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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2:53 p.m. ET, August 17, 2021

India evacuates diplomatic staff from Afghanistan and says visa services will continue electronically

From CNN's Vedika Sud and Swati Gupta 

The Indian government announced Tuesday that it had evacuated its entire diplomatic staff from Afghanistan. 

“In view of the prevailing situation in Kabul, it was decided that our Embassy personnel would be immediately moved to India. This movement has been completed in two phases and the Ambassador and all other India-based personnel have reached New Delhi this afternoon,” read the news release issued by the Ministry of External Affairs. 

In a military-operated C-17, the last group of Indians arrived earlier today. The Indian embassy will continue its e-Emergency visa operations for Afghan nationals who are interested in leaving the country for India. 

“We understand that a number of Indians are stranded in that country, some of whom are employed by third country organizations. Our immediate priority is to obtain accurate information about all Indian nationals currently in Afghanistan,” the release said. 

Commercial operations into Kabul were stalled Monday and the rest of the evacuations were expected to resume once the Kabul airport is open, according to the ministry.

10:04 a.m. ET, August 17, 2021

NATO suspends all support to Afghan government: "There is no Afghan government for NATO to support"

From CNN's Nina Avramova

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said during a press briefing Tuesday that the body is no longer providing support to the now collapsed Afghan government following the Taliban's takeover of the country.

“We have, of course, suspended all support — financial and other kinds of support — to the Afghan government because there is no Afghan government for NATO to support,” Stoltenberg said.

“No money is transferred no support is provided to Kabul after the collapse of the government,” added Stoltenberg.

Stoltenberg was answering a question about NATO’s funding of the Afghan national army.

 

9:36 a.m. ET, August 17, 2021

Germany stops development aid to Afghanistan

From CNN's Claudio Otto and Amy Cassidy

Germany has stopped development aid to Afghanistan, Chancellor Angela Merkel said Tuesday. 

Speaking alongside Estonia's Prime Minister Kaja Kallas at a news conference in Berlin, Merkel also confirmed the second Bundeswehr (German armed forces) aircraft has arrived in Kabul to evacuate more people. 

The German military came under criticism earlier on Tuesday after the first flight carried only seven people out of Afghanistan, including five German nationals, one EU national and one Afghan, according to a German military spokesman.

Merkel pointed out Germany and Estonia are working closely with the EU and Nato.

"Germany still wants to help very many people who have helped us,” she said.

“And of course we see with concern that things that have been achieved in Afghanistan, when we think of girls, women, education, development, that all this can now be turned back because the Taliban have taken power. That's why it's very important for us to do everything we can to get as many people out of the country as possible.”

 

9:47 a.m. ET, August 17, 2021

Former Afghan vice president calls on countrymen to "join the resistance"

From CNN's Vasco Cotovio

Amrullah Saleh speaks at the presidential palace in Kabul, Afghanistan, on August 4, 2021.
Amrullah Saleh speaks at the presidential palace in Kabul, Afghanistan, on August 4, 2021. Sajjad Hussain/AFP/Getty Images

The first vice president of Afghanistan’s now toppled government has called on his countrymen to “join the resistance” and show that the country is not like Vietnam.

“We Afghans must prove that Afghanistan isn’t Vietnam and the Taliban aren’t even remotely like Vietcong,” Amrullah Saleh wrote on twitter. “Unlike US/NATO we haven’t lost spirit and see enormous opportunities ahead.”

“Join the resistance!,” he concluded.

Saleh also said it was “futile to argue with the President of the United States on Afghanistan now.”

“Let him digest it,” he added. 

Some more context: Taliban fighters entered Afghanistan's Presidential Palace hours after President Ashraf Ghani fled the country on Sunday, a milestone in the insurgent group's assumption of control over capital city Kabul.

The Taliban had been in talks with Afghanistan's government over who would rule the nation, following the militant group's strikingly rapid advance across the country, in which it seized power over dozens of key cities, often with little to no resistance. But those talks are likely to have been upended by the sudden departure of President Ghani.

