CNN's Clarissa Ward describes a desperate calm in Kabul as Taliban advances
From CNN's Josiah Ryan
CNN's chief international correspondent Clarissa Ward reported a sense of desperate calm in Kabul tonight following the Taliban's capture of Kandahar and its rapid advance towards the capital city.
"It's calm and the situation is relatively stable but it's incredibly tense," Ward said.
She also described a "desperation many people are feeling... on the ground as the US really starts to pull the rip cord."
"I spoke to one official earlier who said to me, 'do you hear the sound of that silence? It's the sound of people packing, packing to go because there is such desperate uncertainty,'" said Ward, reporting from Kabul.
7:24 p.m. ET, August 13, 2021
These are the 17 provincial capitals now under Taliban control
The Taliban has taken control of 17 provincial capitals since last Friday, making large territorial gains in the north of the country, which has traditionally been an anti-Taliban stronghold.
These are the territories now under their control:
Lashkar Gah, Helmand
Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby on Friday said the Defense Department does not believe that Kabul is “in an imminent threat environment,” but Kirby acknowledged that the Taliban appears to be trying to isolate Kabul.
CNN reported earlier that according to one diplomatic source, one intelligence assessment indicates that Kabul could be isolated by the Taliban within the week, possibly within the next 72 hours.
7:21 p.m. ET, August 13, 2021
Fareed Zakaria: "The Afghan army just won't fight"
From CNN's Josiah Ryan
CNN's Fareed Zakaria said Afghanistan's military's collapse on the battlefield is due to a lack of will to fight rather than a shortage of personnel, training or military resources.
"The Afghan army is not actually fighting... It's melting away," Zakaria said today, pointing to a relatively low number of casualties among government forces as the Taliban captures cities across the region.
"The Afghan Army just won't fight," he added.
The Taliban, by contrast, has "tenacity, passion and will," fueling their rapid advance, despite being vastly outnumbered and outgunned, Zakaria continued.
"Do they really want to do this?" he asked. "Does the Afghan government have a plan?"
3:39 p.m. ET, August 13, 2021
Sweden will reduce number of staff at Kabul embassy due to safety concerns
From Niamh Kennedy in Paris and Henrik Petterson in London
Sweden will reduce the number of staff at its embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, due to safety concerns, the Minister for Foreign Affairs Ann Linde announced on Friday.
"The safety of the staff at the embassy is a top priority," Linde said in a series of tweets.
While Sweden has decided not to evacuate all staff at this stage, Linde said, "there are well-developed preparations for the evacuation of the embassy staff, which may become relevant at short notice.
Sweden's announcement follows a spate of withdrawals of staff from embassies in Kabul this week. Earlier on Friday, Norway announced the temporary closure of its embassy, and Switzerland and Denmark announced the evacuation of embassy staff.
3:08 p.m. ET, August 13, 2021
Kirby says he "can't see the future," but troops in Afghanistan "did what they were sent there to do"
From CNN's Adrienne Vogt
Pentagon press secretary John Kirby was directly asked if the war in Afghanistan could conclude with a Taliban takeover done with US-made weapons:
"What's it going to say for a 20-year war in Afghanistan if it ends with the Taliban rolling into Kabul in US-made MRAPs and Humvees and carrying weapons that our allies turned over to them?" a reporter asked him during a press briefing on the security situation in Afghanistan.
"I can't see the future," Kirby said. "And what I can tell you is our troops who deployed to Afghanistan after 9/11 did what they were sent there to do, which is to prevent Afghanistan from being a safe haven for terrorist attacks upon the homeland and to severely degrade the capabilities of groups like al Qaeda."
"In the process of that effort, a lot of progress was made in Afghanistan, progress which we obviously don't want to see put at greater risk. Going forward, we're going to do a couple of things: We're going to make sure that a terrorist threat can't emanate from Afghanistan again by maintaining robust over the horizon counterterrorism capabilities in the region. And we're going to continue to support our Afghan partners, bilaterally, through maintenance support, through financial support, and we're going to continue to want to see a stable, secure Afghanistan. The other thing I would say is that we want to continue to see that there's a negotiated political settlement here for governance going forward, so that's what our focus is on right now," Kirby continued.
