Afghanistan's second largest city falls to Taliban

By Melissa Mahtani, Melissa Macaya, Veronica Rocha, Tara John and Aditi Sangal, CNN

Updated 8:00 p.m. ET, August 13, 2021
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7:43 a.m. ET, August 13, 2021

"What the Taliban really wants to see here is for all Americans to leave as soon as humanly possible"

Taliban fighters stand on a vehicle in Kandahar on Friday, August 13.
Taliban fighters stand on a vehicle in Kandahar on Friday, August 13. AFP/Getty Images

The US is sending around 3,000 troops to Afghanistan to help with the departure of embassy staff, but CNN's Clarissa Ward called for caution around speculation that the Taliban would try to attack Americans leaving the country.

"I think from the Taliban perspective, it's important to underscore that what the Taliban really wants to see here is for all Americans to leave as soon as humanly possible, and I think they'll do whatever it takes to try to facilitate that," Ward said on Friday.

So I would say that one should be cautious about being overly speculative -- that they might try to attack Americans as they were leaving [or] they might try to attack the US embassy -- because they [the Taliban] know that that would only draw more of a reaction from the US and from US forces," she added.

Afghan negotiating teams in Qatar, which includes US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and the Taliban, are currently "thrashing out deals" on how to make the withdrawal work and how to mitigate losses on all sides, "and try to get these people out as quickly as possible," she said.

"That's the primary objective for the American negotiators there," she said.

But what remains to be seen is the fate of "Afghan people living in government-held areas, who have worked for the government who have worked for the Americans -- still the potential for an awful lot of bloodshed and suffering," she said.

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6:30 a.m. ET, August 13, 2021

UN urges open borders as Afghanistan may see its highest-ever documented civilian casualties in a year

From Amy Cassidy in Glasgow

People cross the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan in Chaman, Pakistan, on Friday, August 13.
People cross the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan in Chaman, Pakistan, on Friday, August 13. Jafar Khan/AP

Without significant deescalation in violence amid the intensifying crisis, Afghanistan could see its highest-ever documented civilian casualties in a single year, and neighboring countries should keep their borders open, the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) urged.

“An inability to seek safety may risk innumerable civilian lives. UNHCR stands ready to help national authorities scale up humanitarian responses as needed,” the agency said in a statement on Friday.

Nearly a quarter of a million Afghans have been left internally displaced since the end of May, 80% of which are women and girls.

The agency welcomed a decision by France, Germany and the Netherlands to suspend deportations of Afghan citizens seeking asylum.

“In the context of generalized insecurity in many parts of Afghanistan, it is increasingly clear that Afghans outside of the country may have international protection needs. UNHCR calls for all states to ensure they are able to seek safety, regardless of their current legal status,” the statement said.

6:14 a.m. ET, August 13, 2021

Germany will help evacuate Afghan support staff from Afghanistan

From CNN’s Nadine Schmidt in Berlin

German Minister of the Interior Horst Seehofer speaks during a press conference on July 21, in Berlin, Germany.
German Minister of the Interior Horst Seehofer speaks during a press conference on July 21, in Berlin, Germany. Andreas Gora/Pool/Getty Images

Germany will help evacuate Afghan support staff that worked with German forces in Afghanistan, German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said Friday.

Whether charter flights or the issuance of visas upon arrival in Germany, I support all measures to enable our local forces and their families to leave the country quickly,” he said in a statement.

“I have always said, and I repeat: the speedy departure of local forces and their families will not fail at the Ministry of the Interior.”

“There is no time for bureaucracy, we must act,” he added. 

Seehofer described the situation in Afghanistan as “becoming increasingly threatening,” as the Taliban rapidly seized more than a dozen provincial capitals in the country.

6:31 a.m. ET, August 13, 2021

"These cities fell too easily," Afghan journalist says about Herat and Kandahar

Smoke rises after fighting between the Taliban and Afghan security personnel, in Kandahar, Afghanistan, on Thursday, August 12, 2021.
Smoke rises after fighting between the Taliban and Afghan security personnel, in Kandahar, Afghanistan, on Thursday, August 12, 2021. Sidiqullah Khan/AP

People in Afghanistan know they now "live in a different country," Afghan journalist Ali Latifi said after Herat and Kandahar, two prominent Afghan cities, fell to the Taliban.

They were "cities that people never would have imagined would have fallen," he said. The news of these cities falling has affected the whole country, he told CNN.

Herat and Kandahar are historically and culturally significant cities, with large populations, and people are angry, Latifi said.

"They felt like there wasn't much of a fight put up, that there wasn't much of an effort put into defending the cities, that these cities fell too easily, and too quickly, considering their significance."

People are fleeing the cities as soon as they hear the Taliban are coming, he added.

