The latest on Afghanistan as the Taliban take charge

By Brad Lendon, Jessie Yeung, Kara Fox, Aditi Sangal, Meg Wagner, Melissa Macaya and Melissa Mahtani, CNN

Updated 0027 GMT (0827 HKT) August 21, 2021
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5:30 a.m. ET, August 20, 2021

Family member of German broadcaster DW journalist killed by the Taliban

From CNN’s Nadine Schmidt in Berlin

The head office of German international broadcaster Deutsche Welle (DW) is pictured in Bonn, Germany, in September 2016.
The head office of German international broadcaster Deutsche Welle (DW) is pictured in Bonn, Germany, in September 2016. Marius Becker/dpa/AFP/Getty Images

The Taliban has killed a family member of a journalist for Deutsche Welle, the German international broadcaster said.

In an article published on Thursday, DW said that Taliban fighters had been searching for one of their journalists in Afghanistan, and confirmed that a relative of the journalist was shot dead by the Taliban on Wednesday with one other person seriously injured. Other relatives were able to escape at the last minute and are on the run, the DW article said. 

"The killing of a close relative of one of our editors by the Taliban yesterday is inconceivably tragic, and testifies to the acute danger in which all our employees and their families in Afghanistan find themselves," DW Director General Peter Limbourg was quoted as saying in the article.
"It is evident that the Taliban are already carrying out organized searches for journalists, both in Kabul and in the provinces. We are running out of time!" Limburg added. 

The article added that the homes of at least three DW journalists had been searched by the Taliban. 

DW's press spokesman Christoph Jumpelt told CNN in a written statement that ''at this point we are not giving individual statements pertaining to the tragic event concerning the relatives of one of our journalists.''

On Sunday -- the day Kabul fell to the Taliban -- DW and other major German news media urged the German government to help evacuate their Afghan staff to Germany. 

In an open letter to German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, German major newspapers as well as public and commercial broadcasters including DW and the DPA news agency requested a speedy evacuation of their Afghan journalists whose lives were in danger. They also called for an emergency visa program to allow their employees to emigrate to Germany. 

The signatories of the letter warned that "the lives of these freelance staff are now in acute danger.''

''Even life in Kabul has become extremely risky for employees of international media organizations. Following the withdrawal of international troops, including German troops, there are growing concerns that the Taliban will take revenge against our employees," the letter said.

The letter added that dozens of journalists have been murdered in recent years, by the Taliban, by the "Islamic State," or by unknown persons -- and almost never has the government identified the perpetrators.

"It must be feared that such murders will now dramatically increase — and many of our staff are at risk. Employees who want to leave the country face persecution, arrest, torture and death. We, therefore, ask you to act quickly," the letter's signatories pleaded. 

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has described the Taliban's takeover of Afghanistan as “bitter, dramatic and terrible,” and stressed the importance of evacuating as many Afghans as possible, who supported the German military and civilian efforts in the country.

8:15 a.m. ET, August 20, 2021

Germany has evacuated more than 1,600 people from Afghanistan

From CNN’s Claudia Otto and Nadine Schmidt 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’s 11th military evacuation flight departed Kabul Friday morning with 181 people on board, bringing the total number of evacuees to 1,640, said the country's Defense Ministry.

The Airbus A400M military transport aircraft, belonging to the German Armed Forces, landed in the Uzbekistan capital of Tashkent with the 181 on board, said the ministry.

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

In an earlier tweet, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said, ''Germany is providing 100 million euros in emergency aid for refugees from Afghanistan.'' The funds aim to support international aid organizations that are helping people in neighboring countries, he said.

Germany has started relocating people from Afghanistan who have arrived in Frankfurt. The country's Federal Office for Migration and Refugees confirmed to CNN Friday morning that around 60 Afghans, including three children, have arrived in Doberlug-Kirchhain, the federal state of Brandenburg close to Berlin.

'We have to expect that these people may be traumatized -- some of them severely," Martin Burmeister, spokesperson at the Interior Ministry in Brandenburg, told CNN.

The evacuees are set to stay in Doberlug-Kirchhain until Tuesday, Burmeister said, where they will be tested for the coronavirus, given a hygiene package, medical assistance and if needed clothing, before they are moved to other locations. 

