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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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.

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

US destroyed some Afghans' passports as they prepared to evacuate embassy in Kabul — but it's unclear why

From CNN's Nicole Gaouette, Kylie Atwood and Natasha Bertrand

The closed entrance gate of the US Embassy is pictured after the US evacuated its personnel in Kabul on August 15.
The closed entrance gate of the US Embassy is pictured after the US evacuated its personnel in Kabul on August 15. (Wakil Koshar/AFP/Getty Images)

American personnel destroyed the passports of some Afghans when they were getting rid of all sensitive materials at the US Embassy in Kabul in preparation for a full evacuation, according an update that Rep. Andy Kim’s office is sharing with people who request assistance with evacuations from Afghanistan. 

It is unclear why the passports were destroyed, but it is possible diplomats determined it would have been dangerous for the documents to fall into the hands of Taliban members, who could then target those Afghans.

Not having a passport creates major complications for Afghans who are desperately and urgently trying to get out of the country. 

“Visa and passport appointments at the Embassy have been canceled, and passports that were in the Embassy’s possession have been destroyed. Currently, it is not possible to provide any further visa services in Afghanistan,” the message from Kim's office says. “The Department of State advises all people waiting for processing to find shelter and wait for further instructions. They should not go to the airport until they are called to do so and should follow the instructions carefully.”

Rep. Tom Malinowski said that the US will have to come up with ways to verify the identity of Afghans whose passports were burned.

“We are going to have to take people without passports and vet them in other ways, like with their phone numbers for example. In many cases we know their contact information and their phone numbers and that is how we will have to identify them. Any Afghans braving the trip to the airport will not have wanted to go there with identifying documents, anyway,” Malinowski told CNN.

The US is not protecting the fully evacuated US Embassy in Kabul, but the compound is in a heavily fortified area, according to State Department spokesperson Ned Price. 

The State Department did not respond to a request for comment about the destruction of the passports.