August 19, 2021, Afghanistan-Taliban news

By Kara Fox, Aditi Sangal, Jessie Yeung, Steve George, Meg Wagner, Melissa Macaya and Melissa Mahtani, CNN

Updated 0454 GMT (1254 HKT) August 20, 2021
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2:19 a.m. ET, August 19, 2021

Female educator in Kabul: "We are dead bodies, but we are moving"

From CNN's Esha Mitra

The 29-year-old woman was getting ready to attend a seminar at a school in Kabul on Sunday when she received a phone call with the news: The Taliban had entered the capital.

"I was just crying and I told my husband that now, what will happen?" said the woman, who works in the education sector and asked not to be identified for her safety. "I took my phone and I kept calling my sisters and my relatives ... we just contacted many people (asking) how to go, how to leave the country."

In the end, she decided to go to her parents' house for safety. On the taxi ride over, she watched the city descend into chaos outside the window, with terrified people everywhere "trying to find a safe place for themselves."

"I just saw these Taliban, (they were) like wild animals in the streets with their dirty long hair," she said. "They were just staring everywhere, and they were holding guns on their shoulders."

Before the Taliban's takeover, she was able to travel alone, hold a job and have an independent source of income. "But now I feel like I am in a jail," she said. "I can't do anything, and I am scared (of) when the Taliban will come to my home and when they will shoot me."

The Taliban have assured the Afghan and international communities that they will allow women to continue studying in schools under a new "Afghan inclusive Islamic government."

But, the 29-year-old said, after the Taliban's bloody and oppressive former regime, "I cannot trust a person who killed many innocent people. How can we trust them?"

Even though they had watched the Taliban launch its nationwide offensive with fear and trepidation, nobody expected the nation to fall so quickly and completely -- or for the Afghan President to flee and leave his people to fend for themselves, she said. What's left is a sense of surreality and despair.

"We just (feel) like we are dead bodies, but we are moving," she said.
9:06 a.m. ET, August 19, 2021

NGO founder says he's not leaving until his team and their animals are safely out of Afghanistan

From CNN's Gabriel Kinder

The Taliban's takeover of Kabul means that Nowzad -- a non-profit that has spent nearly 15 years reuniting stray dogs with the soldiers who rescued them -- no longer has a future in Afghanistan.

The organization's founder, Pen Farthing, now has a new mission: finding safe homes for his staff and close to 200 animals in their care.

Since its founding in 2007, Nowzad has cared for more than 1,600 rescued animals and reunited them with soldiers. Now, Farthing is fighting to get all 25 of Nowzad's staffers and their immediate families out of Afghanistan and onto a repatriation flight to the United Kingdom.

Farthing has a relocation plan for 98 of their dogs and 88 cats. It's called Operation Ark, and they plan to rent a cargo plane to fly the animals out of Afghanistan. He is not currently disclosing their destination, but once there, they are partnered with another animal welfare group to take charge of them. He's working to raise $200,000 through Nowzad's donation page to cover the costs.

Nowzad only has days left, Farthing estimated, before they need to abandon their location in Kabul. Their facilities include a dog shelter, animal clinic, and Afghanistan's first donkey sanctuary.

"I'm hoping that when all of this is over, we can still carry on and continue," he said. "Afghans will still need support. So, please, please ... whether it's looking after people in need, whether it's animals in need, then please look out and check on all the organizations that hopefully will still be here in Afghanistan because they will need your support."

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9:05 a.m. ET, August 19, 2021

Costa Rica ready to offer humanitarian shelter to 48 Afghan women 

From CNN Español's Gerardo Lemos  

The government of Costa Rica said on Wednesday it was willing to provide humanitarian shelter to 48 Afghan women who had been working for the United Nations in Afghanistan. 

Costa Rica's offer follows a request made by the United Nations Population Fund.

The Costa Rican government said in a statement it is currently in talks with the UN to settle the humanitarian offer. 

9:05 a.m. ET, August 19, 2021

Pakistan Airlines has helped evacuate 1,100 people from Afghanistan 

From CNN's Sophia Saifi in Islamabad

Pakistan International Airlines has helped evacuate 1,100 people from Afghanistan so far, according to Pakistan's Information Ministry.

