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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9:40 a.m. ET, August 19, 2021

Tens of thousands of Afghans are still desperate to flee. Here's how some countries are responding.

People wait to leave Kabul airport on August 16.
People wait to leave Kabul airport on August 16. Wakil Kohsar/AFP/Getty Images

As the Taliban sealed their grip on Afghanistan with the capture of Kabul on Sunday, many in the country — including Afghans that have worked with US and European forces — are fearing for their lives, and have spent the better part of the week attempting to flee.

President Biden said yesterday the US estimates between 50,00 to 65,000 Afghan partners and their families are trying to get out of the country. In order to get them out before the Aug. 31 deadline, the President said evacuations will have to ramp up.

But statements put out by governments including the United States, the United Kingdom, and the European Union on the commitment to their Afghan partners have been criticized as meek and uncertain, with thousands of Afghans desperate to flee now facing an uncertain future.

Afghans who have a long history of working with, or for the US government or contractors, who are still awaiting evacuation, tell CNN they feel trapped and abandoned. And it remains unclear whether those who have managed to flee will be given asylum in the country they have been evacuated to.

Here's what some countries have said so far:

United States: Biden on Wednesday suggested for the first time that he's willing to keep US forces in Afghanistan until all American citizens who want to leave are out of the country, but stopped short of making the same commitment to the United States' Afghan partners. The US has evacuated 1,800 individuals from Afghanistan over the last 24 hours, a total of 6,000 since Saturday, according to a White House official. Biden said in an ABC News interview yesterday that there are still between 10,000 to 15,000 Americans in Afghanistan. 

European Union: Top diplomat Josep Borrell said the bloc cannot rescue all Afghans from the country. The EU has been able to evacuate 106 EU staff from Afghanistan, but “there are still 300 more Afghan staff" who are trying to get a flight out, Borell said.

“These people have loyally promoted and defended EU interests in Afghanistan over many years, it’s our moral duty to protect them and to help to save as many people as possible,” he said, while conceding the EU won’t be able to rescue everyone.

United Kingdom: British forces have evacuated 306 UK nationals and 2,052 Afghan nationals so far, and a further 2,000 Afghan applications have been completed, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said.

“These are interpreters, locally engaged staff and others who have risked their lives supporting our military efforts,” Johnson said. “We are proud to bring these brave Afghans to our shores."

He promised that the UK “will not be sending people back to Afghanistan” but added that the government will also now allow people to come from Afghanistan to this country "in an indiscriminate way."

Czech Republic: Two flights from Kabul, carrying Czech and Afghan citizens, has already reached Prague this week, according to the Ministry of Defense. One landed on Monday and the other landed on Tuesday. There were 46 people on board the first flight and 87 on the second one. A third flight also flew out of Afghanistan on Wednesday.

Germany: The country has been operating a shuttle service between Tashkent in Uzbekistan and Kabul several times a day as part of its evacuation efforts. More than 900 people have been evacuated, the Defense Ministry said Thursday. This includes German citizens, local forces and other people at risk. These evacuees were first flown from Kabul to Tashkent, Uzbekistan. Since then, some of them have been flown to Frankfurt, Germany. However, it is unclear, if those included Afghan nationals.

Italy: About 85 Afghan nationals were evacuated on Wednesday.

“Our commitment is to work with the utmost effort to complete the evacuation plan for Afghan collaborators, activists and those exposed to danger,” Italian Defense Minister Lorenzo Guerini said in a press release.

Evacuees were taken to Kuwait and then transferred to a flight en route to Italy, the press release read, and added that plans were in place to evacuate another 150 people and bring them to Italy. A first plane carrying Italian diplomats and their Afghan assistants had arrived in Rome from Kabul on Monday.

10:06 a.m. ET, August 19, 2021

Biden says troop withdrawal from Afghanistan couldn't have been handled better and says chaos was inevitable

President Joe Biden speaks from the East Room of the White House on August 18, in Washington, DC.
President Joe Biden speaks from the East Room of the White House on August 18, in Washington, DC. Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

US President Biden was asked if it was a failure of intelligence, planning, execution or judgment that led to the situation in Afghanistan.

