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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5:51 p.m. ET, August 14, 2021

US secretary of state spoke with Afghan President Ghani

From CNN's Gregory Clary

Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks about infrastructure investment on August 9, in College Park, Maryland.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks about infrastructure investment on August 9, in College Park, Maryland. Patrick Semansky/Pool/AFP/Getty Images

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani Saturday as the security situation continues to deteriorate in the country. 

In a statement released by the State Department, the two “discussed the urgency of ongoing diplomatic and political efforts to reduce the violence” in Afghanistan and Blinken “emphasized the United States’ commitment to a strong diplomatic and security relationship with the Government of Afghanistan and our continuing support for the people of Afghanistan.”

5:48 p.m. ET, August 14, 2021

Biden announces he's authorized 5,000 troops to be in Afghanistan to ensure "orderly and safe drawdown"

From CNN's Donald Judd and Barbara Starr

Taliban fighters stand on a vehicle along the roadside in Kandahar, Afghanistan on August 13.
Taliban fighters stand on a vehicle along the roadside in Kandahar, Afghanistan on August 13. AFP/Getty Images

President Biden announced a total of 5,000 troops to be in Afghanistan, “to make sure we can have an orderly and safe drawdown of US personnel and other allied personnel and an orderly and safe evacuation of Afghans who helped our troops during our mission and those at special risk from the Taliban advance,” he said in a statement Saturday.

His announcement includes troops already on the ground in country, according to a defense official.

On Saturday the President approved the additional direct deployment of a battalion of 1,000 troops from the 82nd Airborne division directly in Kabul, instead of their original standby position in Kuwait. 

That decision by Biden will now bring the total number of US troops in Kabul up to 5,000. The Pentagon had previously announced 3,000 troops were on their way, and approximately 1,000 troops had already been in Kabul for some time, the defense official said.

The 82nd Airborne troops redirected to Kabul were originally going to be part of up to 4,000 troops from the 82nd Airborne going to Kuwait on standby, to be used if needed.

The bulk of troops are expected in Kabul by the end of the weekend.

Biden is also announcing a series of actions aimed at deescalating the ongoing situation in Afghanistan, including directing the intel community “to ensure that we will maintain the capability and the vigilance to address future terrorist threats from Afghanistan,” tasking Secretary of State Tony Blinken with supporting Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, conveying to Taliban representatives in Doha “that any action on their part on the ground in Afghanistan, that puts US personnel or our mission at risk there, will be met with a swift and strong US military response,” and tasking Ambassador Tracey Jacobson with efforts “to process, transport, and relocate Afghan special immigrant visa applicants and other Afghan allies.”

 “When I came to office, I inherited a deal cut by my predecessor— which he invited the Taliban to discuss at Camp David on the eve of 9/11 of 2019—that left the Taliban in the strongest position militarily since 2001 and imposed a May 1, 2021 deadline on US forces,” Biden wrote. “Shortly before he left office, he also drew US forces down to a bare minimum of 2,500. Therefore, when I became President, I faced a choice—follow through on the deal, with a brief extension to get our forces and our allies’ forces out safely, or ramp up our presence and send more American troops to fight once again in another country’s civil conflict.”

“I was the fourth President to preside over an American troop presence in Afghanistan—two Republicans, two Democrats. I would not, and will not, pass this war onto a fifth.”

CORRECTION: This post has been updated to clarify the 5,000 US troops includes troops already on the ground in the country.

2:55 p.m. ET, August 14, 2021

Afghanistan's fourth-largest city Mazar-i-Sharif falls to Taliban, sources say

From Tim Lister, Nic Robertson and Saleem Mehsud

Mazar-i-Sharif, the most important city in the north of Afghanistan, has fallen to the Taliban after government forces suddenly left the city and headed toward the Uzbekistan border, according to sources in the city.

In an audio message shared with members of the media on Saturday, Mohammad Anwar Mohammadi, deputy commander of the Mazar special operations unit, announced that the Taliban had taken control of the city, adding that military units are currently at the border with Uzbekistan waiting for permission to enter. 

A pro-government militia source told CNN that there was no fighting inside the city and that chaos took over when government forces left.

The Taliban had earlier claimed to have "conquered" Mazar-i-Sharif, which President Ashraf Ghani had visited only last week when he called for popular uprising militia to join the army in defending Afghanistan's cities. 

The fall of Mazar-i-Sharif, the capital of Balkh province, means that only two major cities — Kabul and Jalalabad — remain in the government's control.

2:34 p.m. ET, August 14, 2021

Taliban enter Mazar-i-Sharif in northern Afghanistan, according to reports

From CNN's Tim Lister, Nic Robertson and Saleem Mehsud

 

A view of a deserted road showing a monument with image of former Mujahideen commander Ahmad Shah Masoud, in Mazar-i-Sharif, the provincial capital of Balkh province, Afghanistan, on August 14.
A view of a deserted road showing a monument with image of former Mujahideen commander Ahmad Shah Masoud, in Mazar-i-Sharif, the provincial capital of Balkh province, Afghanistan, on August 14. EPA/Shutterstock

Reports from the city of Mazar-i-Sharif – one of just three major cities still in the Afghan government's hands – say the Taliban has now entered the city.