He was then asked if the Taliban is actually interested in any sort of negotiations.
"I think that's a question for Taliban leaders to speak to. They have a team in Doha. They have participated in the past in negotiations. Now, whether they're still interested in that or not, I think it's for them to speak to. We are still interested in seeing that outcome, and so should the rest of the international community," Kirby said.
3:01 p.m. ET, August 13, 2021
UN secretary general calls on Taliban to halt their offensive
From CNN’s Richard Roth
United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres has called on the Taliban to halt their offensive in Afghanistan.
“I call on the Taliban to immediately halt the offensive, negotiate in good faith in the interest of Afghanistan and its people," he told reporters Friday.
"I hope that discussions in Doha, Qatar between representatives of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and Taliban — supported by the region and the wider international community — will restore the pathway to a negotiated settlement to the conflict. Only an Afghan-led negotiated political settlement can ensure peace,” he added.
At least 241,000 people have been forced to leave their homes due to the Afghan conflict, and in the last month alone, more than 1,000 people have “been killed or injured from indiscriminate attacks against civilians, notably in Helmand, Kandahar and Herat provinces,” he said.
3:57 p.m. ET, August 13, 2021
US Embassy in Kabul instructing personnel to destroy sensitive materials
From CNN's Jennifer Hansler and Kylie Atwood
The US Embassy in Kabul is instructing personnel to destroy sensitive materials as well as items “which could be misused in propaganda efforts,” according to a management notice sent Friday and seen by CNN and described by another source familiar.
The notice comes as the embassy prepares to withdraw a significant number of diplomats and as the security situation on the ground in Afghanistan continues to deteriorate, with one diplomatic source telling CNN that one intelligence assessment indicates that Kabul could be isolated by the Taliban within the week, possibly within the next 72 hours.
The notice said facilities would provide “destruction support” daily and called on personnel to “please take advantage and reduce the amount of sensitive material on the property,” including papers and electronics.
“Please also include items with embassy or agency logos, American flags, or items which could be misused in propaganda efforts,” it said.
The notice said there would be a variety of means to destroy these materials, including burn bins, disintegrator, incinerator and compacter and heavy duty equipment.
The State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The situation on the ground is incredibly challenging for US diplomats who say that plans are changing by the minute, one diplomat explained to CNN.
CNN reported on Thursday that the administration is considering relocating the US Embassy from its current location in the capital to the Kabul airport.
2:50 p.m. ET, August 13, 2021
Pentagon says Kabul not under "imminent" threat now, but Taliban "clearly" moving to isolate it
From CNN's Josiah Ryan
Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said that while Kabul is not currently in an "imminent threat environment," it is clear the Taliban is looking to isolate the city.
"Kabul is not, right now, in an imminent threat environment," said Kirby, speaking at a briefing at the Pentagon. But, "clearly, if you just look at what the Taliban's been doing, you can see that they are trying to isolate Kabul."
When further pressed by a reporter on whether or not the Taliban had already isolated Afghanistan's capital city, Kirby said he would not "get into intelligence assessment on the battlefield."
"Clearly from their actions, clearly they are trying to get Kabul isolated," he said. "It certainly appears the Taliban is trying to isolate the city."
2:35 p.m. ET, August 13, 2021
Pentagon reiterates US is supporting Afghans in the field "where and when we can"
Asked whether he believes support to Afghan forces will need to be cut off to keep it from going into Taliban hands, Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby stressed that the US is focused on "supporting the Afghans in the field where and when we can" to prevent future threats.
"We're still supporting the Afghan national security and defense forces. We're still supporting the Afghan government, the elected government in Kabul and that's what we're going to be focused on doing. It would be easy to speculate about what the future of Afghanistan looks like right now, but I think we want to focus on what we are doing," Kirby said.
"We're still working on contract support for over the horizon. We're still making sure we have robust over the horizon counterterrorism capabilities in the region so that we can't suffer a threat from Afghanistan again," the official continued.
Kirby decline to speculate on whether the Aug. 31 drawdown of troops would need be be pushed back.