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

9:26 a.m. ET, August 17, 2021

UNHCR releases non-return advisory for Afghanistan in the wake of rapid security deterioration

From CNN's Celine Alkhaldi

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) released a non-return advisory for Afghanistan on Monday, calling for “a bar on forced returns of Afghan nationals, including asylum seekers who have had their claims rejected.”

At a press briefing in Geneva on Tuesday, UNHCR spokesperson Shabia Mantoo called on States to halt forcible returns of Afghan nationals who were previously considered in no need of international protection.

“States have a legal and moral responsibility to allow those fleeing Afghanistan to seek safety, and to not forcibly return refugees,” said Mantoo.  

During the briefing, Mantoo expressed concern for women and girls, as well as those perceived to have a current or past association with the Afghan government, international organizations or with international military forces.

According to UNHCR data:

  • Some 80% of nearly a quarter of a million Afghans forced to flee since the end of May 2021 are women and children.
  • The UNHCR reports that more than 550,000 Afghans have been internally displaced, since the beginning of 2021.
  • Meanwhile, a total of 72,375 Afghan refugees are hosted within Afghanistan, and an overwhelming majority of 2,215,445 refugees are reported to be in Iran and Pakistan.

Afghans have seen more than four decades of displacement, constituting one of the largest protracted refugee situations in the world, with and one of the biggest displacement crises in modern history, according to the UNHCR.

Caroline Van Buren, UNHCR's representative in Afghanistan told CNN’s Robyn Curnow on Sunday that between 20,000 and 30,000 people were leaving the country on a weekly basis.

"We are now seeing a large number of people leaving Afghanistan: flights are full and these people, of course, are people who have travel documents, we are able to get visas, who have residency permits in other countries," she said.

"But now we're also seeing a trend of people who are moving in an irregular way, people who are fleeing for their own safety without travel documents and they are much at risk for exploitation," she continued.

 

9:50 a.m. ET, August 17, 2021

The Taliban continue to solidify their grip in Afghanistan. Here are key things to know about them. 

From CNN's Julia Hollingswort

Taliban fighters drive around a market in Kabul on August 17.
Taliban fighters drive around a market in Kabul on August 17. (Hoshang Hashimi/AFP/Getty Images)

Just last week, US intelligence analysts had predicted it would likely take several more weeks before Afghanistan's civilian government in Kabul fell to Taliban fighters. In reality, it only took a few short days.

On Sunday, Taliban militants retook Afghanistan's capital, almost two decades after they were driven from Kabul by US troops.

But who are the Taliban? Formed in 1994, the Taliban were made up of former Afghan resistance fighters, known collectively as mujahedeen, who fought the invading Soviet forces in the 1980s. They aimed to impose their interpretation of Islamic law on the country — and remove any foreign influence.

After 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.

That changed after Sept. 11, 2001, when 19 men hijacked four commercial planes in the US, crashing two into the World Trade Center towers, one into the Pentagon, and another, destined for Washington, into a field in Pennsylvania. More than 2,700 people were killed in the attacks.

The attack was orchestrated by al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, who operated from inside of Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. Less than a month after the attack, US and allied forces invaded Afghanistan, aiming to stop the Taliban from providing a safe-haven to al Qaeda — and to stop al Qaeda from using Afghanistan as a base of operations for terrorist activities.

In the two decades since they were ousted from power, the Taliban have been waging an insurgency against the allied forces and the US-backed Afghan government.

What do the Taliban want? The Taliban have tried to present themselves as different from the past — they have claimed to be committed to the peace process, an inclusive government, and willing to maintain some rights for women. However, it remains to be seen if they will follow through and deliver on it.

Taliban spokesman Sohail Shaheen said women would still be allowed to continue their education from primary to higher education – a break from the rules during the Taliban's past rule between 1996 and 2001. Shaheen also said diplomats, journalists and non-profits could continue operating in the country.

"That is our commitment, to provide a secure environment and they can carry out their activities for the people of Afghanistan," he said.

