August 15, 2021, Afghanistan-Taliban news

By Lauren Said-Moorhouse, Melissa Mahtani, Melissa Macaya, Maureen Chowdhury, Brad Lendon and Joshua Berlinger, CNN

Updated 0401 GMT (1201 HKT) August 16, 2021
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5:38 a.m. ET, August 15, 2021

Negotiations underway for transition of power, as Taliban militants surround Kabul

From CNN's Tim Lister

Afghan men walk through a sreet in the Green Zone of Kabul on Sunday.
Afghan men walk through a sreet in the Green Zone of Kabul on Sunday. WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP via Getty Images

The embattled Afghan government is in talks with the Taliban over the country's future as the militant group surrounds the capital, Kabul.

Acting Afghan Interior Minister Abdul Sattar Mirzakwal said Sunday that Kabul will not be attacked and that they will shift power peacefully to a transitional administration, though he did not say what a transitional government may look like.

In an on-camera video statement carried by Afghan news agency TOLO, he assured Kabul residents that security forces would secure the city.

Around the same time on Sunday, the Taliban issued a statement saying it was in talks with "the opposing side" for a peaceful surrender of the capital.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah said that all fighters had been instructed to be on standby at all entrances to Kabul until a peaceful and satisfactory transfer of power was agreed. They were also instructed about the lives, dignity and belongings of the residents of Kabul, and about not creating any danger or discomfort to them. 

The security of the capital was the responsibility of the government and they should guarantee it, Zabihullah added.

5:29 a.m. ET, August 15, 2021

Taliban circling in on Kabul, says it wants to take the capital peacefully

From CNN's Clarissa Ward and Brent Swails in Kabul, Afghanistan

Afghans wait in long lines for hours at the passport office as many are desperate to have their travel documents ready to go in Kabul, Afghanistan on Saturday.
Afghans wait in long lines for hours at the passport office as many are desperate to have their travel documents ready to go in Kabul, Afghanistan on Saturday. Paula Bronstein/Getty Images

A statement issued by the Taliban on Sunday appealed for calm in the capital, Kabul, and offered assurances to its residents. It said its fighters were now closing in on the city, and wanted to seize control there "peacefully." 

The statement, issued by spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, said the group was "assuring all the banks, businesses, money exchange shops that they will be safe and protected under the Taliban and nobody would touch or bother anyone in Kabul."

"All the wealthy people, the businessmen, they should be safe and protected. None of the Taliban are allowed to go to any houses or conduct searches on businesses and the Islamic Emirate gives them full protection and they should be safe and not worry," Zabihullah said.

Tensions are running high in the capital after key cities including Jalalabad and Mazar-i-Sharif fell to the militant group overnight. Video from the city in the last 24 hours show Afghans waiting en masse at ATMs as people tried to withdraw cash, while photos show long queues at the passport office where others are trying to get their documents in order.

Zabihullah also said those who had fought against the Taliban had nothing to fear.

"The people who are trying to fight against us, we suggest to them not to do so and they will be fully protected. They can leave as ordinary people."

He continued: "We will never ask about their past or who they were and we would like to take the city peacefully. They shouldn't worry about us. We are normal people And the people who work for the Kabul government, in the military or other offices, they will all be forgiven and they’re all our brothers."

4:27 a.m. ET, August 15, 2021

Evacuations of US Embassy personnel "well underway"

From CNN's Clarissa Ward in Kabul

A US military helicopter is pictured flying above the US embassy in Kabul on Sunday.
A US military helicopter is pictured flying above the US embassy in Kabul on Sunday. Wakil Kohsar/AFP/Getty Images

A US official tells CNN that evacuations are well underway in Afghanistan, with a goal to get US Embassy personnel out by Tuesday morning, if not sooner.

The Taliban is making rapid advances and is edging closer to the borders of the capital, Kabul.

The embassy expects to be running evacuations 24/7 "very soon." Earlier, sources told CNN that helicopters were continuing to shuttle personnel from the embassy to the airport.

The current plan is to try to evacuate the embassy personnel, followed by American citizens, then special immigrant visa (SIV) holders. They are also looking into expediting people who are in the process of getting their SIV and looking to get Afghan nationals who work at the US Embassy out.

There will be a handful of embassy staff who will remain, a skeleton crew.

4:07 a.m. ET, August 15, 2021

Pakistan seals largest border crossing with Afghanistan

From journalist Zahir Shah Sherazi in Peshawar and CNN's Sophia Saifi

Pakistani paramilitary soldiers stand at the Torkham border crossing on August 3, 2021.
Pakistani paramilitary soldiers stand at the Torkham border crossing on August 3, 2021. AAMIR QURESHI/AFP via Getty Images

The border crossing between Afghanistan and Pakistan has been “completely sealed” by Pakistani authorities, a senior border official at the Torkham border crossing in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province has confirmed to CNN.

The official told CNN that Saturday night, between 9 and 10 p.m. local, all the border transit and administrative offices on the Afghanistan side were “taken over by the Afghan Taliban.”

According to the official, there have been attempts to reach out to the Afghan Taliban but they were stopped by “senior officials” from Islamabad, who are “already in discussions with them.”

Attempts are being made to retrieve Pakistanis who are stuck on the Afghan side of the border. Two other border officials that CNN spoke to confirmed this situation.

The Torkham border crossing between Afghanistan and Pakistan is the busiest entry points between the two countries. 

4:07 a.m. ET, August 15, 2021

Welcome back to live coverage of Afghanistan

We'll bring you the latest developments from the ground in Afghanistan, where the Taliban's rapid gains continued overnight as militants edge closer to Kabul.

  • Several more provincial capitals fell to the Taliban without resistance overnight, including the key cities of Jalalabad and Mazar-i-Sharif, making a total of 24 provincial capitals taken by the group in roughly two weeks.
  • Kabul is now the only major city still in the government's control.
  • The evacuation of US diplomats from the embassy to Kabul airport is ongoing, according to a source with knowledge on the ground in Kabul and another source familiar with the matter.  
  • On Saturday, a US defense official told CNN that “time is of the essence; we don’t have the luxury of time to wait.” 
  • Biden authorized a further 1,000 troops to be deployed to Afghanistan.
  • And Pakistan sealed its largest border crossing with the country, a senior border official confirmed to CNN.