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
4 Posts
Sort byDropdown arrow
11:55 p.m. ET, August 16, 2021

"I thought at one point that this is the end and I will die," student says of her experience at Kabul airport

From CNN's Sandi Sidhu

Like hundreds of other Kabul residents, Aisha Ahmad scurried to the Hamid Karzi International Airport on Monday, hoping to catch a flight out of the country as it became apparent the government would fall to the Taliban.

Ahmad did not make it out. On Twitter, she asked for help from a third country, only to receive death threats, she said.

The 22-year-old university student recounted her experience to CNN and explained why she's fearful for the future.

Her experience at the airport: Ahmad said she got a call from a friend in the United States and was told that people were being ferried out of Afghanistan on military flights. She didn't believe it at first, but when a second friend called and said the same thing, she thought they might both be right.

The streets were quiet as she ran to the airport, except for the occasional crackle of gunshots. People were calm and looked curious.

But at the airport, Ahmad said "there were thousands of people, including many without passports and little security. She got stuck.

"The crowds were pushed by police," she said. "Kids and women were on the ground."

Ahmad said it felt like "doomsday."

"I thought at one point that this is the end and I will die," she said.

Though she did not manage to make it out of Kabul, she escaped the airport with only scrapes and bruises.

Will she go back to school: Taliban spokesman and leaders have said that they plan to run an "inclusive Islamic government" and allow women and girls to go to school. Many Afghans are deeply skeptical of those claims because it's a major departure from the fundamentalist, totalitarian tendencies that marked the group's time in power in the 1990s.

"Some people say the Taliban have changed, others say that they have not," Ahmad said. "To be honest now I do not believe the Taliban."

Taliban leaders have said that people should continue to go about their day-to-day lives for now, including women who go to school. Ahmad said based on what she sees on TV, she thinks she can go back to school but isn't exactly sure.

She fears that she will not be able to finish her university education and worries that things will start getting harder for women in the days and weeks ahead

"Definitely there will be restrictions for women, but we do not know how much," Ahmad said.

"People are not much outside, and they do not know how their daily activity will be when life is back to normal. Will they force stores to close during prayer time? Will there be punishment for not going to the mosque, will they force people to go? ... No one knows," she said.

12:08 a.m. ET, August 17, 2021

A look at how the Taliban quickly regained control in Afghanistan

From CNN's Julia Hollingsworth

Taliban fighters sit inside the presidential palace in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Sunday, August 15.
Taliban fighters sit inside the presidential palace in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Sunday, August 15. (Zabi Karimi/AP)

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.

Although Afghan security forces were well funded and well equipped, they put up little resistance as Taliban militants seized much of the country following the withdrawal of US troops beginning in early July.

On Sunday, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled the country, abandoning the presidential palace to Taliban fighters.

Already, US officials have admitted that they miscalculated the speed at which the Taliban were able to advance across the country, with Secretary of State Antony Blinken saying of Afghanistan's national security forces: "The fact of the matter is we've seen that that force has been unable to defend the country ... and that has happened more quickly than we anticipated."

The Taliban's swift success has prompted questions over how the insurgent group was able to gain control so soon after the US withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Over the past two decades, the US spent more than a trillion dollars in Afghanistan. It trained Afghan soldiers and police and provided them with modern equipment.

As of February, the Afghan forces numbered 308,000 personnel, according to a United Nations Security Council report released in June — well above the estimated number of armed Taliban fighters, which ranged from 58,000 to 100,000.

Ultimately, though, the Afghan forces proved to be no match for the Taliban.

Carter Malkasian, a former senior adviser to the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, who is also the author of "The American War in Afghanistan: A History," said the Afghan forces sometimes lacked coordination and suffered from poor morale. The more defeats they had, the worse their morale became, and the more emboldened the Taliban were.

"Afghan forces, for a long period of time, have had problems with morale and also their willingness to fight the Taliban," he said. "The Taliban can paint themselves as those who are resisting and fighting occupation, which is something that is kind of near and dear to what it means to be Afghan. Whereas that's a much harder thing for the government to claim, or the military forces fighting for the government."

Taliban spokesman Shaheen said they weren't surprised by their successful military offensive.

"Because we have roots among the people, because it was a popular uprising of the people, because we knew that we had been saying this for the last 20 years," he said. "But no one believed us. And now when they saw, and they were taken by surprise because before that they didn't believe."

Read more about the situation in Afghanistan here.

12:04 a.m. ET, August 17, 2021

Biden delivered an address following the Taliban's Afghanistan takeover. Here's what he said.

From CNN's Kevin Liptak, Jeff Zeleny, Kaitlan Collins, Jennifer Hansler and Maegan Vazquez

President Joe Biden speaks about Afghanistan from the East Room of the White House, on Monday, August 16.
President Joe Biden speaks about Afghanistan from the East Room of the White House, on Monday, August 16. (Evan Vucci/AP)

President Biden admitted on Monday that the collapse of the Afghan government and the Taliban retaking control happened more quickly than the US government had anticipated, insisted that ending America's 20-year war was the correct decision.

But the President refused to back away from his decision to end the American military's combat mission in the nation, where the US had fought the nation's longest war, asserting that the US mission was "never supposed to be nation building" and blaming the Afghan government for the fall.