But many observers worry that a return to Taliban rule is a return to the Afghanistan of two decades ago, when women's rights were severely restricted. Antonio Guterres, the United Nations secretary-general, said in a tweet that hundreds of thousands were being forced to flee amid reports of serious human rights violations.

Read more about the group here.

9:42 a.m. ET, August 17, 2021

Taliban co-founder Mullah Baradar returning to Afghanistan, source tells CNN

From CNN's Vasco Cotovio

(Alexander Zemlianichenko/Pool/AFP/Getty Images)
(Alexander Zemlianichenko/Pool/AFP/Getty Images)

Taliban co-founder and deputy leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar is returning to Afghanistan, a Taliban source with knowledge of his movements told CNN on Tuesday.

“Mullah Baradar with a number of high-ranking Taliban officials left Doha to Kandahar province of Afghanistan,” the source said, without providing additional details.

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.

President Donald Trump and Baradar, who was the Taliban's chief negotiator, spoke by telephone last year, after the US and Taliban signed a historic agreement in Qatar in March 2020. Trump called it a good conversation.

"The relationship is very good that I have with the mullah," Trump said.

"They want to cease the violence, they'd like to cease violence also."

Baradar also met with China’s Foreign Minister, in Tianjin China in July.

10:25 a.m. ET, August 17, 2021

Lawmaker who voted against the Afghanistan war in 2001 wants Congress to check President's use of troops

From CNN's Elise Hammond

Democratic Rep. Barbara Lee, who was the only member of Congress who voted against the war in Afghanistan in 2001, said the country needs to learn from its mistakes and rebalance who controls diplomacy, development and defense moving forward.

"Congress has a responsibility to debate and authorize the use of force. We don't give it to presidents just to use in perpetuity and that's what happened," she told CNN on Tuesday. "I knew then that there's no military solution in Afghanistan. You have to understand the history there and so we can't nation-build."

Lee supported President Biden's decision to withdraw troops and said no one expected the Taliban to take over the capital city of Kabul so quickly.

Now, she said it is important to use "all of our tools" to make sure every American and Afghan ally gets out safely.

"This is a very dire situation in many ways, it's an emergency," she said. "We have to use every tool we have to ensure their safety. It has to be orderly," Lee added.

"Our troops did everything we asked them to do. They accomplished their goals and their mission. Why in the world would we allow any president to keep our brave troops in harm's way for this long is mind-boggling," Lee said.

Hear what Rep. Barbara Lee said in 2001:

9:02 a.m. ET, August 17, 2021

Some Taliban leaders "want to see girls education," UNICEF says

From CNN’s Eleanor Pickston

Some Taliban leaders have said they “want to see girls education,” while in talks with the United Nations Children’s Fund and partner NGOs, UNICEF Chief of Field Operations Mustapha Ben Messaoud said on Tuesday.

The messages from the Taliban are “more or less the same” but with “small differences,” especially in terms of girls’ education, Messaoud told reporters during a UN press briefing.

“There are areas, parts of the country, where they told us they’re waiting for guidance from their leadership, religious and political. In other places they’re actually, they said that they want to see girls’ education and schools up and running," he continued.

Taliban officials have held talks with UNICEF and partner NGOs at a number of UNICEF regional offices in Afghanistan over the past days, according to Messaoud.

Addressing the ability for female aid workers and female Afghan staff to continue in their roles, Messaoud said the Taliban has given “mixed, measured answers” but that UNICEF is “cautiously optimistic.”

At least 11 of UNICEF’s 13 field offices in Afghanistan have remained operational since the Taliban took over the country, with the organization currently delivering in “most places,” yet there continues to be “great need” Massaoud warned. “Half of the population — more than 18 million people, including nearly 10 million children — need humanitarian assistance.”

UNICEF and aid partners are in “ongoing discussions” with the Taliban and are “quite optimistic” about the future relationship, based on discussions held at UNICEF field offices, Messaoud told the briefing. “We have not a single issue with the Taliban in those field offices.”