August 18, 2021, Afghanistan-Taliban news

By Meg Wagner, Melissa Mahtani, Melissa Macaya, Mike Hayes, Joshua Berlinger, Brad Lendon, Aditi Sangal and Lauren Said-Moorhouse, CNN

Updated 1530 GMT (2330 HKT) August 19, 2021
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7:12 a.m. ET, August 18, 2021

Violence erupts in Jalalabad as Taliban fire on protesters for replacing group's flag

From CNN’s Vasco Cotovio in Lisbon and Tim Lister in Spain

Taliban fighters have clashed with protesters in the city of Jalalabad after they removed the group’s flag from the main square and replaced it with the Afghan flag, three witnesses have told CNN.

According to the witnesses the protest was met with a violent response by the Taliban, who fired into the crowd and beat up some of the protesters.

Video and stills posted on social media also show crowds climbing on top of a monument with the flag. Other angles show protesters waving it on Jalalabad’s busy streets -- in some of the videos gunshots are heard as the Taliban try to dissipate the crowd. 

I wanted to support the Afghan flag and stop the Taliban from desecrating the Afghan flag,” one protester said. “Then the shooting started and the Taliban surrounded me and threatened and beat me.”

Another protester said that despite the violent response, they will protest again “to prevent the Taliban from desecrating the Afghan flag.” 

CNN has not been able to independently verify if there were any casualties. CNN was also unable to reach local officials to confirm any causalities. 

The Taliban have not commented on the incident. 

The protest, which was led by youths, included people of all ages.

8:13 a.m. ET, August 18, 2021

German shuttle service to evacuate from Afghanistan to Uzbekistan underway

From CNN’s Claudia Otto in Berlin

A shuttle service ensuring “rapid evacuation from Afghanistan” is underway, Germany's military said Wednesday.

“Two A400Ms will fly back and forth between Tashkent in Uzbekistan and Kabul several times a day. This will ensure that as many people as possible are evacuated from Afghanistan,” a Bundeswehr tweet said.

On Tuesday night, Germany’s Foreign Minister Heiko Mass said another evacuation flight with 139 people on board had left Kabul and was headed to Tashkent.

Germany’s foreign office tweeted that the flight included Germans as well as other European and Afghan citizens. “Airlift will continue as long as the security situation somehow allows,” the tweet said.

Evacuation flights from Kabul were continuing on Tuesday, with the UK, Australia, France and Italy among the countries able to get planes in the air to get diplomats and Afghan nationals out of the country.

6:53 a.m. ET, August 18, 2021

Britain’s army chief says the Taliban could be different this time

From CNN’s Vasco Cotovio in Lisbon and Sarah Dean in London

British Chief of Defence Staff Nick Carter is pictured outside the Ministry of Defence headquarters in London, in November 2020.
British Chief of Defence Staff Nick Carter is pictured outside the Ministry of Defence headquarters in London, in November 2020. Stefan Rousseau/PA Images/Getty Images

The British Chief of Defence Staff Nick Carter says he thinks the Taliban have changed and says the West needs to give them space.

“I do think that they have changed,” Carter said in an interview with Sky News on Wednesday morning. “I think they recognize that over the course of the last 20 years, Afghanistan has evolved, they recognize the fundamental role that women have played in that evolution and yes, at the moment they will undoubtedly say they want to respect women’s rights under Islamic law.”

“That doesn’t necessarily mean they won’t allow them to be involved in government and in education and in medicine and those things they need them to be involved in,” he added. 

Since reclaiming Kabul on Sunday, the Taliban have repeatedly said the gains of women over the last two decades will be protected as they take over. Despite the group's promises, it is clear that many Afghan women are fearful that they will once again be treated as "lower class" and forced to live under the Taliban's strict interpretation of Islamic law.

Previously under Taliban rule, 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.

CNN teams in Kabul have observed a significant drop in the number of women on the streets since the Taliban takeover, in comparison to a few days ago. Those who do venture out are dressing more conservatively, some with their faces covered with niqabs, or veils. Burqas had become a less common sight in Kabul over the past two decades, but the news that the Taliban is once again in charge has sparked an increase in sales, shopkeepers have told CNN.

In the interview, Gen. Carter went on to refer to the Taliban as a group of “country boys” who were bound by a “code of honor.”

“I think we have to be patient, we have to give them the space to show how they are going to step up to the plate,” he said. “Whether or not we can work with them will very much depend on how they treat all Afghans.”

“All I’m saying is, let’s see how this evolves because we may well be surprised by it,” he also said. “Yes, we should do it very carefully, yes we should be fundamentally suspicious because we know where they came from.”

His remarks were echoed by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who was debating the situation in Afghanistan in the UK House of Commons on Wednesday. Johnson told Parliament, “We must face the reality of a change of regime in Afghanistan.”