"I don't think it was a failure," the President told ABC's George Stephanopolous.

"When you had the government of Afghanistan, the leader of that government getting into a plane and taking off and going to another country. When you saw the significant collapse of the Afghan troops we had trained, that was — you know I'm not — that's what happened. That's simply what happened," he said.

Asked if he thought the withdrawal could have been handled better, Biden said: "No."

The President said he thought chaos in the country was inevitable after US troops departed.

"(T)he idea that somehow, there's a way to have gotten out without chaos ensuing, I don't know how that happens," he said Wednesday.

But in public statements since the troop drawdown was first announced in April, Biden repeatedly relayed to the American people that the withdrawal would proceed safely and in an orderly fashion.

In April, he said the drawdown would be done "responsibly, deliberately, and safely."

And in July, Biden used a question-and-answer session in the White House to downplay the prospect the Afghan government could collapse and the Taliban could take over, saying that outcome was not inevitable. He indicated that the "drawdown is proceeding in a secure and orderly way, prioritizing the safety of our troops as they depart." And he also insisted there would be "no circumstance" in which American personnel were evacuated from the roof of their embassy, rejecting any comparison to the fall of Saigon.

Asked during the ABC News interview if chaos was "always priced into the decision," Biden initially responded yes, but then added that exactly what happened was not part of his calculation.

"One of the things we didn't know is what the Taliban would do, in terms of trying to keep people from getting out. What they would do. What are they doing now? They're cooperating, letting American citizens get out, American personnel get out, embassies get out, etc., but they're having — we're having some more difficulty having those who helped us when we were in there," Biden said.

The President was also asked if the intelligence was wrong or if he downplayed it when he called a takeover unlikely.

"There was no consensus if you go back and look at intelligence reports," the President responded. "They said that it's more likely to be some time by the end of the year."

Watch:

8:19 a.m. ET, August 19, 2021

Afghans defy Taliban by parading national flag on Independence Day

From CNN’s Vasco Cotovio, Tim Lister and Anna Coren

Crowds of Afghans in Kabul are defying the Taliban by marching through the streets with the national flag of Afghanistan in celebration of the country's 1919 independence from British colonial rule.

The Taliban seeks to replace the black, red and green Afghan national flag with their own white and black flag.

Witnesses accounts and video shared widely on social media Thursday show crowds marching through the capital with the national flag. In some instances, people had replaced the white and black Taliban flag with the Afghan tricolor.

One witness CNN spoke with said protesters in Kabul marched past Taliban fighters screaming “Long Live Afghanistan.” Another witness told CNN the Taliban had fired into the air to try and break up the procession. It is unclear if anyone was injured. 

In the eastern city of Jalalabad, the country's fifth largest, another witness CNN spoke with said protesters demonstrated on the streets for a second consecutive day. According to the witness, protesters were met with a violent response by the Taliban.

The witness said Taliban fighters had shot onto the crowd. 

Video sent to CNN from Jalalabad showed protesters that had been injured, seemingly hit by gunfire. The video showed protesters being transported onto cars, wrapped in Afghanistan’s national flag.

The Taliban have not yet commented on the incident. 

6:57 a.m. ET, August 19, 2021

Taliban claim victory over a "powerful and arrogant" US on Afghanistan's Independence Day

From CNN’s Vasco Cotovio in Lisbon and Zeena Saifi

Taliban fighters patrol in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Thursday, August 19.
Taliban fighters patrol in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Thursday, August 19. Rahmat Gul/AP

The Taliban have celebrated Afghanistan's Independence Day on Thursday by declaring victory over the US, which they described as a “powerful and arrogant force.”

Thursday marks the country’s independence from British colonial rule, marked by the Anglo-Afghan Treaty of 1919, also known as the Treaty of Rawalpindi. 

“Praise be to God, today we celebrate the anniversary of independence from the British occupation, while we -- by the grace of God -- and with thanks to the Jihadi resistance, have defeated another powerful and arrogant force (America) and forced it to withdraw from the pure land of Afghanistan,” the Taliban statement read.