A local journalist told CNN Saturday that the Taliban had freed all prisoners in the city's jail.

According to a source who is with a pro-government militia, Afghan National Army units withdrew from the city without any notice, allowing the Taliban to break through defense lines.

Taliban spokesperson Zabiullah Mujahid tweeted that Mazar-i-Sharif had been “conquered,” adding that the governor's office, police headquarters and intelligence (NDS) buildings had been taken, as well as army bases. Many of the vehicles, weapons and equipment had fallen into the hands of the mujahideen, he said.

2:24 p.m. ET, August 14, 2021

Biden held briefing with national security team on Afghanistan, White House says

US President Joe Biden receives a briefing at the White House on August 10, 2021.
US President Joe Biden receives a briefing at the White House on August 10, 2021. Susan Walsh/AP

President Biden was briefed about the ongoing situation in Afghanistan by his national security team this morning, according to the White House. 

“This morning, the President and Vice President held a secure video conference with the national security team to discuss the ongoing efforts to drawdown our civilian footprint in Afghanistan, evacuate SIV applicants, and monitor the evolving security situation. The President and Vice President were joined by the Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Chief of Staff, National Security Advisor, and Homeland Security Advisor,” a readout of the meeting says.

Biden is spending the weekend at Camp David.

The White House also tweeted out a photo Saturday of President Biden holding a video conference with Vice President Kamala Harris and his national security team, including national security adviser Jake Sullivan, Defense Sec. Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley.

2:25 p.m. ET, August 14, 2021

Capital of Kunar province in Afghanistan falls to Taliban

From CNN's Tim Lister in Spain

The capital city, Asadabad, fell to the Taliban on Saturday, a member of the provincial council in Kunar in eastern Afghanistan said.

The council member did not want to be named but confirmed that all the districts of Kunar province were now under Taliban control. He said the capital had been surrendered without a fight. Senior officials had left the city, he said.

The Taliban head claimed earlier Saturday that it took control of Asadabad, having taken over the governor's office, police headquarters and intelligence facilities.

12:37 p.m. ET, August 14, 2021

Afghan security forces pushing back against Taliban in Mazar-i-Sharif, source says

From CNN's Vasco Cotovio

Afghan security forces have been able to push back a Taliban offensive on Mazar-i-Sharif that started at 4 a.m. local time, according to an Afghan security source with knowledge of the fighting. 

According to the source, the Taliban successfully managed to conquer the gates of Afghanistan’s fourth-largest city before being pushed back by Afghan security forces. 

They were able to do so again, and now Afghan security forces are advancing, trying to push them out of the city. 

The Taliban is attacking the city on three fronts, according to the source.

11:25 a.m. ET, August 14, 2021

Biden will be briefed regularly on Afghanistan while at Camp David

From CNN's Jasmine Wright

US President Biden received additional briefings throughout the day Friday by his national security team on the situation in Afghanistan while at Camp David, a White House official confirmed to CNN on Saturday.

As CNN previously reported, the President stands firm in his decision to withdraw from Afghanistan, the official confirmed, even as the Taliban continues to seize provincial capitals at an accelerated rate.

Biden is expected to be briefed regularly this weekend while at Camp David, CNN's Jeremy Diamond reported Friday. 

The White House tweeted a photo Friday evening of Biden on the phone receiving a briefing on the ongoing efforts to withdraw US embassy staff in Afghanistan.

“Today President Biden spoke with Secretary Blinken, Secretary Austin, and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan about the ongoing efforts to safely drawdown the civilian footprint in Afghanistan," the tweet read.

11:18 a.m. ET, August 14, 2021

Qatar calls on the Taliban to "cease fire" and work through the peace process after Doha talks

From CNN's Vasco Cotovio in London and Hamdi Alkhshali in Atlanta

Qatari Foreign Minister, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, meets with the head of the Taliban's Political Bureau, Mullah Abdul Ghani Barader, and his accompanying delegation in Doha.
Qatari Foreign Minister, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, meets with the head of the Taliban's Political Bureau, Mullah Abdul Ghani Barader, and his accompanying delegation in Doha. Qatar News Agency

Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani has urged the Taliban to “reduce escalation and cease fire.”

The country’s foreign ministry said in a statement Saturday that Al Thani conveyed his position in a meeting with the head of the Taliban's Political Bureau, Mullah Abdul Ghani Barader, and his accompanying delegation in Doha.

“Last week, Doha hosted an expanded international meeting on Afghanistan, which culminated in the participants agreeing on a set of positions, including the need to accelerate the peace process, negotiate concrete proposals from the Afghan sides, work to build confidence, stop violence between the two sides, and respect international law. Not to recognize any government in Afghanistan that is imposed through the use of military force,” the ministry added in its statement.

The statement followed talks in Doha on Thursday between Taliban representatives and Afghan government officials, along with envoys from the United States, China, Pakistan, the UN, the European Union, among others.