The latest on Afghanistan as Taliban advances towards Kabul

By Lauren Said-Moorhouse, Angela Dewan, Adrienne Vogt and Veronica Rocha, CNN

Updated 5:51 p.m. ET, August 14, 2021
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12:21 p.m. ET, August 14, 2021

Taliban claim to have captured provincial capital of Gardez

From CNN’s Tim Lister in Spain

The Taliban says it has captured another provincial capital, Gardez, on Saturday. If confirmed, the capture of Gardez — which is the capital of Paktia — would occur as the Taliban advances to the national capital of Kabul.

Afghanistan has 34 provincial capitals.

Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid said that the governor's office, police headquarters, intelligence center and all its facilities had been seized.  

“A large number of weapons and equipment fell into the hands of Mujahideen,” he tweeted.

The spokesperson said the Taliban were now advancing towards the base of the 203rd Thunder Corps, the army unit that was defending Gardez.

There's been no word from the government on the Taliban's claim, but images and video from the city show Taliban fighters on the streets. Video also showed dozens of men running from the city's prison.

2:18 p.m. ET, August 14, 2021

"Still people are having fear": Here's what life is like in some of the cities captured by the Taliban

Taliban fighters sit on the back of a vehicle in Herat, Afghanistan, on August 14, 2021.
Taliban fighters sit on the back of a vehicle in Herat, Afghanistan, on August 14, 2021. Hamed Sarfarazi/AP

Over the last week, the Taliban has made significant gains across Afghanistan and now control over half of the country's provincial capitals. Cities like Kandahar, Herat and Kunduz are among those now under control of the Taliban, whose fighters are circling ever closer to the capital, Kabul.

CNN spoke to Afghans in Herat and Kunduz, where some said the Taliban had brought a sense of quiet after weeks of fighting, while others expressed fear.

Ismahel is a 40-year-old shopkeeper in the city of Herat, Afghanistan's third-largest city and a major urban center in western Afghanistan. He tells CNN normality is returning to the city after the tumult of its fall to the Taliban on Thursday evening.

"[The] entire city is back to normal, people are living normally [and] shops are all open," Ismahel says, adding that he has seen women dressed in burqas resuming their daily lives too.

He recalled a friend visiting his shop on Thursday warning of the Taliban's encroachment and suggesting they flee the city.

"We closed the shops and went home. Afterwards, we saw that the city fell to the Taliban," he said. "Today is the first day so students didn't go to school, but government employees went to their offices."

He added that some people were happy that fighting and "the sounds of bullets" had stopped after a month.

"We feel good after the war finished," he said.

But people in Herat are also likely living in fear, and many would be hesitant to express criticism of the Taliban in such early days of its control.

In Kunduz, the first city to be taken, 31-year-old resident Atiqullah says people are adapting to the transition of power but remain fearful.

"Still people are having fear, although we were told by the Taliban not to be afraid," Atiqullah tells CNN.

He adds that some women are going out and have been told to wear burqas, while teachers have been told to return to schools, though the Taliban has said only male teachers should educate boys and female teachers tutor girls.

2:22 p.m. ET, August 14, 2021

Analysis: Ghani statement may have been testing the waters

From CNN's Sam Kiley

Kabul police secure areas in the central part of the city on August 13, 2021 in Kabul, Afghanistan. 
Kabul police secure areas in the central part of the city on August 13, 2021 in Kabul, Afghanistan.  Paula Bronstein/Getty Images


Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s brief public address earlier Saturday was a clear holding statement to try and reassure the people who still support his government that something is being done.

When he said he would consult with elders and other leaders both inside and outside of the country, he may have been canvassing opinion.

He could be testing the waters to gauge appetite for him to either step down or to explore some kind of power-sharing deal with the Taliban before the group moves on Kabul. Any fighting in the Afghan capital would be a protracted conflict in all probability.

The government will be looking to learn lessons after seeing local allies join with the Taliban, like Afghan warlord Ismail Khan. Khan appears to have struck a deal with the militants after the group claimed Herat, in an attempt to ensure his own safety and even his own future political position.

Khan presided over the city during the last Taliban administration more than 20 years ago, and in the years since, he has served as Herat's governor and an Afghan government minister. But on Friday, he was seen in a Taliban video alongside militants.

His surrender caused a whole Afghan Army Corp to change sides, or at least lay down their weapons.