The Taliban claimed victories against US, Soviet and British forces, holding their success to a higher power.

“There is no doubt that this divine victory was achieved by God at the hands of a helpless people like the people of Afghanistan, who defeated three arrogant empires in three successive centuries,” they said. 

“It is thanks to this blessing that we work together with all honesty and sincerity to establish this Islamic system, to unite this country, to uplift it and advance it,” the statement said, adding: “We ask God to grant our Muslim people success in achieving this lofty wish for Afghanistan. Let it be ruled by the Quran, and may peace by upon you and the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.”

A few hours later, the Taliban called on imams, or preachers, across Afghanistan to urge citizens to cooperate with the incoming government in Friday prayers, underscoring a connection they seek to bridge between the country's population and their hardline fundamentalist values.

While the militants have so far sought to present an image of themselves as more progressive than the group that ruled Afghanistan through terror two decades ago, every pledge has been caveated by a reminder of the Taliban's "core values" -- a strict interpretation of Sharia law, which experts say has not been drastically re-imagined in the space of 20 years.

Sharia law was established 1,400 years ago and can only be amended or updated with extreme care by religious scholars, experts in the region told CNN.

When last in power, the Taliban used Sharia law as justification for scores of violent and repressive punishments, including public executions. Alleged adulterers were stoned to death and suspected theft punished by amputation.

“We ask all the honorable preachers to deliver a Friday sermon tomorrow… Urging citizens to cooperate in order to build and advance the nation without trying to escape from it, and to return all cadres and wealth to the country,” the group’s Committee for Advocacy, Guidance, Recruitment, Enjoying Good and Forbidding Wrong said in a statement published by the Taliban on an official Twitter account.

The Taliban also asked preachers to deliver “a statement of interests (on the Islamic system) for the citizens, and a call for unity and agreement among the people,” and to address “the spoiled response to the enemy's negative propaganda and provocations in order to convince and reassure the people.” 

5:44 a.m. ET, August 19, 2021

What's in store for Afghans under Taliban rule

From CNN's Rob Picheta and Saleem Mehsud

During the Taliban's rule in Afghanistan between 1996 and 2001, brutal floggings, amputations and public executions were commonplace.

Women were largely confined to their homes and the death penalty was in place for offenses including female adultery, homosexuality and the rejection of Islam. 

Since Afghanistan fell to the militant group on Sunday, the Taliban have sought to present an image of themselves as more progressive, inclusive and restrained -- claiming that they will not seek retribution against their political enemies, and that women will play an important role in society and have access to education.

Members of the Taliban's sophisticated communications operation have been increasingly visible in the first days of the new regime, telling international journalists at every opportunity that the group will form an "inclusive Islamic government." 

But their early actions have dashed many Afghans' hopes that the Taliban might have changed in the intervening decades.

Women have already disappeared from the streets of Kabul, fearing the new reality of life under Taliban control; husbands and fathers have been purchasing burqas in the fear that their female relatives will be safe only if they cover up.

And attacks on women across the country as the Taliban regained control of provinces have provided a chilling preview of what may be in store for millions.

Read more about the Taliban’s aims and its leaders:

 

9:06 a.m. ET, August 19, 2021

It's "our moral duty" to protect Afghans but all can't be rescued, top EU diplomat says

Josep Borrell arrives for an EU summit in Brussels, on May 24.
Josep Borrell arrives for an EU summit in Brussels, on May 24. (Olivier Hoslet/Pool/SFP/Getty Images)

The European Union’s top diplomat Josep Borrell has said that the bloc cannot rescue all Afghans from the country, as thousands continue to scramble to get on flights out of the capital's airport.

Borrell said the EU has been able to evacuate 106 EU staff from Afghanistan, but that “there are still 300 more Afghan staff from European Union delegations blocked on the streets of Kabul, trying to reach the airport and trying to have a seat on some of the European Union member states flights.”

“These people have loyally promoted and defended EU interests in Afghanistan over many years, it’s our moral duty to protect them and to help to save as many people as possible,” he said, while conceding the EU won’t be able to rescue everyone.

We cannot take all Afghan people out of the country."