Johnson said it would be a mistake "to recognize any new regime in Kabul prematurely or bilaterally" before adding, “we will judge this regime based on the choices it makes and by its actions rather than by its words."

10:13 a.m. ET, August 18, 2021

Taliban meet again with former Afghan President Karzai and other key figures

From CNN’s Tim Lister in Spain

Former President of Afghanistan Hamid Karzai speaks during a press conference in Kabul, on July 13.
Former President of Afghanistan Hamid Karzai speaks during a press conference in Kabul, on July 13. Sayed Khodaiberdi Sadat/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Adelegation led by Anas Haqqani, a member of the Taliban's negotiating team and a key figure in the Haqqani network militant group, met with prominent non-Taliban figures in Kabul Wednesday, including ex-President Hamid Karzai.

Photographs distributed by the Taliban showed the non-Taliban delegation also included Abdullah Abdullah, chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation in the former government, and Fazal Hadi Muslimyar, a prominent figure from the eastern province of Nangahar.

There's been no word so far from any of the participants on the meeting's outcome.

On Monday, Karzai and Abdullah reported having “fruitful conversations” with the Taliban.

The two men, along with former Afghan prime minister and warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, formed a “coordinating council” Sunday to facilitate dialogue with the Taliban. 

“[Abdullah, Hekmatyar] and I continue making our efforts for further calm in the city of Kabul and the return to normal daily life; God willing, these efforts will bear fruits,” Karzai said in a Facebook video posted Monday.

Speaking to CNN’s Christiane Amanpour Monday, the spokesman for the Taliban’s political office in Doha, Suhail Shaheen, said the group is committed to an “inclusive Islamic government” in Afghanistan, but refused to say whether Abdullah or Karzai would be part of it.

Context: The Haqqani network, a family-run terrorist group that is aligned with the Taliban as well as al Qaeda. According to previous CNN reporting, the Haqqani network is considered by security experts to be one of the most significant threats to stability in Afghanistan. It has been blamed for numerous large-scale attacks in Afghanistan.

5:55 a.m. ET, August 18, 2021

UK PM says 2,052 Afghan nationals evacuated so far

From CNN’s Sarah Dean and James Briggs in London

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, bottom left, addresses Parliament on August 18.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, bottom left, addresses Parliament on August 18. House of Commons/

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said British forces have evacuated 306 UK nationals and 2,052 Afghan nationals from Afghanistan so far and a further 2,000 Afghan applications have been completed.

“These are interpreters, locally engaged staff and others who have risked their lives supporting our military efforts,” Johnson said. “We are proud to bring these brave Afghans to our shores."

He reiterated the UK’s plans to relocate 5,000 Afghans under a new resettlement scheme “focusing on the most vulnerable, particularly women, and children” – with the “potential of accommodating up to 20,000 over the long term.” 

Johnson promised the UK “will not be sending people back to Afghanistan”.

But added, “nor by the way… will we be allowing people to come from Afghanistan to this country in an indiscriminate way.”

British lawmakers have returned from summer recess to debate Afghanistan in Parliament Wednesday. The session will last several hours but no vote is expected at its conclusion.

Johnson earlier ruled out an independent inquiry into British conduct in the country.

5:48 a.m. ET, August 18, 2021

Some Afghan female journalists continue reporting while people flee for safety

After the Taliban reclaimed control of Afghanistan, many women fear for their safety, including those who worked as journalists for all these years.

Afghan female journalists are "absolutely petrified,” and they know that they are “big targets because they have been so outspoken against the Taliban in the past," CNN’s Clarissa Ward reported.

Despite these fears, female journalists from TOLO, an Afghan news organization, reported from the streets of Kabul as seen in a tweet by Saad Mohseni, director of Moby Media Group, which oversees multiple Afghan platforms including TOLO, and operates across the middle east and south-central Asia.

Earlier Tuesday, a female TOLO journalist, Beheshta Arghand, interviewed senior Taliban representative Abdul Haq Hammad on air – an interview that would have been unimaginable when the militant group last ruled Afghanistan two decades ago. Then, women were barred from public life and were only allowed outside when fully covered in a burqa, and escorted by a male chaperone.

Miraqa Popal, Head of News at TOLO, also tweeted a photo of their broadcast with a female anchor on air, followed by another tweet showing the newsroom's morning meeting that included female journalists.

The Taliban says it has changed, promising that women will retain certain rights under their renewed leadership.

Ward spoke with Taliban fighters on Monday who told her that female journalists would still be able to practice their profession as long as they adhered to their rules. Female journalists, he said, will be expected to wear the niqab, and should not engage with men outside of their family.

But many still fear a return to the dark days, with some female journalists having already left the country in the wake of the Taliban’s resurgence.

