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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12:51 p.m. ET, August 18, 2021

Taliban leader calls for all remaining "political detainees" to be released

From CNN’s Ghazi Balkiz and Hannah Ritchie

The supreme leader of the Taliban has called for all “political detainees” to be released across Afghanistan, a Taliban twitter account posted Wednesday. 

Based on the general amnesty issued by the leader of the Islamic Emirate, His Eminence, the Commander of the Faithful, Sheikh of Hadith Hibatullah Akhundzada, may God protect him, it is decided to release political detainees from all prisons of the country,” the tweet said. 

“All state governors must – from tomorrow – release all political detainees (old and young) without any restrictions or conditions, and hand them over to their families,” the tweet added. 

Those released are expected to include Taliban fighters that the Afghan National Security forces imprisoned for engaging in insurgent activities. 

The Taliban has already taken control of key prisons across the country and freed thousands of inmates during its offensive. Hundreds of inmates were released from Pul-e-Charkhi prison, east of Kabul, on Sunday, just hours before the Taliban took control of the capital. 

Pul-e-Charkhi was the largest prison in Afghanistan when Bagram airfield closed and contained a maximum-security block which housed alleged ISIS fighters, al Qaeda members and senior Taliban figures.

 

12:45 p.m. ET, August 18, 2021

Former Afghan President Ghani expected to release a video statement from UAE

From CNN's Kylie Atwood

Afghanistan's former President Ashraf Ghani speaks at the Presidential Palace on April 24, 2017, in Kabul, Afghanistan.
Afghanistan's former President Ashraf Ghani speaks at the Presidential Palace on April 24, 2017, in Kabul, Afghanistan. (Jonathan Ernst/Pool/Getty Images)

Afghanistan's former President, Ashraf Ghani, is expected to put out a video statement this afternoon that provides more details about his departure from the country Sunday, according to a source familiar with the plans. He will explain how the departure was unplanned, the source said. 

Ghani is currently in the United Arab Emirates. 

12:22 p.m. ET, August 18, 2021

Kabul's civilians feel sense of hopelessness as Taliban takes control, evacuated journalist says

From CNN’s Vedika Sud

Evacuation flights from Afghanistan are starting to land across the world, and one of those planes was carrying independent journalist, Kanika Gupta, who managed to secure a seat yesterday on a flight organized by the Indian government to transport its staff out of the country.

“The evacuation process, believe it or not, was rather smooth because it was all being facilitated by the Taliban, they ensured that we had safe passage without any trouble along the way,” Gupta told CNN.

She described seeing what looked like thousands of people gathered at the airport gates when the convoy she was traveling in arrived.

“I think [the Taliban] were trying to do their crowd control through non-violent methods but since there were so many people there — there must have been thousands at the time — that at some point they had to start firing in the air just to sort of disperse the crowds but rather than that, it was rather uneventful,” she explained, adding the convoy eventually got into the airport by using a separate entrance manned by American and Turkish forces.

Gupta said in the months leading up to the fall of the government, there had been “a lot of apprehension” but there was still hope until Kandahar was taken by the Taliban on Friday. She had been in Afghanistan's second-largest city days before it was seized and has since heard from residents that the city has already changed.

“[The Taliban] have started imposing their restrictions. They are already collecting names of men in the family so that they can ensure that everyone is coming to the mosque for prayers five times, one has to wear a cap, one has to keep a beard,” Gupta said. “And the women have been asked … not go out without the men or, of course, without the chadri.”

A chadri is a shroud worn by women in Islamic countries covering the body from head to foot.

Meanwhile in Kabul, Gupta said women in the capital are “naturally very scared” about what the future will bring. “Everything they have worked for is in serious jeopardy,” she said.

Despite assurances from the militant group to maintain women’s rights, Gupta said those pledges come with stipulations.

“There will always be that caveat that there has to be a man with you, there has to be this with you, so basically the rights that were there that was something inherently integrated into the constitution is now at the mercy of Taliban,” she explained. “Even if they give them rights, there will never be the kind of freedom that they were enjoying until now.” 

Gupta continued that men have resigned themselves to life under the Taliban once more.

“It’s helpless resignation that okay now they’ve come in they’ve taken over, the government has betrayed us, the world has betrayed us, now we are here, this is our current new reality so let’s make do with it whatever it is," she said.

CNN's Lauren Moorhouse contributed to this post. 

12:40 p.m. ET, August 18, 2021

Pentagon is aware of "harassment of individuals" in Kabul before getting to airport

From CNN's Ellie Kaufman

Afghans gather outside Kabul Airport on August 17.
Afghans gather outside Kabul Airport on August 17. (Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times/Getty Images)

The Pentagon is aware that “there has been issues out in town and harassment of individuals,” who are trying to reach Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said during an off-camera briefing on Wednesday.

Kirby stressed this is why US military leaders in Kabul are in touch with the Taliban on the ground “to try to make sure that doesn’t happen,” he said.

“We’re working very hard to make sure that they can get through safely so they can be properly processed,” Kirby said, referring to Special Immigrant Visa applicants and other Afghans at risk.

