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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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."

10:37 a.m. ET, August 17, 2021

US general: We have had "no hostile interactions" with the Taliban and remain vigilant

From CNN's Maureen Chowdhury

Maj. Gen. Hank Taylor, vice director for logistics of the Joint Staff, said that US troops have not had "hostile interactions" with the Taliban during their departure operations.

"We have had no hostile interactions, no attack and no threat by the Taliban. We remain vigilant. We also have not experienced any additional security incidents at [Hamid Karzai International Airport airport]. We retain the security at HKIA that enables the safe, orderly evacuation of Americans and Afghans," Taylor said during a Pentagon press briefing.

"I want to reinforce that we are focused on the present mission. To facilitate the safe evacuation of US citizens, SIV's and Afghans at risk, to get them out of Afghanistan as quickly and as safely as possible. That mission has not changed," he continued.

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby reiterated Taylor's comments later in the briefing, saying the US mission is "about the airport" and there has been " no hostile interactions with the Taliban on either our people or our operations."

Some more context: Violence erupted at the Kabul airport as US forces shot and killed two armed men who fired on them Monday, the Pentagon said, as the US resumed temporarily suspended operations at the airfield after clearing crowds off the runways.

Kirby said yesterday "there is no indication" that the two men killed by US troops were Taliban and added that while the mission at the airport is "not offensive," US forces "have the inherent right of self-defense."

CNN's Barbara Starr, Jason Hoffman and Jennifer Hansler contributed reporting. 

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

US secretary of state tells workforce that top priority is to evacuate State Department team and Americans 

From Kylie Atwood

Secretary of State Tony Blinken addressed how “wrenching” it is for US diplomats to watch what is unfolding in Afghanistan and assured them that the administration’s top priority is safely getting out the State Department team and Americans as well as doing everything possible to help Afghan partners, in a department-wide memo on Monday. 

“I want you to know that the President’s top priority is the safety of our team in Afghanistan and that of other American citizens. It’s mine, too. And we have the strongest, most capable military in the world by our side in that effort,” Blinken wrote to the State Department workforce. “We’re also committed to doing everything we can to help Afghan partners who have worked with us over the last twenty years. We have a duty to take care of the people who have taken care of us, in Afghanistan and around the world.”

Blinken lauded the work US diplomats have done in the country, despite the fact that their efforts may all be eroded as the Taliban take over control of the country.

“In that time, you did what American diplomats everywhere do: you carried out the mission and worked to advance our interests and values, all while building lasting relationships with the country and its people,” Blinken said.

He specifically thanked the US diplomats who remain in Afghanistan.

“Nobody is working harder on this than our team in Kabul. Under tremendous pressure, they’ve performed with professionalism, courage, and grace. We’ve asked so much of them, and they’ve consistently exceeded it,” he said. 

But US diplomats have grown increasingly frustrated by how the Biden administration handled the US withdrawal from the country. 

"Home. Angry," said one who just returned from Afghanistan.

Two other US diplomats who served in Afghanistan said the chaos could have been averted, or at least mitigated, if action had been taken sooner to get people out. While the Biden National Security Council has a lot of meetings, the diplomats said, it doesn't make many rapid decisions – and in this situation, they believe, valuable time was lost. 

Blinken said that even as the situation in Afghanistan unfolds, US diplomats are busy at work globally, and he thanked them for how they continue to carry out their work. 

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

This is where US military operations in Kabul stand right now, according to the Pentagon

US Maj. Gen. Hank Taylor, vice director for logistics of the Joint Staffs, provided an update on the US military operations in Afghanistan right now.

Taylor said yesterday the US military footprint in Afghanistan "started at about roughly 2,500." By the end of today, there will be more than 4,000 troops on the ground in Kabul, he said.

He said the Hamid Karzai International Airport airport (HKIA) in Kabul remains "secure."

"It is currently open for military flight operations as well as limited commercial flight operations," he added.

Taylor said that throughout the night nine C-17 aircraft arrived in Kabul delivering equipment and approximately 1,000 troops. He said that flights out of Kabul "lifted approximately 700 to 800 passengers and we can confirm 165 of these passengers are American citizens, the rest are a mix of SIV [Special Immigrant Visa] applicants and third-country nationals." 

"Right now, we're looking at one aircraft per hour in and out of HKIA. It looks like 5,000 to 9,000 passengers departing per day," Taylor said.

He added that the US military has had "no hostile interactions" with the Taliban.

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.