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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2:51 p.m. ET, August 20, 2021

Russian President Putin says outside forces must not impose their views on Afghanistan

From CNN's Zahra Ullah and Anna Chernova in Moscow

Russian President Vladimir Putin said in a news conference on Friday with German Chancellor Angela Merkel that "the political reality" is that the Taliban controls most of Afghanistan, and outside forces must not impose their views on the country.

"The Taliban movement today controls almost the entire territory of the country, including the capital. This is the political reality, and one must proceed from these realities, preventing the collapse of the Afghan state," Putin said.

"It is necessary to stop the irresponsible policy of imposing someone else's values ​​from the outside, the desire to build democracy from outside according to other people's patterns, without taking into account any historical, cultural or religious peculiarities. Completely ignoring the traditions by which other peoples live," he continued.

"We know Afghanistan well, we know how this country is organized and how counterproductive it is to try to impose unusual forms of government and social life on it. Any such social and political experiments have not yet been successful and only lead to the destruction of the state, the degradation of their political and social systems," Putin said.

"At the same time, we see that the Taliban have already announced the end of hostilities, have begun to establish public safety for local residents, foreign diplomatic missions," he added.

Putin also said it is important to prevent the "penetration of terrorists" "disguised as refugees" into countries near Afghanistan.

"In our opinion, it is especially important now to prevent the penetration of terrorists of all stripes into the territory of states adjacent to Afghanistan, including disguised as refugees," Putin said. 

How the Taliban's takeover has unfolded so far: The Taliban have moved swiftly to crush early opposition to their rule across Afghanistan, clashing with protesters and forcing an entire city to stay inside, as a frantic rush to escape the country intensifies at Kabul's international airport.

A curfew was to be imposed "for an indefinite time" over the entire southeastern Afghan city of Khost on Thursday, multiple Taliban sources told CNN on Wednesday, after videos emerged on social media purporting to show hundreds of people there demonstrating against the militant group's seizure of power.

The rapid shutdown of opposition undermines the Taliban's repeated attempts to convince international media and observers that their rule will be more restrained and inclusive than it was two decades ago.

CNN's Rob Picheta, Saleem Mehsud and Tim Lister contributed reporting to this post. 

11:24 a.m. ET, August 20, 2021

Al Qaeda will "absolutely" return in Afghanistan, Clapper says

From CNN's Adrienne Vogt

Al Qaeda will “absolutely” reconstitute itself in Afghanistan, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper says. 

“I think it’s a question of time, and it’s going to be sooner rather than later, because I think a lot of terrorists who fled Afghanistan now will return,“ Clapper said to CNN’s Jim Sciutto.

“I think it’s going to be very difficult for the intelligence community from over the horizon without on-the-ground presence to watch this,” he added. 

He says the stance of Pakistan will also be “key to all this.”  

Clapper also said that while intelligence experts did not predict the downfall of the Afghan government so quickly, officials were aware of serious issues. 

“If you look at this historically, there has always been concern about how strong their government is. Now did the intelligence community call it right and say in 11 days the government is going to collapse? Certainly not. But certainly there was a general awareness of the problematic nature of a government and the military in Afghanistan,” he said. 

11:23 a.m. ET, August 20, 2021

Biden will deliver remarks on US military evacuations as chaos continues at Kabul airport

From CNN's Kate Sullivan

President Biden will deliver remarks later today about the ongoing US military evacuations of American citizens and vulnerable Afghans as chaos ensues at and around Kabul's international airport. He is set to speak at 1 p.m. ET.

The President's speech will focus on the evacuation of American citizens and their families, Special Immigrant Visa applicants and their families and vulnerable Afghans, the White House says. It is unclear whether the President will take questions.

White House communications director Kate Bedingfield told CNN earlier on Friday that the White House does not have a precise number of Americans who are still in Afghanistan, saying the administration is still trying to account for Americans who may have left the country prior to August 14 without notifying the US embassy.

Prior to Biden's remarks, the President and Vice President Kamala Harris will meet with their national security team in the Situation Room to hear intelligence, security and diplomatic updates on the situation in Afghanistan, according to the White House.

What things look like on the ground in Kabul: Afghans in the capital city are battling massive crowds and violence to make it to the airport gates, and have to wait hours to enter once they've arrived.

Tents are needed for the thousands of Afghans standing out in the blazing sun for hours at Kabul airport, CNN's Clarissa Ward reports. Mothers of children are particularly struggling in the sweltering heat. CNN has met people at the airport who have been waiting there for two days

The US Embassy warned Friday morning of continuing safety concerns over getting to the Kabul airport, and said that — due to large crowds and security worries — "gates may open or close without notice."

Read more about Biden's remarks today here.

11:18 a.m. ET, August 20, 2021

Evacuations from Afghanistan still "immediate priority" for NATO, chief says

From CNN's Nada Bashir

The evacuation of people from allied countries, as well as Afghan nationals, from Afghanistan remains an “immediate priority” for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Friday. 

“NATO has worked around the clock to maintain operations at Kabul international airport, allowing thousands of people to leave,” Stoltenberg said during a news conference in Brussels. 

“The situation remains very difficult and unpredictable,” he added. 

In an earlier statement issued by NATO foreign ministers, the organization highlighted NATO’s commitment to the safe evacuation of at-risk Afghan nationals — in particular, those who have assisted NATO’s efforts in Afghanistan. 