Chief International Correspondent, Clarissa Ward reports that people have been thronging the airport in a bid to flee as countries, including the United States and the United Kingdom, try to evacuate their own citizens and some Afghan nationals looking for protection. The Taliban is outside the airport, in charge of crowd control.

"They've been whipping people ... firing shots in the air, firing shots at people," Ward said. "Inside the airport, it appears less chaotic because it is having some effect ... But, on the perimeter, it is, of course, incredibly intimidating for people who desperately want to leave this country. And they're fearful that the Taliban won't even let them pass those checkpoints."

12:05 p.m. ET, August 18, 2021

Female Afghan journalist says she wasn't allowed to enter workplace and was warned not to continue job

From CNN’s Celine Alkhaldi

In a video message posted to twitter, journalist Shabnam Dawran said she was not permitted to go to work and was warned not to continue her job.

The video was posted by Miraqa Popal, head of Afghan news channel TOLO News, on Wednesday. 

“Taliban didn't allow my ex-colleague here in @TOLOnews and famous anchor of the State-owned @rtapashto Shabnam Dawran to start her work today,” he tweeted.

In the video, Dawran says, “I am Shabnam Dawran. For the past six years I work here as a journalist, news anchor at the news section. My latest job was at RTA or Afghanistan’s national radio television, where I was a news anchor at the news section too. Today I wanted, when the regime changed, I wanted to go to my work; I did not give up my courage.”

“Unfortunately, I was not permitted although I had an [ID] too. Our male colleagues were able to go to the office by showing the [ID] card,” she continues.

“I was warned that you cannot continue with your job as the regime has changed. Here there are major threats against us. If people of the world hear my voice, if charitable organizations hear my voice, they should help us because our life is at great risk.”

CNN has reached out to RTA Afghanistan for comment.

12:28 p.m. ET, August 18, 2021

Military leaders are briefing President Biden at the White House on the situation in Afghanistan

From CNN's Kevin Liptak

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley arrives at the White House in Washington, DC, on August 18.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley arrives at the White House in Washington, DC, on August 18. Pool

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley are at the White House and expected to brief President Biden on the situation in Afghanistan, according to a White House official.

Biden had been receiving video briefings while at Camp David, but returned to the White House late Tuesday.

The military leaders were seen arriving around 9:20 a.m. ET. They are set to brief the media at 3 p.m. ET. from the Pentagon.

11:18 a.m. ET, August 18, 2021

Pentagon: US personnel fired some of shots on perimeter of Kabul airport as "crowd control"

From CNN's Jennifer Hansler

Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby listens during a news briefing at the Pentagon on August 17.
Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby listens during a news briefing at the Pentagon on August 17. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said Wednesday that US personnel fired some shots “on the airport side of the perimeter as crowd control measures, as non-lethal warnings if you will."

“No shots were fired by American troops at Afghans or anybody else. None of these shots that we’re aware of had anything to do with hostile intent or hostile activity, simply used as crowd control,” he told reporters at an off-camera gaggle at the Pentagon.

“It’s our troops doing what they’re trained to do, which is try to, again, hold security at the airport and a semblance of order and we have no indication that there were any casualties or injuries as a result of these shots being fired,” he added.

Kirby caveated that he could not account for every shot that was fired overnight in Kabul around the airport given that “this is a dynamic and fluid situation.” 

Pressed by CNN’s Barbara Starr about his description that this was “non-lethal,” and whether that means the US troops used rubber bullets, Kirby said he could not say, and that he meant “non-lethal as in not shooting at people.”

10:59 a.m. ET, August 18, 2021

"At least several fatalities” when US Air Force plane took off with Afghans clinging to side, Pentagon says

From CNN's Ellie Kaufman

There were “at least several fatalities,” when a US Air Force plane took off on Monday from Hamid Karzai International Airport with Afghans clinging to the side of the air frame, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said during an off-camera briefing at the Pentagon on Wednesday.

“Clearly we know just by visual evidence and by the Air Force’s statement that there were at least several fatalities involved in that, but I don’t want to get ahead of the Air Force’s review in terms of hard numbers of what the total toll was,” Kirby said.

“I would just pass on again our deepest condolences for the loved ones and families of those who were killed,” he added. 

The US Air Force office of special investigations announced an investigation into the incident yesterday. Kirby could not say how long that investigation would take.

10:29 a.m. ET, August 18, 2021

NATO foreign ministers to meet Friday to discuss situation in Afghanistan

From CNN's Hannah Ritchie

NATO foreign ministers will meet virtually on Friday to discuss the unfolding situation in Afghanistan, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg confirmed in a tweet Wednesday.

“I have convened an extraordinary virtual meeting of NATO Foreign Ministers this Friday 20 August to continue our close coordination & discuss our common approach on Afghanistan,” Stoltenberg said. 

On Tuesday, Stoltenberg announced that NATO had suspended all financial and “other kinds of support” to the Afghan government, following news Kabul had fallen to the Taliban and President Ashraf Ghani had fled.