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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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/parliamentlive.tv

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.

8:14 a.m. ET, August 18, 2021

First Australian evacuation flight transports 26 from Afghanistan

From CNN's Angus Watson and Chandler Thornton

An Australian evacuation flight retrieving people from Afghanistan arrived in the United Arab Emirates on Wednesday, according to Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

Flight tracking websites showed a Royal Australian Air Force C130 land in Dubai.

There were 26 people onboard the flight including Australian citizens, Afghan nationals with visas, and one foreign official working in an international agency, Morrison added.

"I can confirm that security situation at the airport has improved and more broadly across Kabul and that is supported particularly by the presence of US and UK troops on the ground being able to take control of the airport. It still, though, remains an incredibly challenging environment in which to operate," the Prime Minister said.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison attends a press conference at Parliament House in Canberra, Australia, on August 17.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison attends a press conference at Parliament House in Canberra, Australia, on August 17. Rohan Thomson/AFP/Getty Images

This is the first of an undisclosed number of Australian evacuation flights.

On Monday, the Australian Defence Force (ADF) said it will be deploying more than 250 personnel "to support urgent Australian Government efforts to evacuate Australian citizens and visa holders from Afghanistan."

"Defence is taking all necessary precautions to protect its people and those authorised for evacuation. The mission will be constantly assessed against the latest developments," the ADF said.

8:14 a.m. ET, August 18, 2021

UK says it's collaborating with the Taliban amid chaotic scenes at Kabul airport

From Sharon Braithwaite in London and CNN’s Nick Paton Walsh in Kabul

British Forces from 16 Air Assault Brigade arrive in Kabul, Afghanistan in this photo provided by the Ministry Of Defense on August 15.
British Forces from 16 Air Assault Brigade arrive in Kabul, Afghanistan in this photo provided by the Ministry Of Defense on August 15. Leading Hand Ben Shread/MOD/AP

British forces at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul are collaborating with the Taliban, the UK Chief of Defence Staff Nick Carter told Sky News on Wednesday. 

“We are collaborating with the Taliban on the ground and that seems to be a very straightforward relationship,” Carter said. “At the moment I think it’s very calm.”

“They are helping us at the airport,” he said.

Carter also said the Taliban were keeping the capital under control. 

“They are keeping the streets of Kabul very safe and indeed very calm,” he said.

Carter's remarks contrast with what CNN teams and witnesses CNN has spoken to have seen on the ground.

They report a chaotic scene outside the airport, with thousands trying to make their way in, with no real clarity from the US or the Taliban as to how to do that.

A CNN reporter who was at the airport until 3 a.m. last night saw evidence of small numbers of Afghans inside the airport able to take the flights out, but earlier that afternoon, the same reporter witnessed crowds at every available gate to the north of the airport, and unable to get in. 

The processing of SIV (Special Immigrant Visa) applicants is not expected to start before Wednesday or Thursday.

8:14 a.m. ET, August 18, 2021

Former NATO commander speaks to CNN about the Taliban's takeover

(CNN)
(CNN)

Retired US Army Gen. Wesley Clark, a former NATO supreme allied commander, told CNN's Rosemary Church that despite the Taliban having committed to an opaque "general amnesty" for all Afghans, the group has "a long track record of doing the opposite."

"The people of Afghanistan, they don't trust it," Clark said.

Clark also explained why he believes the Afghan military fell so quickly to the Taliban. He explained that many of the foot soldiers that make up the military saw the job as a paycheck, not a cause. The Afghan National Army was formed after the fall of the Taliban, made up of various tribes and factions that historically did not always get along.

Here's how Clark explained it:

"The truth is that these people in Afghanistan have been through this before. This is a country that's been at war for 40 years. People signed up with the Afghan military to make money. They fired their weapons. Did they want to die in service of the Afghan military? Remember, Afghanistan is not a conventional nation. It's really tribal. And so they were earning a paycheck -- some of them didn't even get that paycheck -- but they did not sign up to fight to the death, for the most part."
"This is an old Afghan trick -- they go with the winners, or at least they run away form the losers, and that's why it happened so quickly. No whether that could have been anticipated or not, we'll just have to wait and see."
11:34 p.m. ET, August 17, 2021

Former translator for US forces in Afghanistan says, "I feel like we were abandoned"

(CNN)
(CNN)

Sam used to be an Afghan interpreter for the US military. He helped American troops because he thought it would help his home country and because he was promised protection.

Though Sam is now an American citizen and living in the United States, his family remains in Afghanistan. With the Taliban's takeover, he told CNN's Chris Cuomo he's worried about their safety.

"There is no way for me to evacuate my family immediately," Sam said. "I feel like we were abandoned."

Though the Taliban has promised "amnesty" to others after its takeover, details are unclear -- and Sam does not believe the terror group will keep its word.

Sam is not his real name. The man requested CNN use a pseudonym to protect his family, who face possible "retribution" now that the Taliban has taken control.

He said getting help has been a logistical nightmare.

"Whoever I am calling to get help for this matter, nobody answers. I keep sending emails to different people, nobody responds to me back. And I don't know what to do. I even reached out to my senator here, and they referred me to these links with lawyers and all that, but it's hard, and it takes years to get them out of the country. But right now, time is running out," he said.

Watch Sam's interview with Cuomo here:

12:16 a.m. ET, August 18, 2021

US taking steps to keep cash away from the Taliban

From CNN's Jeff Zeleny

The United States Treasury has taken steps to prevent cash reserves managed by the Federal Reserve and other US banks out of the hands of the Taliban, officials tell CNN — a sign of the government-wide effort underway after the Afghanistan government. 

As the Biden administration struggles to bring order to the chaos in Kabul, the move to effectively freeze assets is one example of something the US government can control. 

The Wall Street Journal and Washington Post reported on the action earlier today.

CNN reported earlier this week that the abrupt collapse of the Afghanistan government on Sunday had raised questions from several veterans of previous administrations about assets of the Afghan Central Bank and whether any of the money could end up in the hands of the Taliban.

The “vast majority” of the Afghan Central Bank assets are not held in Afghanistan, a US official familiar with the matter told CNN. The assets in the US have been essentially blocked from the reach of the Taliban.

Separately, a Biden administration official said Sunday that any assets the Afghan government has in the United States will not be made available to the Taliban.