8:15 a.m. ET, August 20, 2021

Photojournalist in Kabul: "I spent 20 years investing in myself ... and now I can see I won’t have anything"

From CNN's Valentina Di Donato

M.A., a photojournalist in Kabul, has locked herself at home since the Taliban took the capital. "I may be in danger just because of who I am," she said. "If you, as a woman, take photos, it's forbidden."

But she has continued taking photos of life in Taliban-occupied Kabul even while in hiding, capturing snapshots out her window and when she occasionally ventures outside.

CNN is identifying M.A. by her initials for her safety.

A street view of Kabul, Afghanistan, on August 19.
A street view of Kabul, Afghanistan, on August 19. M.A.

Her photos show military vehicles and armed men on the street, as well as crowds of people -- including women and children -- near the airport, where people have been unable to enter due to Taliban fighters stationed outside.

She and other women are now living in fear, dreading the loss of rights that they had worked hard to gain over the past 20 years.

"Most women here that used to work in offices, in the government offices, on social media they are all worrying about the situation," she said. "They all say that they didn’t think they would have to deal with this anymore."

Though the Taliban have promised to be more inclusive and allow women to go to school, M.A. says she and others have little faith in that assurance, after still-fresh memories of their oppressive regime between 1996 and 2001.

“I spent 20 years investing in myself and my education and career, and now I can see I won’t have anything," M.A. said. "Tomorrow I may not be able to work or go out, and people are afraid of this."

There is widespread anger among her friends and colleagues over the US withdrawal, and a sense that they have been abandoned, she said. "How is it possible that the US comes to my country and starts to fight with the Taliban and kicks them out of my country -- and now they just leave us and it creates a situation that is so unbelievable?" she said.

Crowds of Afghan civilians and their families in Kabul, Afghanistan, on August 19.
Crowds of Afghan civilians and their families in Kabul, Afghanistan, on August 19. M.A.

And across the city, people are desperate to flee. M.A. tried to go to the airport with her mother and brother, who has a mental illness and is married with two children -- but they weren't able to get out.

Earlier in the week, videos and photos went viral showing desperate people clinging to US evacuation planes as they took off and falling to their deaths. The horrific images "tell me how tired of war my people are," M.A. said. "The young generation want to just go somewhere better than this country, they don’t see a future for themselves here in this country.” 

She is still trying to leave, and is in contact with allies overseas and in the US -- but "my reality is that I have a family, (and) I will not leave my family," she added. "I cannot leave them here there is no way for them to get out.” 
8:15 a.m. ET, August 20, 2021

US military transports carried 3,000 people out of Kabul on Thursday, official says

People sit inside a US military aircraft to leave Afghanistan at the airport in Kabul on August 19.
People sit inside a US military aircraft to leave Afghanistan at the airport in Kabul on August 19. (Shakib Rahmani/AFP/Getty Images)

The US Air Force evacuated approximately 3,000 people from Kabul's Hamid Karzai International Airport on Thursday, according to a White House official.

Nearly 350 US citizens were among the evacuees, the official said, with the others being family members of US citizens, Special Immigrant Visa applicants and their families and other vulnerable Afghans.

The 3,000 people were carried on 16 flights by Air Force C-17 transports.

Another 11 civilian charter flights departed the Kabul airport in the past 24 hours. The number of people on those flights was not disclosed.

1:06 a.m. ET, August 20, 2021

India expresses concern over terrorism in first comments since Taliban took control of Kabul

From Manveena Suri in Delhi

India’s Foreign Minister S Jaishankar has expressed concerns over terrorism for the first time since the Taliban overthrew the US-backed government in Afghanistan.  

“The international community holds a collective view that terrorism in all its forms and manifestations must be condemned. There cannot be any exception or any justification for any act of terrorism, regardless of motivations behind such acts,” Jaishankar said in an address to the United Nations Security Council in New York on Thursday. 

“However, in spite of the progress we have made to tighten the legal, security, financing and other frameworks to combat terrorism, terrorists are constantly finding newer ways of motivating, resourcing and executing acts of terror,” he continued.