"In two days we evacuated nearly 1,100 people from Kabul after which the airport was run over by the crowd and all airport set up got dismantled," the ministry said in a statement. 

The evacuated people are of several nationalities. Numerous countries and international agencies, including the US, Philippines, Canada, Germany, Japan, and the Netherlands, requested help with evacuating their citizens, said the airline.

Pakistan’s ambassador to Kabul said that hundreds of visas have been issued to foreign media, Afghans, and other nationals in the country, according to government-run news agency Associated Press of Pakistan.

1:27 a.m. ET, August 19, 2021

Afghans are protesting despite danger because "they don't want to lose the freedoms" of past 20 years

Protests reportedly broke out in the cities of Jalalabad and Khost on Wednesday, with hundreds of people taking to the streets in an outpouring of anger over the Taliban’s takeover of the country.

The protests are all the more striking because "these crowds, these people, they know how powerful the Taliban are, they are terrified of them," said Atia Abawi, journalist and former CNN foreign correspondent in Kabul. "But at the same time, they don't want to lose the freedoms that they have gained in the last 20 years."

Videos that emerged on social media purportedly showing the demonstrations also show women protesting, with signs calling for their continued rights under Taliban rule. CNN has not independently verified these videos. 

"A lot of Afghans I've spoken to, particularly politicians who have tried to fight for women's rights, they have told me that this is their moment -- this is their moment to go out," said Abawi. "But at the same time, they are also scared to."

Anger at Biden: Abawi added that many Afghans she has spoken to share a sense of betrayal, and anger at US President Joe Biden.

"The term betrayal has been used over and over again," she said. They are upset with Biden "not just for cutting and running -- but because he is pointing the finger only at the Afghans."

In an interview with ABC News that aired on Wednesday, Biden doubled down on his previous rhetoric, denying that the US pullout was a failure and instead pointing to "the significant collapse of the Afghan troops we had trained."

But, Abawi, said, "It's not just the Afghans. There were a lot of mistakes made by the international community, in particular the US administration. And yes, we could point to finger at past administrations ... but the buck to stop with President Biden."

1:21 a.m. ET, August 19, 2021

Biden's presidency is under scrutiny as never before over Afghan chaos

Analysis from CNN's Stephen Collinson

President Joe Biden is struggling against an intensifying examination of his judgment, competence and even his empathy over the chaotic US exit from Afghanistan. And each attempt the administration makes to quell a furor that's tarnishing America's image only provokes more questions about its failures of planning and execution.

A defiant Biden on Wednesday rejected criticism of his leadership, as he battled the most significant self-inflicted drama of a term that he won by promising proficient government and to level with voters.

"I don't think it was a failure," the President said in an interview with George Stephanopoulos of ABC News, referring to a US pullout that sparked scenes of desperate Afghans clinging to, and falling to their deaths from, US evacuation planes.

The President had repeatedly pledged the withdrawal from the country's longest war would be orderly, deliberate and safe and that there were no circumstances that Afghanistan would suddenly fall to the Taliban.

But in the ABC News interview he changed tack, saying there was no way the US could have left without "chaos ensuing" and that such scenes were always baked into the decision to get all troops out this year.

Biden is failing to adequately explain why he so badly failed to predict the swift collapse of the Afghan state. And his credibility has been sullied because his confident downplaying of the risks of the withdrawal has been repeatedly confounded by events. Seven months into his term, Biden no longer gets credit simply for not being Donald Trump.

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10:03 a.m. ET, August 19, 2021

CNN correspondent: Fears are running high in Kabul under a "veneer of calm"

In parts of Kabul, there is a "general veneer of calm and sometimes order," said CNN International Security Editor Nick Paton Walsh, who was in the national capital when it fell to the Taliban.

"But the calm is deceptive," he added. Anxiety is running high among the public that Taliban -- who have worked to project a "civilized and disciplined" image since their takeover -- may transform into "something less benevolent once the world's initial fascination fades."

"It is deeply surreal to see the Taliban, for years the hidden enemy of the government there, just openly walking its streets," he added. "There are rumors of revenge by them against government soldiers or employees, but not much hard evidence to back it up."

