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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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. 

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."

Read the full story:

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.