In comments appeared to be directed towards neighboring Pakistan, he pointed out that some countries “seek to undermine or subvert our collective resolve to fight terrorism," adding that it “cannot be allowed to pass.”

12:41 a.m. ET, August 20, 2021

UNESCO calls for protection of World Heritage Sites in Afghanistan

In a statement on Thursday, UNESCO urged authorities in Afghanistan to preserve the country's "cultural heritage in its diversity, in full respect of international law, and (take) all necessary precautions to spare and protect cultural heritage from damage and looting."

The France-based body, which bestows the ranking of "World Heritage Site" on historic or important places around the world, said it was closely monitoring the situation in Afghanistan and was "committed to exercising all possible efforts to safeguard the invaluable cultural heritage of Afghanistan."

"Any damage or loss of cultural heritage will only have adverse consequences on the prospects for lasting peace and humanitarian relief for the people of Afghanistan," said the statement.

There are a number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the country, including the Minaret and Archaeological Remains of Jam, and the archaeological remains of the Bamiyan Valley. Other important sites "that must be safeguarded" include the Old City of Herat and the National Museum in Kabul, said UNESCO.

11:26 p.m. ET, August 19, 2021

Internal State Department memo in July called for swift action ahead of Afghanistan collapse

From CNN's Kylie Atwood

A group of US diplomats wrote a classified cable to Secretary of State Antony Blinken in mid-July, warning that swift action needed to be taken because they believed the situation in Afghanistan could rapidly deteriorate and they feared a catastrophe.

They laid out how the department should act quickly to process and evacuate Afghans who had assisted the United States and get them out of the country quickly. 

The diplomats decided to send the dissent memo because they felt previous warnings and recommendations they had made were being ignored and labeled alarmist, two State Department officials told CNN.

The classified cable, signed by more than a dozen US diplomats, urged specific steps to be taken, including starting a biometric enrolment program for the Afghans applying for Special Immigrant Visas (SIV) or refugee status ahead of the evacuation, so they wouldn't waste time before what they believed would be the imminent collapse of the Afghan government as the US withdrew.

The State Department responded to the cable within days of receiving it and followed through on some of the issues it raised, said a source familiar with the matter. But not all of the recommendations in the memo were quickly implemented, the diplomats said.

Read the full story here. 

11:31 p.m. ET, August 19, 2021

Here's how you can help Afghan refugees

From CNN's Amy Chillag

The refugee crisis in Afghanistan is growing as the Taliban take over the country.

Since the start of this year, 550,000 Afghans have been forced to flee their homes due to internal fighting, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Now, tens of thousands more are trying to leave the country as many Afghans, especially women and children, fear a resumption of Islamic fundamentalism under the Taliban.

Others, including interpreters who helped the US military fight the Taliban, fear retribution. Afghan journalists who have been covering the war are also at particularly high risk. You can help these refugees through nonprofits providing protection, shelter, water and health care both in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

CNN's Impact Your World has compiled a list of vetted organizations accepting donations. Click here to contribute.

12:40 a.m. ET, August 20, 2021

US military has flown 12,000 people out of Afghanistan since the end of July

From CNN's Ellie Kaufman 

People queue up to board a US military aircraft to leave Afghanistan at the military airport in Kabul on August 19.
People queue up to board a US military aircraft to leave Afghanistan at the military airport in Kabul on August 19. (Shakib Rahmani/AFP/Getty Images)

Since the Defense Department began supporting the State Department with movement of people out of Afghanistan at the end of July, approximately 12,000 people have been moved out of country, Gen. Hank Taylor, deputy director of the Joint Staff for Regional Operations said Thursday. 

That 12,000 number includes “American citizens, US Embassy personnel, individuals designated by the State Department as SIV applicants and other evacuees in coordination with the State Department,” Taylor said.

Included in that 12,000 number are 7,000 people that have been moved out of Afghanistan just since Aug. 14, Taylor said.  

The Defense Department is “ready to increase throughput and have scheduled aircraft departures accordingly,” Taylor said.

“We intend to maximize each plane’s capacity. We are prioritizing people above all else, and we are focused on doing this as safely as possible with absolute urgency,” he added.