave before the situation became dire. He again sought to blame the Afghan government, claiming its leaders were afraid of the optics.

CNN's Kevin Liptak, Jeff Zeleny, Kaitlan Collins, Jennifer Hansler and Maegan Vazquez contributed reporting to this post. 

11:31 a.m. ET, August 17, 2021

Pakistan will only recognize Taliban regime in Afghanistan as part of a "regional decision"

From CNN’s Sophia Saifi in Islamabad

Pakistan’s recognition of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan will come in the form of a “regional decision” according to Pakistan’s minister of information Fawad Chaudhry on Tuesday. 

Chaudhry was speaking at a news conference after a cabinet meeting with Prime Minister Imran Khan. The cabinet meeting was held to appraise all members of the decisions of the National Security Council meeting held on Monday.

During the press briefing, Chaudhry also stressed that Pakistan will not make any decision on recognizing the Taliban regime “in isolation” and that the decision will be a “multilateral one” made “in consultation” with regional and international powers.

Chaudhry also stressed that Pakistan expects the Taliban to follow internationally recognized human rights.

He criticized Ashraf Ghani’s former Afghan government for pushing “only one major ethnic group” in Afghanistan and excluding other groups. 

Chaudhry further said Prime Minister Imran Khan also had a detailed discussion with his Turkish counterpart a day ago on the Afghanistan situation, while the US secretary of state had spoken to Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi on the same topic.

2:52 p.m. ET, August 17, 2021

About 5,000 to 10,000 Americans are still "near Kabul," Pentagon estimates

From CNN's Ellie Kaufman

There are approximately 5,000 to 10,000 Americans "near Kabul" in Afghanistan, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said during an interview with CNN’s John Berman on New Day. 

“We think there are certainly thousands of Americans. We don’t have an exact count. I would say somewhere best guess between 5 and 10,000 near Kabul,” Kirby said. 

Kirby said Americans in Kabul no longer need to shelter in place. The State Department put out a message “advising those Americans about how to queue up and get to the airport,” Kirby said.

“They can begin movement to the airport for processing flights out,” he added. 

1:25 p.m. ET, August 17, 2021

Taliban co-founder Mullah Baradar arrives in Afghanistan

From CNN's Nada Bashir

Karim Jaafar/AFP/Getty Images
Karim Jaafar/AFP/Getty Images

Taliban co-founder and deputy leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar has arrived in Afghanistan, Muhammad Naeem Wardak, the spokesperson for the Taliban’s political bureau, said Tuesday. 

“This afternoon, a high-ranking delegation of the Islamic Emirate, headed by Mullah Baradar, Political Deputy and Head of the Political Office of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, arrived in their beloved country and landed at Kandahar Airport,” Wardak tweeted. 

A source with knowledge of Baradar’s movements confirmed to CNN earlier on Tuesday that he had departed from Doha, Qatar, for Afghanistan's Kandahar province. 

The deputy leader and co-founder of the Taliban movement hasn’t set foot in Afghanistan in 20 years. He currently heads the Taliban’s political bureau.

In 2010 he was arrested in neighboring Pakistan by the country’s security forces and released in 2018 when the US intensified efforts to leave Afghanistan.

10:48 a.m. ET, August 17, 2021

Russian ambassador to Afghanistan says he had "positive" meeting with Taliban

From CNN’s Katharina Krebs

Russian Ambassador to Afghanistan Dmitry Zhirnov said he had a positive and constructive meeting in Kabul with representatives of the Taliban on Tuesday.

"These were representatives of the senior management of Taliban in the city. The meeting was positive and constructive. Taliban representatives said that the Taliban movement has the most friendly, the best approach to Russia. They confirmed the embassy's security guarantees," Zhirnov said in an interview with Russian state TV channel "Russia 24." 

"There will be no obstacles to the embassy's activities. There will be no deterioration in status compared to the previous government. All our needs will be met," he added.

The ambassador stressed that this meeting was of a purely technical nature. He said the Taliban representative asked not to disclose his name.

2:52 p.m. ET, August 17, 2021

Pentagon says there is no plan to help Afghans in other parts of the country get to the airport

Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images
Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images

Right now the US does not have a plan to get Afghans in other parts of the country to the airport in Kabul to be evacuated – despite them having previously helped the United States.

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said he knows the US has an "obligation" to help these people and their families but "right now our focus is on the airport itself and making sure it stays safe and secure."

"There is an awful lot that has to be done in that," he said.

Kirby said people in other parts of Afghanistan should apply for visas and consult with State Department officials to get themselves enrolled. He said, from there, the US will help them get out of Kabul, but he did not say if there was a plan to help them travel to the capital city.

"There is a process to follow and I highly encourage if they aren't already in the system to get themselves into the system," he said.
10:35 a.m. ET, August 17, 2021

Pentagon: US commanders "have had conversations" with the Taliban

John Kirby speaks during a news briefing at the Pentagon August 16, 2021 in Arlington, Virginia.
John Kirby speaks during a news briefing at the Pentagon August 16, 2021 in Arlington, Virginia. Alex Wong/Getty Images

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby confirmed at a news conference today that US military commanders have had communication with the Taliban.

Asked by CNN's Barbara Starr to clarify if US military personnel are the ones talking to Taliban leaders, Kirby said, "Our commanders in the operation have had communication with Taliban leaders."

Kirby would not get into the details of “how those discussions are progressing,” but said US military leaders are interacting with the Taliban “multiple times a day,” at the airport. Kirby said he would “let the results speak for themselves,” referring to the relative stability that has been established at the airport, allowing military planes to fly in and out since yesterday.

In a follow-up question, Starr asked the Pentagon spokesman if it's the United States' 82nd airborne division that is in the command at the airport and the general is the one talking to the Taliban, Kirby said, "I'm not going to talk about specific conversations...or who is having what" interactions. 

"But just suffice it to say that our commanders there at the airport are charged with securing that airport and keeping this secure. And to do what is required to keep it secure and to get operations back up and running and to be sustained. And they will and should have whatever interactions they believe that are necessary to accomplish that mission."