"There is a lot of fear of the fighting that will come with it. Because if they come and they take over the city, that means that they will be fighting with the security forces, and the security forces will be fighting with them." 
5:53 a.m. ET, August 13, 2021

"Women and children are the first victims of wars like this"

Displaced Afghans sit in a tent at a makeshift IDP camp at a park Kabul, Afghanistan, on August 12.
Displaced Afghans sit in a tent at a makeshift IDP camp at a park Kabul, Afghanistan, on August 12. Paula Bronstein/Getty Images

As the Taliban continues its rapid advancement towards the capital, Kabul, CNN military analyst Cedric Leighton said the situation for Afghan civilians is a desperate one.

Unfortunately, women and children are the first victims of wars like this, and unfortunately, they have absolutely nothing to fall back on," the retired US Air Force Colonel said Friday.

He warned that the insurgents' gains will cause "a really big humanitarian crisis," pointing to the period prior to 2001 when the country was under Taliban control.

"There were millions of Afghans who were refugees in neighboring countries and really all around the world. And I think we're going to see a replay of this, unfortunately," he said.

The only way to reverse the Taliban's gains in the past week "would require a really large commitment of American troops," because the Afghan military is not "up to speed in terms of being able to resist the Taliban" as they are "nowhere near the strength that people think it is on paper," he said.

"They are not fighting for a cause they're fighting for their lives," he added.  

5:35 a.m. ET, August 13, 2021

Doha talks participants warn that an Afghan government formed by military force won't be recognized

From CNN's Jennifer Hauser

US special envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad, center, is seen at a hotel in Doha, Qatar, during an international meeting on the escalating conflict in Afghanistan, on August 12. 
US special envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad, center, is seen at a hotel in Doha, Qatar, during an international meeting on the escalating conflict in Afghanistan, on August 12.  Karim Jaafar/AFP/Getty Images

After two days of discussions with the Afghan negotiating teams in Qatar, the chair released a statement, calling for an immediate end to attacks against Afghan cities, and warning that any government formed by use of military force will not be recognized.

This international meeting chaired by Qatar hosted many international and regional stakeholders, including the United States, United Kingdom, China, India and Pakistan, among others.

The participants "urge a political settlement, and warn that a government imposed by force will be a pariah state." US special envoy for Afghanistan reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad also tweeted Friday.

The full statement posted by Qatar's ministry of foreign affairs on Thursday called for an acceleration in the peace process, halting attacks on provincial capitals.

5:09 a.m. ET, August 13, 2021

UK defense chief worried about potential return of al Qaeda to Afghanistan

From Amy Cassidy in Glasgow, Scotland

UK defence secretary Ben Wallace is pictured at Downing Street in London, on February 3.
UK defence secretary Ben Wallace is pictured at Downing Street in London, on February 3. Tolga Akmen/AFP/Getty Images

UK defense secretary Ben Wallace on Friday said he is “absolutely worried" the al Qaeda terrorist group “will probably come back” to Afghanistan after the pullout of United States and British troops there is complete.

“Failed states are breeding grounds for those types of people, of course I'm worried," Wallace said on Sky News.

"It's why I said I felt this was not the right time or decision to make because, of course, al Qaeda will probably come back,” he added. 

Wallace's comments come as the Taliban, which remains close to al Qaeda, move ever closer to Kabul.

5:05 a.m. ET, August 13, 2021

Taliban takes Helmand province capital

Smoke rises from Lashkar Gah, Afghanistan after airstrikes against the Taliban on August 6.
Smoke rises from Lashkar Gah, Afghanistan after airstrikes against the Taliban on August 6. Abdul Khaliq/AP

Lashkar Gah, the capital of Afghanistan's Helmand province, fell to the Taliban on Thursday night, the head of the Helmand Provincial Council, Attaullah Afghan, confirmed to CNN.

Afghan said the Taliban now controls the city's police headquarters, governor's office and central jail. The Taliban raised its flag in the governor’s office early on Friday, he added. 

 The government controls only an army base and a few other locations, Afghan said. 

5:02 a.m. ET, August 13, 2021

Kandahar, Afghanistan's second-largest city, falls to the Taliban

From CNN's Clarissa Ward in Kabul

A view of a closed market in Kandahar, Afghanistan on August 10.
A view of a closed market in Kandahar, Afghanistan on August 10. M Sadiq/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

The Taliban has taken control of the city of Kandahar, Afghanistan's second-largest city, Afghan Member of Parliament Gul Ahmad Kamin told CNN on Friday.

The Taliban said in a statement Friday that "during the conquest operation, the governor's office, police headquarters and many other centers in Kandahar city were cleared of the enemy last night and were under the control of Mujahidin."

"Hundreds of weapons, vehicles and ammunition were seized," the statement says.  

Kamin said he and many others have made their way to a military base by the airport and are awaiting a flight out.

"Many (government) soldiers surrendered and the rest fled," Kamin said.