Taliban spokesman says new government will include non-Taliban Afghans
From CNN’s Nic Robertson, Tim Lister and Nicky Robertson
A new Taliban government will include non-Taliban Afghans, Taliban spokesman Sohail Shaheen told CNN’s Nic Robertson in a video interview on Sunday.
When asked if the new Taliban government will include members of the former Afghan government, Shaheen, speaking from Doha, said it would be “premature” right now to name who the officials will be, but he said that they are trying to have some “well known figures” to be part of the government.
“When we are saying an Afghan inclusive Islamic government, that means that other Afghans also have participation in the government,” he said.
When asked if the Taliban will call on the current Afghan army and police to join Taliban security forces, Shaheen said all those handing over their weapons and joining Taliban forces will be granted amnesty, and that their lives and property would be secure. He added that their names are in a registry and they would be used as a “reserve” force and called upon as needed.
7:48 p.m. ET, August 15, 2021
US forces will take over air traffic control at Kabul airport
From Jennifer Hansler
The Departments of State and Defense have announced that US forces will now take over air traffic control at Kabul airport, in addition to expanding security there.
“Tomorrow and over the coming days, we will be transferring out of the country thousands of American citizens who have been resident in Afghanistan, as well as locally employed staff of the U.S. mission in Kabul and their families and other particularly vulnerable Afghan nationals,” the joint statement from the two agencies said.
“And we will accelerate the evacuation of thousands of Afghans eligible for U.S. Special Immigrant Visas, nearly 2,000 of whom have already arrived in the United States over the past two weeks,” the statement said. “For all categories, Afghans who have cleared security screening will continue to be transferred directly to the United States. And we will find additional locations for those yet to be screened.”
7:48 p.m. ET, August 15, 2021
US reducing evacuation flights for Afghans who worked for US to prioritize Americans
From Jennifer Hansler, Kylie Atwood and Priscilla Alvarez
The Biden administration has curtailed the number of flights to the United States for Afghans who worked alongside the US, as it prioritizes the evacuation of American personnel from the country, three sources familiar with the situation told CNN.
The last flight of Afghan Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) applicants and their families bound for Fort Lee, Virginia, has left Afghanistan, four sources said.
One source said that the limitation on the number of flights that are able to transit in and out of the Kabul airport – which was a scene of mass panic and chaos on Sunday -- has impeded efforts to evacuate the Afghans who worked alongside the US in its two-decade military campaign.
It is unclear how long the pause in inbound flights will last. As of last week refugee resettlement agencies were preparing for a large influx of Afghan arrivals, two of the sources said, and Biden administration officials were discussing an uptick in SIV flights.
As of last Thursday, 1,200 Afghans and their families had been evacuated to America as part of the administration's "Operation Allies Refuge," according to State Department spokesperson Ned Price.
CNN has reached out to the State Department for comment.
7:49 p.m. ET, August 15, 2021
US troops to secure Kabul airport as hundreds of Afghans rush onto airfield for flights out
From Barbara Starr
The 6,000 US troops earmarked for security duty in Kabul will now have the task of securing the entire perimeter of the airport, according to a defense official. This is a result in part of hundreds of Afghans rushing on to the airfield to try to get flights out, as well as the potential for Taliban attacks and growing unrest at the airfield.
The official said the continued evacuation flights must happen in a secure atmosphere. Gen. Frank McKenzie, commander of US CENTCOM, met with Taliban leaders in Doha Qatar Sunday to underscore the sole US mission was to get people out safely.
The original evacuation plan that called for 3,000 troops was essentially the baseline security plan that assumed a safe environment the official said. The Pentagon had to double that to 6,000 as the security situation suddenly deteriorated further.
The official said US forces could wind up staying “as long as needed” to get Americans and Afghans out, but that the way ahead remains uncertain.
7:49 p.m. ET, August 15, 2021
The US flew approximately 500 embassy staffers out of Afghanistan on Sunday
From CNN’s Oren Liebermann
The US has flown approximately 500 staff members from the US Embassy in Kabul out of Afghanistan today, a defense official told CNN.
Approximately 4,000 US Embassy staff members are still to fly out of the country, including US citizens and Afghan nationals who work for the embassy, two defense officials said.
That number does not include family members of the Afghan staffers. The US plan for those family members remains unclear at this time.
The State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
5:09 p.m. ET, August 15, 2021
Afghan President says fleeing the country was "a hard choice"
From CNN's Hira Humayun
In a Facebook post on Sunday following his departure from the country, former Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said he will “always continue to serve” the nation.
“I will always continue to serve my nation through offering ideas and programs,” Ghani wrote.