Borrell added that the situation on the ground was a “catastrophe.”

“We have been facing a new and painful reality on the ground on Afghanistan,” he said. “This is a catastrophe for the Afghan people, for western values and credibility, and for the developing of international relations," he said.

“Was it foreseeable, was it preventable? In any case, it is a nightmare,” Borrell said.

5:07 a.m. ET, August 19, 2021

12 people killed in and around Kabul airport

From CNN’s Sarah Dean in London

A total of 12 people have been killed in and around Hamid Karzai International Airport since the Taliban took control of the capital on Sunday, Reuters reported Thursday, citing NATO sources and Taliban officials.

Reuters reports, citing an unnamed Taliban official, that the deaths were caused either by stampedes of people trying to get into the airport in the hope of boarding an evacuation flight or by gun shots in the area. 

CNN has been unable to independently verify the reports. 

Desperate scenes have been unfolding at Kabul's airport since the Taliban took over the city on Sunday.

On Monday, hundreds rushed the runway, with video showing Afghans clinging to the fuselage of a US military aircraft as it taxied.  Video of people running with the plane went viral, as did video appearing to show Afghan civilians falling from the side of the plane in mid-air after desperately trying to hold on. The US Air Force Office of Special Investigations is opening an investigation into human remains found in the wheel well of a C-17 that took off from the airport, the Air Force said in a Tuesday statement.

The situation continues to deteriorate at the airport and around its perimeter, which is under Taliban control. On Wednesday night, loud detonations -- perhaps caused by stun or flash grenades -- and what appeared to be tear gas, were recorded on video. Dozens of people could be seen scrambling beside the walls at the entrance to the airport, with distressing images of mothers handing over their babies to British soldiers across barbed wire also being recorded.

9:06 a.m. ET, August 19, 2021

Germany has evacuated more than 900 people from Afghanistan

From CNN’s Claudia Otto in Berlin

Evacuees from Kabul sit inside a military aircraft in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, on August 17, before reaching their final destination in Germany. 
Evacuees from Kabul sit inside a military aircraft in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, on August 17, before reaching their final destination in Germany.  (Marc Tessensohn/Bundeswehr/Getty Images)

Germany has evacuated a further 211 people from Afghanistan, bringing the total number the country has taken to more than 900, the Defense Ministry said Thursday. 

“During the night we were able to evacuate another 211 people to be protected from Afghanistan. Another Bundeswehr plane brought German citizens, local forces and other people at risk from Kabul to Tashkent -- bringing the number of evacuees to more than 900,” a tweet from the ministry said. 

Two planes from Tashkent, Uzbekistan, also landed in Frankfurt, Germany, early on Thursday morning with hundreds of people on board who had previously been brought to safety from Afghanistan, the ministry said.

“In total, the two Lufthansa and Uzbekistan Airways planes carried around 500 people,” it added.

The Defense Ministry said that people from 17 nations were on board the flights, but did not specify how many Afghans had been evacuated.

Germany has been operating a shuttle service between Tashkent in Uzbekistan and Kabul several times a day as part of its evacuation efforts.

The Bundeswehr is planning another four flights to Kabul Thursday, the ministry said.

3:06 a.m. ET, August 19, 2021

Afghan refugee in the US: "I cannot sleep every night that I'm thinking about my family"

Tamana, 30, had lived in Afghanistan her entire life -- until last Friday, when she flew to Washington, DC, after receiving a special immigrant visa.

When she touched down, "I said that I am dreaming, it is not possible that I am in the US," she told CNN. "

She had applied for the visa four years ago, worried that she might be in danger for her work with USAID, the US government foreign aid agency. It's a relief to be out of the country -- but her father, three brothers and two sisters are still in Afghanistan, and she prays they won't be targeted because of her.

"I cannot sleep every night that I'm thinking about my family," she said "What should I do?"

She is now looking for a job and a permanent place to live. She knows she may not see her family again for a long time -- but "I don't have any choice," she said.

She and other Afghan refugees are now being supported by non-profit and charity efforts, with boxes of donations arriving by the hundreds to help the expected influx of refugees and displaced people in the days to come.