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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8:35 a.m. ET, August 18, 2021

Gunshots ring near Kabul airport as the Taliban tries to disperse crowds

Gunshots rang as the Taliban tried to disperse big crowds outside the Kabul airport, trying to get in and flee Afghanistan, CNN's Clarissa Ward reports.

"It's bumper to bumper, cars are barely moving. There are Taliban fighters all around. We actually did see them physically trying to get people back. We have seen them and heard them a lot as well firing on the crowds to disperse the crowds," Ward reported after she drove by the airport and stood about 200 yards from its entrance.

From what can be seen, the Taliban are not trying to fire these shots at people.

"They're not targeting people. They're not trying to kill people. But of course the minute you're firing willy-nilly when you have a bunch of civilians all over the road and civilian vehicles, people get hurt," Ward said.

The CNN journalist said outside of the airport's entrance, a pretty large crowd was still waiting to get in.

"So all along the road side over there, there's just hundreds of people who are basically waiting, desperately trying to get out of the country. It's not clear if they have their paperwork in order, if they've been declined and told that they can't enter the gates, or if they simply don't have the wherewithal to get inside," Ward reported, noting that the situation is "definitely chaotic. It's definitely dangerous."   

10:06 a.m. ET, August 18, 2021

Dutch evacuation plane forced to leave Kabul without any passengers

From CNN's Amy Cassidy

A military aircraft sent to Kabul from The Netherlands to evacuate Dutch citizens was forced to take off without any passengers on board amid chaotic scenes at the airport on Tuesday, Foreign Minister Sigrid Kaag said.

“There was too little time,” she told Dutch news agency ANP on Tuesday. 

“There were many people at the gates of the airport, with their children and with their families. It’s awful. We are back in contact with the Dutch citizens there. In this case, we are only talking about Dutch evacuees and hopefully, the situation will be better tomorrow. We, and other European countries, are focused on getting clarity on how the process in and around the airport is managed," the minister said.

The plane had been on the ground for half an hour before it took off without any passengers, she said. 

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on Wednesday there are Dutch citizens on board other evacuation flights that have departed from Kabul, in a statement to CNN. 

It continued: “The Netherlands and its allies are working hard to organize additional evacuation flights. New information will be provided as soon as the ministry is able to confirm the contents of it.”

The initial plane sent by the Netherlands on Monday to evacuate people from Afghanistan was unable to land in Kabul and had to turn around due to dangerous scenes which unfolded at Hamid Karzai International Airport, the Ministry said. 

9:15 a.m. ET, August 18, 2021

In photos: Solidarity protests for Afghans pop up around the world

A group of former interpreters for the British and allied forces in Afghanistan protest at Parliament Square in London, on Wednesday, August 18.
A group of former interpreters for the British and allied forces in Afghanistan protest at Parliament Square in London, on Wednesday, August 18. Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Demonstrations to show support for Afghan civilians following the Taliban takeover have emerged in numerous cities around the globe.

On Wednesday, activists in Kolkata, India, shouted slogans and carried placards reading "STAND IN SOLIDARITY WITH THE AFGHAN WOMEN'S STRUGGLE."

Members of the group 'All Indian Students Association' demonstrate in Kolkata, India, on Wednesday.
Members of the group 'All Indian Students Association' demonstrate in Kolkata, India, on Wednesday. Debarchan Chatterjee/NurPhoto/Getty Images

In London, members of the Afghan community, including former interpreters for the British Army in Afghanistan, staged a protest in Parliament Square, Westminster, as lawmakers held a debate on the crisis in Afghanistan in the House of Commons.

7:52 a.m. ET, August 18, 2021

NATO head: It was “politically impossible" for European allies to continue in Afghanistan after US withdrawal

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg CNN

After the United States decided to withdraw all of its troops from Afghanistan, it was "politically impossible for European allies to continue," NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told CNN.

"It was actually politically impossible for European allies to continue in Afghanistan given the fact that United States has decided to end its military mission. We went in together and we adjust our presence together, and now we leave together," he said Wednesday.

The US decision "created the conditions" for NATO's decision, he said.

"If we stayed, they would start to attack us and we would have been enforced to engage more in combat with Taliban again," he added.

While the US decision to withdraw has received criticism from around the world Stoltenberg said the NATO members must stand together.

"It is in our national security interest to work together, especially in light of shifting global balance of power with the likes of China and more assertive Russia," he said.

As Afghans try to flee the country amid the crisis, countries and organizations, including NATO, have been working to evacuate people from Afghanistan.

In the process, NATO has told the Taliban "that we expect them to provide safe passage to enable people to get to the airport," Stoltenberg said.

"There are around 800 civilian NATO personnel at the airport providing critical services such as air traffic control, communications, and other essential services to make sure that the airport can function," he told CNN, adding that NATO diplomats and other tactical contacts on the ground are working hard to help people get to the airport.

7:39 a.m. ET, August 18, 2021

Here's what life in Kabul looks like on Wednesday under the Taliban's control

It's been just days since the Taliban took control of Afghanistan. And the picture of what life is like in the capital Kabul is still evolving. Here's what we know.

Chaos continues around the airport:

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, CNN's Clarissa Ward reports.

"They've been whipping people ... firing shots in the air, firing shots at people," she 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."

Many are scared for their life and want to flee the country:

A member of former president Ashraf Ghani's security detail says he has been receiving threatening messages from the Taliban and believes he and his family will be killed.

He is desperate to flee the country but says, "I don't even know how to begin doing my paperwork. I don't have an internet connection. I'm moving house every night. I'm sleeping on floors. I'm trying to keep my children alive," Ward reported. 

There are "far fewer Taliban checkpoints on the streets" of Kabul today:

"It's definitely a smaller footprint than what we had seen previously," she said, adding that there is a steady stream of traffic on the roads, basic services are running.

People can get food, fuel and a number of other things on the streets.

All this points to the fact that "the Taliban understood how important it was to keep this city running, to keep things functioning, to show that they can govern," Ward explained.

"They know the world is watching, and they want to show that they can pull this off. And I think that's why they're a lot savvier than they were before ... They're trying to provide some law and order. They're even lightening their footprint a little bit on the ground today, trying to get people to feel more at ease, that their presence isn't threatening. But as I said before 100 times now, that is not enough to assuage the fears of people who worked with the Americans, and who now believe that their lives are in very real danger."

Watch Ward report from Kabul here:

7:48 a.m. ET, August 18, 2021

Pakistan reopens crucial border crossing with Afghanistan to pedestrians

From CNN’s Sophia Saifi

Afghan nationals cross the border into Chaman, Pakistan on August 18, 2021.
Afghan nationals cross the border into Chaman, Pakistan on August 18, 2021. AFP/Getty Images

Pakistan has opened both its major border crossings to Afghan nationals holding Pakistani visas according to Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed, the country's interior minister.

During a press briefing Ahmed said that Torkham border in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province and Chaman border in the province of Balochistan are open for people to go through.

The Torkham border crossing is the busiest commercial point of entry between Pakistan and Afghanistan, but has been closed to pedestrians traffic since the weekend.

Since Saturday, 413 Afghan nationals have entered Pakistan, according to Ahmed, though he added that “no refugees have entered Pakistan yet” and that Pakistan has not had to make any “arrangements for refugees.”

He said that there is “no surge of people” at the border crossings and that the situation there is “peaceful and calm.”

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."