Shops are half-open and streets are sometimes busy -- but scenes get far more chaotic outside the international airport, which desperate Afghans and their families have been largely unable to enter.

"I've seen babies passed over the fence, crowds crushing each other, desperate pleas for you to take someone’s daughter inside," said Paton Walsh. "It is perilous, chaotic, and a deeply symbolic scene for the unraveling of America’s twenty years there."
10:03 a.m. ET, August 19, 2021

Taliban fighters accost CNN team on the ground: "They were ready to pistol whip him"

CNN Chief International Correspondent Clarissa Ward and her team were reporting from Kabul, Afghanistan, when they were confronted by armed Taliban fighters on Wednesday.

The team was near the airport, surrounded by desperate Afghans and their families hoping to escape on an evacuation flight, and Taliban fighters firing shots in an attempt to control the crowd.

"We had Taliban fighters all around approaching us, one man shouting at me to cover my face or he wouldn't talk to me," Ward told CNN after the incident,.

The team also spotted a man “carrying this huge makeshift whip -- it was a bicycle lock that had basically been split in two, so the heavy metal padlock was in the middle," she said. "And he’s just using it to just get anybody out of his way who gets in his way.”

At one point, a Taliban fighter took the safety off his AK-47 assault rifle and pushed through the crowd, gun lifted into the air as if he were about to begin firing, prompting the CNN team to run for cover.

Taliban confronts CNN: But the "most frightening moment" came when two Taliban fighters spotted a CNN producer filming video with his phone, and charged toward the team, pistols raised and ready to strike.

"They were ready to pistol whip him," Ward said. It was only when another Taliban fighter intervened, telling the others that Ward's team were journalists with permission to report, that they were allowed to pass through.

Desperate crowds at the airport: Before the confrontation, Ward and the CNN team had spoken to desperate and angry Afghans waiting outside the airport in Kabul, some of whom said they felt abandoned and lied to by US leaders.

"I've covered all sorts of crazy situations. This was mayhem. This was nuts. This was impossible for an ordinary civilian, even if they had their paperwork ... There's no coherent system for processing people," Ward said.

The Taliban are stationed outside the airport, occasionally firing into the air and into the throng for crowd control.

"It's so heartbreaking," Ward said. "Everybody (was) coming up to us with their papers and passports, saying, "Please, I worked at Camp Phoenix. I was at this camp. I was a translator. Help me get in, help me get to America."

9:05 a.m. ET, August 19, 2021

Afghans in America are desperately trying to get their families to safety

From CNN's Christina Maxouris

Suneeta hasn't been able to sleep in days.

Instead, she's been constantly calling and texting her four children, all younger than 18 -- the youngest only 7 -- who are hiding by themselves in an apartment in Kabul, Afghanistan, thousands of miles away from her home in Albany, New York.

She's scared and restless and said she hasn't been able to go into work or do anything but worry since the Taliban gained control of Afghanistan and retook the country's capital Sunday. With fighters controlling the streets of the city, her children are scared to step out, she said, even for a quick trip to the nearby grocery store.

Suneeta, who did not want her full name or her children's names published by CNN because of safety concerns, said she fears the children are in grave danger because her husband worked with US troops before he went missing roughly eight years ago.

Now, all she wants is to get her children to Kabul's Hamid Karzai International Airport and to Albany.

"I'm lost, and my soul is with my kids," she told CNN through an interpreter. "I'm asking help from everyone, especially from President Joe Biden, to help us, my family and my kids."

The rush to escape: Since Kabul fell, Afghans living in the United States have scrambled to get their families out of Afghanistan -- appealing to neighbors back home, friends in America and government officials in hopes that someone can help.

The Taliban say they will grant "blanket amnesty" for everyone in Afghanistan, but many who remember horrors from the group's previous rule are skeptical about the promise and say instances of intimidation have already begun.

And like Suneeta, many who are frantically working from the United States to get their families out worry about the retribution their loved ones may face from Taliban fighters for supporting US forces.

"This is like a nightmare," the mother of four said. "I'm very scared."

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