If that’s the pattern of behavior we might see in Kabul, then there could be a peaceful resolution. But it may be one that many in the West would ultimately be uncomfortable with, because it would give the Taliban the whip-hand in any future political dispensations in Afghanistan.

8:08 a.m. ET, August 14, 2021

"Hard-won rights of Afghan girls and women being ripped away from them," UN chief says

Displaced Afghan women and children from Kunduz are seen at a mosque that is sheltering them on August 13, 2021 in Kabul, Afghanistan.
Displaced Afghan women and children from Kunduz are seen at a mosque that is sheltering them on August 13, 2021 in Kabul, Afghanistan. Paula Bronstein/Getty Images

The UN Secretary-General called on the Taliban to halt their offensive in Afghanistan, where he said the situation was “spinning out of control.” Speaking to reporters from the UN Headquarters in New York, António Guterres said Friday it was “particularly horrifying and heartbreaking to see reports of the hard-won rights of Afghan girls and women being ripped away from them.”

The UN says Afghan women and children make up the majority of those displaced in recent months, with nonprofit groups left grappling with how to help the women and girls left in the country.

Masuda Sultan, a board member of Women for Afghan Women, the largest women’s rights organization in Afghanistan, told CNN Saturday that “it’s a very scary time” for civilians but the Taliban was allowing women in some areas to work.

She said there is rapid change “but we're being told that international NGOs can function, that women can work.”

She adds: “The Taliban have told us this. They have had meetings in Sar-e Pol and in Kunduz, with folks that we know on the ground and have told us that we can continue our operations. And so, we really are hopeful that we can continue our work, and that the transition in some of these places will be smoother than expected.”

Sar-e Pol and Kunduz are among the 18 territories which the Taliban has seized control of in recent days.

Women and children from Kunduz pray at a mosque in Kabul where they are seeking shelter on August 13, 2021.
Women and children from Kunduz pray at a mosque in Kabul where they are seeking shelter on August 13, 2021. Paula Bronstein/Getty Images

Sultan says that while there are many trying to leave the country, there are still around 20 million women and girls left in Afghanistan that her organization hopes to continue to serve within the Islamic rules and Afghan culture.

“We need to continue to press the Taliban on this issue. the international community should absolutely make women the focus of aid, and girls’ education, the focus of the programs,” Sultan said, adding that with the troop withdrawal there has been a noticeable drop in aid to the country.

She continued: “We need to think about ways in which we can stay engaged with the Afghan people, that we don't abandon them in their moment of need. That we haven't spent 20 years building a country that is starving and desperate for a way out. That we keep people in Afghanistan because the best way to avoid what these countries around the world don't want is more refugees, is to make Afghanistan safe and a livable country for the 40 million people that are there.”

9:20 a.m. ET, August 14, 2021

18th provincial capital in Afghanistan falls

From CNN's Tim Lister in Spain

Reports from the southern Afghan province of Paktika say the provincial capital, Sherana, has fallen to the Taliban. A local journalist in Sherana confirmed to CNN that the city had been completely taken over by the Taliban at around 1pm local time (4:30 a.m.ET) on Saturday. 

Paktika is south of Kabul and borders Pakistan.

Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said that Taliban forces had taken the city and that government troops had surrendered. Video and images from the city Saturday showed Taliban fighters in the streets and outside the governor's office, while scores of men left the city's prison.

Earlier, Aziz Aziz, a member of provincial council in Paktika province, confirmed that the Taliban fighters had entered the city.

CNN has reached out to government officials for comment but has not heard back. 

Sherana is the 18th provincial capital to fall to the Taliban in the last eight days.

This post has been updated to correct the location of the journalist.

8:04 a.m. ET, August 14, 2021

Ghani seeks to reassure nation as Taliban forces edge closer to Kabul

Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani speaks at a meeting in Kabul, Afghanistan, on August 2, 2021.
Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani speaks at a meeting in Kabul, Afghanistan, on August 2, 2021. Rahmat Gul/AP

Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani made a short speech to the nation, in which he said he was putting all his focus on avoiding further instability as the Taliban makes rapid advances and circles in on the capital, Kabul.

The future of his Ghani's government has come under doubt as the Taliban has seized control of major cities, including Kandahar and Herat.

Here's his speech in full:  

"In the name of Allah, 

Brothers and sisters, Salam.