“Today, I came across a hard choice; if I should stand to face the armed Taliban who wanted to enter the palace, or leave the dear country that I dedicated my life to protecting and caring for the past twenty years,” he said.
“The Taliban have made it a point to remove me, they are here to attack all Kabul and the people of Kabul. In order to avoid the flood of bloodshed, I thought it was best to get out,” he added.
Earlier on Sunday, sources told CNN Ghani and other senior Afghan officials fled the country. Two sources told CNN Ghani fled to Tajikistan. One of the sources, an Afghan source added that Tajikistan will not be his final destination but refused to say where he would go from there. It is unknown where Ghani made the Facebook post from.
Ghani added that the Taliban have taken control with “swords and guns” and are “responsible for protecting the countrymen's honor, wealth and self-esteem.”
“They didn't win the legitimacy of hearts,” Ghani said, adding, “They are now facing a new historical test; either they will protect the name and honor of Afghanistan or they will prioritize other places and networks.”
“In order to win legitimacy and hearts of the people, it is necessary for Taliban to give assurance to all the people, tribes, different segments, sisters and women of Afghanistan and to make clear plans and share them with the public,” Ghani wrote.
5:14 p.m. ET, August 15, 2021
President Biden expected to address nation regarding Afghanistan in the next few days
From CNN's John Harwood
President Biden is expected to address the nation in the next few days about the crisis in Afghanistan, according to a senior administration official.
One option under discussion is to have Biden return to the White House, though the official cautioned that they had not completely ruled out making the remarks from Camp David.
Earlier today, CNN's Jeff Zeleny reported that while Biden can receive the same level of briefings from Camp David, as he has been doing throughout the weekend, officials are aware of the optics of the President being out of town during this perilous moment.
Several administration officials have also been on vacation, but began returning to work remotely Sunday or in the West Wing.
5:06 p.m. ET, August 15, 2021
UN says they have received 17,500 newly internally displaced people in Afghanistan in the past month
From CNN’s Richard Roth
The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA) released a statement on Sunday addressing the situation in Afghanistan saying that there has been an influx of large groups of people seeking safety from conflict and other threats since July 1.
UN OCHA says that they have identified 17,500 newly internally displaced people (IDPs) in the past month in Afghanistan.
Most IDPs arriving to Kabul in the past few days “were reported to have arrived from Ghazni and Logar provinces” the statement reads. The organization says they assisted approximately 13,500 of these people in providing food, cash, health, household items and water and sanitation support.
UN OCHA says that the needs of IDPs continue to be shelter, household items, food, sanitation, hygiene kits and drinking water.
More than 550,000 people have been displaced by conflict in Afghanistan to date this year and the number of those displaced due to conflict has more than doubled since the end of May, according to UN OCHA. The organization also says that the number of people displaced by conflict in 2021 has already surpassed the humanitarian community’s planning figure of 500,000 for the year.
“Some 18.4 million people were already in need of humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan,” the statement reads. “The US $1.3 billion Humanitarian Response Plan for Afghanistan remains just 38 per cent funded, leaving an almost $800 million shortfall.”
5:00 p.m. ET, August 15, 2021
US approves 1,000 more troops into Afghanistan due to deteriorating security situation, defense official says
From CNN’s Oren Liebermann
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin approved 1,000 more US troops into Afghanistan, a defense official tells CNN, for a total of 6,000 US troops that will be in the country soon.
The additional troops come from the group of 82nd Airborne that were headed to Kuwait, and they are being sent in as a result of the deteriorating security situation, the official said.
Their primary mission is the security of Kabul's international airport, which is the entry point for the troops and the exit point for the US embassy staff and Afghans who are leaving the country.
"We are not assuming that every inch of the airport is secure," said the official, noting reports of Afghan civilians rushing to the airport.
As of right now, there are approximately 3,000 US troops in Afghanistan. The remaining troops are en route or will be in the imminent future.
There have been security incidents at or near the airport, the official said, but US forces have not been targeted, nor have they fired on anyone. Turkish forces remain at the field and are also taking part in the efforts to secure the field. The official could not say whether Turkish forces had been engaged in exchanges of fire.
The US military is overseeing air traffic control at the field, which is still being run by Afghan air traffic controllers. Civilian and military flights continue, the defense official said, though there have been delays and temporary stoppages in civilian flights.
The US military will have the maximum capacity to move about 5,000 people per day out of Kabul international airport, though they are not able to move that number yet, the official said. They will reach that capacity "within days."
The US has made its plans clear to the Taliban in Doha and that any attempt to fire on US forces will be met with a strong response, the official added.