Several female journalists are said to have received threatening calls from the Taliban, with the calls increasing over recent days, the source added. One prominent female journalist in Kabul said she had received a threatening call from the Taliban, telling her they “will come soon.”

On Sunday the homes of two unidentified female journalists were visited by Taliban fighters, a contact of the women told CNN Monday, adding that both women were severely shaken psychologically.

An April Human Rights Watch report found that Taliban forces have deliberately targeted journalists and other media workers, including women journalists, especially those who appear on television and radio.
“Female reporters may be targeted not only for issues they cover but also for challenging perceived social norms prohibiting women from being in a public role and working outside the home,” the report said, adding that a "recent wave of violent attacks has driven several prominent women journalists to give up their profession or leave Afghanistan altogether."
8:13 a.m. ET, August 18, 2021

Italy evacuates 85 Afghan nationals from Kabul

From Nicola Ruotolo in Rome and Sharon Braithwaite in London

The first flight of the "air bridge" created by Italy to evacuate Afghan aides and their families will land Wednesday at Rome Fiumicino airport, Italy, the Defense Ministry said in a press release, adding that 85 Afghan nationals are on board.

Seven aircraft from the Italian Air Force are involved in the evacuation operation.

The commitment is “maximum” for those who have collaborated with Italy, Italian Defence Minister Lorenzo Guerini said in the press release.

“Our commitment is to work with the utmost effort to complete the evacuation plan for Afghan collaborators, activists and those exposed to danger,” Guerini said.

The personnel boarded the plane at Kabul airport on an Air Force C130J that had taken off from Kuwait. After a technical stop, the airplane will return to Kuwait, where the passengers will be transferred to a KC 767 to be transported to Italy, the press release reads.

Two other C130J aircraft are due to take off from Kuwait Wednesday to collect another roughly 150 people in Kabul, who will be transported to Italy with a KC 767 flight. 

A first plane carrying Italian diplomats and their Afghan assistants arrived in Rome from Kabul on Monday.

5:24 a.m. ET, August 18, 2021

UK PM Boris Johnson opens emergency debate on Afghanistan in Parliament

From CNN’s Sarah Dean and James Briggs in London

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks in Parliament on Wednesday, August 18.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks in Parliament on Wednesday, August 18. House of Commons/

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he knows Parliament shares his concerns about Afghanistan, the issues it raises for security and for the people remaining in the country -- especially women and children -- as he opened an emergency debate in the House of Commons on Wednesday. 

The sacrifice in Afghanistan is seared into our national consciousness with 150,000 people serving there from across the length and breadth of the United Kingdom, including a number of members of all sides of the House,” Johnson said. 

The UK Parliament was recalled from summer recess over the situation in Afghanistan. It had not been due to return until September 6.

Johnson said the UK will be ”doing everything we can to support those who have helped the UK mission in Afghanistan” and will do everything it can to avert a humanitarian crisis.

He also said it’s almost 20 years since 9/11 and the UK amongst others “succeeded” in the core mission of stabilizing Afghanistan and eradicating al Qaeda.

Johnson ruled out an independent inquiry into British conduct in the country, saying “most of the key questions have already been extensively gone in to” after the combat mission ended in 2014.

"We succeeded in that core mission, and training camps in the mountain ranges of Afghanistan were destroyed al Qaeda plots against this country were foiled because our serving men and women were there, and no successful terrorist attacks against the West have been mounted from Afghan soil for two decades," Johnson said.

On Tuesday, the UK government announced a resettlement scheme for Afghan citizens facing "threats of persecution from the Taliban." The scheme, which prioritizes women, girls, and religious minorities, will see the UK take in 20,000 refugees over the next five years.

The scheme is similar to one created for Syrian citizens, during which 20,000 refugees have resettled in the UK since 2014. In the wake of the announcement, there has been criticism over the small number the UK government has pledged to take in from Afghanistan given the country's population is significantly larger than Syria and the UK's involvement in Afghanistan over the last 20 years.

8:13 a.m. ET, August 18, 2021

Second plane carrying French citizens and Afghans lands in Abu Dhabi

From CNN’s Saskya Vandoorne and Xiaofei Xu in Paris

A second French military plane carrying 184 Afghans and 25 French citizens from Kabul has landed in Abu Dhabi, according to a statement by the French Foreign Ministry Wednesday. 

The 184 Afghans are from “civil society who are in need of protection”, the statement said.

France also provided support to partner states, bringing on board four Dutch nationals, one Irish national and two Kenyans.

“France is proud to welcome Afghans who are fighting for freedom, as it has already done in recent weeks by repatriating local embassy staff and their families,” French Foreign Minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, said. 

On Tuesday, France’s first evacuation flight landed in Paris carrying 45 people, including French nationals and citizens from partner countries.