Our country Afghanistan is facing serious threats of instability. I am fully aware of the situation in the country.

I offer condolences to the families of fallen soldiers and civilians and wish quick recovery to the wounded ones.  

We endeavor to reach all displaced people in the best way possible.

I praise the Afghan National Defense and Security Force (ANDSF) for their bravery and efforts for defending nations and also the nation for supporting their forces.

At the current situation our priority is coordination of ANDSF and this endeavor. We are taking serious steps.

I am aware of your concerns about your present and future, I would like to assure you that as your president all my focus is to avoid further instability, aggression and displacement.

As a historic responsibility, I will endeavor not to allow the current war to further kill innocent people and to lose their 20-year gains and destroy public property.

For these reasons I have initiated consultations with elders and political figures and different ethnic leaders and international partners. Consultations are under way and the outcome will be shared with you all very soon.

I always wanted success and progress of Afghanistan and will continue my endeavors.

Long live Afghanistan." 

5:12 a.m. ET, August 14, 2021

Afghan President Ghani is addressing the nation

Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani is addressing the nation as the Taliban's advance continues largely unimpeded.

In a speech, the embattled leader said he was consulting with Afghan leaders and international allies to prevent further destruction.

His address comes as US troops began arriving in the country to secure the return of embassy staff from the capital of Kabul.

Some 3,000 troops are expected to be in place for the mission by the end of Sunday, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said.

8:07 a.m. ET, August 14, 2021

Afghanistan's unraveling threatens to stain US President Biden's legacy

By CNN's Natasha Bertrand, Phil Mattingly, Kylie Atwood and Jennifer Hansler

US President Joe Biden speaks at the White House on August 12, 2021.
US President Joe Biden speaks at the White House on August 12, 2021. Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

The security situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated faster than US President Joe Biden and his most senior national security officials had anticipated, leaving the White House rushing to stave off the worst effects of a Taliban takeover.

The Biden administration has launched a dramatic series of moves to reinforce Kabul and allow for the safe removal of a significant number of personnel from the American embassy there, as it becomes ever clearer to administration officials that the looming collapse of Afghanistan's government and the fallout for its citizens could threaten to become a permanent stain on Biden's foreign policy legacy.

The Pentagon announced this week that 3,000 troops are being deployed to assist with the drawdown of the embassy to only a "core diplomatic presence" and CNN reported the US is considering moving its embassy to the Kabul airport.

Despite all of this, Biden has not second-guessed his decision to withdraw, officials said, and reiterated earlier this week that the Afghans have "got to fight for themselves." But some officials are aware that the swift unraveling of the country could damage the President's foreign policy legacy, with intensifying peril to American diplomats in Kabul, the human rights implications of leaving women and girls to suffer under Taliban rule and power vacuums inside Afghanistan that could once again allow terrorism to flourish. They are also bracing for Taliban atrocities to increasingly spill into public view amid deteriorating peace talks.

Read the full story here:

8:21 a.m. ET, August 14, 2021

Canada to resettle 20,000 Afghans under Taliban threat

From CNN's Jennifer Hauser

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau listens during a news conference in Ottawa on March 19, 2021.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau listens during a news conference in Ottawa on March 19, 2021. David Kawai/Bloomberg/Getty Images

Canada announced it will help resettle 20,000 vulnerable Afghans hoping to flee to other countries as the Taliban closes in on at least half of Afghanistan's provincial capitals.

"The situation in Afghanistan is continuing to deteriorate, and Afghans’ lives are under threat. To help them, we’re expanding our resettlement program - we’re going to resettle 20,000 vulnerable Afghans and expedite processing timelines," Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted Friday.

Canada will introduce a special program focusing on helping the particularly vulnerable: women leaders, human rights defenders, journalists, persecuted religious minorities, LGBTI individuals, and family members of previously resettled interpreters.

"The program will welcome government-supported and privately sponsored refugees, along with those sponsored by family already in Canada," reads a Friday press release from the government. 

Meanwhile Patricia Gossman, associate Asia director at Human Rights Watch called for more governments to help. “The Taliban have a long record of abusing or killing civilians they deem ‘enemies'...Whether from inside or outside of Afghanistan, governments and UN offices should provide protection and assistance to at-risk Afghans and make processing travel documents and transportation a priority,” Gossman said in a press release Friday.