"I stand squarely behind my decision. After 20 years, I've learned the hard way that there was never a good time to withdraw US forces," Biden said during a speech from the East Room of the White House Monday afternoon. "That's why we're still there. We were clear-eyed about the risks. We planned for every contingency. But I always promised the American people I would be straight with you. The truth is, this did unfold more quickly than we had anticipated."

Biden added that the US national interest in Afghanistan has always been "preventing a terrorist attack on American home land," and that that US mission had already been met.

Despite saying he was willing to take criticism over the decision to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan, Biden pointed fingers at a series of others for the unfolding crisis.

Biden blamed Afghanistan's armed forces for not standing up to the Taliban's lightning quick offensive, which put the repressive group back in control of the nation two decades after US troops helped toss the Taliban out of power and the creation of a democratic government.

The President also pointed to the top Afghan leaders as deserving blame.

"So, what happened?" Biden asked. "Afghanistan political leaders gave up and fled the country."

The President said he had "frank conversations" with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, chairman of the Afghan delegation to peace talks, earlier this summer, but — ultimately — they didn't take the US' suggestions.

Biden also laid part of the blame for the current situation on his predecessor, Donald Trump, who brokered a deal with the Taliban to withdraw American troops by May 1, 2021.

Read more about Biden's remarks here.

11:20 p.m. ET, August 16, 2021

Key things to know about Operation Enduring Freedom, the US mission in Afghanistan

The Taliban has swiftly regained control of Afghanistan 20 years after US forces began Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF).

The United States linked the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks to al Qaeda, a group that operated under the Taliban regime’s protection in Afghanistan. The operation was launched 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.

Operation Enduring Freedom began on October 7, 2001, under President George W. Bush's administration, with allied air strikes on Taliban and al Qaeda targets.

On Oct. 14, 2001, the Taliban offered to discuss giving al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden to a third country for trial if the United States provided evidence of bin Laden’s involvement in the Sept. 11 attacks. The White House rejected the offer.

On Nov. 13, 2001, US airstrikes and ground attacks by the anti-Taliban Afghan Northern Alliance led to the fall of Kabul.

That same month many European countries offered troops to support OEF including, Germany, the Netherlands, France and Italy. US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld also announced that the US had doubled the number of its troops based in the country.

Over the next 20 years, the US along with allied nations and coalitions worked to create a stable Afghan led nation and also create and train an Afghan national army. Here's a timeline:

Dec. 2-5, 2001 - The United Nations hosts the Bonn Conference in Germany, results from the Bonn Agreement creates an Afghan Interim Authority and outlines a process for creating a new constitution and choosing a new government.

Dec. 20, 2001 - The United Nations authorized the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) to provide security support to the Afghans. The United Kingdom agrees to lead the force initially.

Dec. 22, 2001 - Hamid Karzai is sworn in as head of an interim power-sharing government.

March 25, 2002 - Rumsfeld announces that there are plans under way for US and coalition forces to help train and create an Afghan national army.

January 2004 - Afghanistan passes a new constitution by consensus.

Oct. 9, 2004 - Afghanistan’s first direct democratic election is held.

Dec. 7, 2004 - Karzai is sworn in as the first democratically elected president of Afghanistan.

Dec. 1, 2009 - Obama announces the deployment of 30,000 additional US troops. This new deployment, set for 2010, brought US troop totals to almost 100,000, in addition to 40,000 NATO troops.

January 2010 - Representatives from more than 60 nations meet in London for the International Conference on Afghanistan, pledging to support the development of the Afghan National Security Forces.

May 2, 2011 - In the early morning hours, a small group of US Forces, including Navy Seals, raid a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan and kill Osama bin Laden.

June 22, 2011 -  Obama announces a plan to reduce the number of troops in Afghanistan and that US combat operations in the country will end by 2014.

Feb. 1, 2012 - Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announces that the US hopes to end its combat mission in Afghanistan in 2013, transitioning primarily to a training role.

May 27, 2014 - President Obama announces that the United States combat mission in Afghanistan will end in December 2014.

Sept. 30, 2014 - The US and Afghanistan sign a joint security agreement that will allow US troops to stay in Afghanistan beyond the previous December deadline to withdraw.

Jan. 1, 2015 - After more than 13 years of combat operations in Afghanistan, the US begins Operation Freedom’s Sentinel (OFS). The new mission conducts counterterrorism operations targeting terrorist groups like al Qaeda and the local ISIS affiliate and also focuses on building up local Afghan security forces to help fight the Taliban.

Dec. 9, 2019 - Confidential documents obtained by The Washington Post reveal that top US officials misled the American public about the war in Afghanistan in order to conceal doubts about the likelihood that the United States could be successful in the nearly 20-year effort since its earliest days, the paper reports.

April 14, 2021 - US President Joe Biden formally announces his decision to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan before September 11, 2021, deeming the prolonged and intractable conflict in Afghanistan no longer aligns with American priorities. “It’s time to end America’s longest war,” he says.

August 2021 - The Taliban take control of Afghanistan's capital city, Kabul, almost two decades after they were driven out by US troops. President Biden sends an additional 5,000 troops to Kabul to evacuate US personnel.

Read more about the key events here.