“We call on those in positions of authority in Afghanistan to respect and facilitate their safe and orderly departure, including through Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul," the statement said.

“As long as evacuation operations continue, we will maintain our close operational coordination through Allied military means at Hamid Karzai International Airport,” the statement added. 

11:14 a.m. ET, August 20, 2021

NATO chief calls for "thorough assessment" of group's engagement in Afghanistan

From CNN's Nada Bashir

The speed at which the Taliban were able to seize control of Afghanistan’s political and military infrastructure was “not anticipated,” the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Friday, adding that a “thorough assessment” of NATO’s past engagement in the country will be conducted. 

“There are hard questions that we need to ask ourselves over our engagement in Afghanistan. We were clear-eyed about the risks of withdrawing our troops, but the speed of the collapse of the Afghan political and military leadership and armed forces was not anticipated,” Stoltenberg said during a press conference in Brussels. 

“There are many lessons to be learned and I intend to conduct a thorough assessment of NATO’s engagement in Afghanistan,” he added. 

Stoltenberg later stressed that the “eyes of the world are on Afghanistan,” calling on the Taliban to put an end to violence and to uphold the fundamental rights of all Afghans. 

“We expect the Taliban to uphold their commitments and to ensure that Afghanistan does not again become a safe haven for international terrorism,” Stoltenberg added.

11:27 a.m. ET, August 20, 2021

US air base in Germany preparing to receive evacuees from Afghanistan

From CNN's Nadine Schmidt

Planes stand on the tarmac at Ramstein Air Base in July 2020.
Planes stand on the tarmac at Ramstein Air Base in July 2020. Alex Kraus/Bloomberg/Getty Images

Ramstein Air Base, the US air base in Germany's federal state of Rhineland-Palatinate in the southwest corner of Germany, is preparing to receive evacuees from Afghanistan, Germany's Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said Friday.

''We have agreed with the U.S. that Ramstein Air Base in particular can be used temporarily for the transit of people seeking protection from Afghanistan to the United States,” the statement reads.

''We are in agreement with all our partners on the ground that no seat on our aircraft should remain empty. In the future, therefore, Germans or persons designated by us will be evacuated on U.S. flights to Ramstein in addition to Bundeswehr aircraft,'' the statement went on to say, adding that ''in the same way, we will fly nationals of a wide variety of nations out of Kabul on our own evacuation flights. ''

Maas said that “evacuating as many people from Kabul as possible under the given, very difficult circumstances.'' Germany is working closely with international partners to achieve this, Maas said.

''This increases our joint transport capacities and relieves the air bridge between Kabul and Tashkent," he continued.

10:15 a.m. ET, August 20, 2021

Tents needed for thousands of Afghans standing in the blazing sun for hours at Kabul airport

From CNN's Clarissa Ward

CNN Chief International Correspondent Clarissa Ward is on the ground in Kabul airport where Afghans continue to wait patiently in hope of an imminent escape. 

She says tents are needed for the thousands of Afghans standing out in the blazing sun for hours at Kabul airport. Mothers of children are particularly struggling in the sweltering heat, continuing to line up in their droves throughout the airfield, Ward reported.

CNN has met people at the airport who have been waiting there for two days. And those waiting must navigate risks at every turn, be it the violent screening of the Taliban forces at the first perimeter or the crushes of people trying to push through.

One British soldier who has completed two tours in Helmand told CNN that the trauma of this experience in Kabul far outweighs that of his previous tours. 

Watch Clarissa Ward's report below:

10:36 a.m. ET, August 20, 2021

There were 823 evacuees aboard the US military aircraft flying out of Afghanistan shown in viral photo

(Capt. Chris Herbert/US Air Force/AP)
(Capt. Chris Herbert/US Air Force/AP)

Earlier this week, a photo of a US military aircraft packed with evacuees flying out of Afghanistan went viral. There were at least 823 evacuees on board, the crew that carried out this flight told CNN.

That is a bigger number than the earlier reported estimate of 640 evacuees.

"We have women and children and people's lives at stake. It's not about capacity or rules and regulations. It's about the training and directives that we were able to handle to make sure we can safely and effectively get that many people out and max perform those efforts," said Lt. Col. Eric Kut, who ultimately authorized that packed flight, and spoke to CNN from Joint Base Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey.

The evacuees "were definitely anxious to get out of the area, and we were happy to accommodate them. And they were definitely excited once we were airborne," Technical Sgt. Justin Triola added. "Everybody was very thrilled to actually leave."

Watch:

9:37 a.m. ET, August 20, 2021

US government will not require people on evacuation flights to pay for them

From CNN's Jennifer Hansler

This satellite photo from Maxar Technologies shows swarms of people on the tarmac at Kabul International Airport, Monday August 16.
This satellite photo from Maxar Technologies shows swarms of people on the tarmac at Kabul International Airport, Monday August 16. Satellite image ©2021 Maxar Technologies/AP

The US government will not require those fleeing Afghanistan on US government evacuation flights to pay for them, State Department spokesperson Ned Price confirmed to CNN Friday.

“In these unique circumstances, we have no intention of seeking any reimbursement from those fleeing Afghanistan,” he said in a statement. 

Typically, the US government requires people to sign a promissory note pledging to pay back the cost of the flights.