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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10:44 a.m. ET, August 15, 2021

Witness describes chaotic scenes at Kabul airport

From CNN’s Clarissa Ward in Kabul

A witness CNN has spoken with at Kabul airport has described a chaotic situation, as most foreigners attempt to leave the country.

“There are big crowds trying to get in and at one stage shooting erupted,” the witness said. 

“There was also a warning of a ground attack and we were in a bunker for the past hour but now it is all clear,” the witness added. “It's all foreigners here. One young European woman was freaking out.”

CNN also saw photographs of lots of soldiers and groups of civilians waiting around, on the floor.

10:36 a.m. ET, August 15, 2021

BREAKING: Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has left the country

From CNN’s Nick Paton Walsh, Jenny Hansler and Tim Lister

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

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has left the country, an Afghanistan senior official and a senior diplomatic source have told CNN.

Afghan Chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation Abdullah Abdullah has also said in a video statement that President Ghani has left the country, referring to him as “former president.”

CNN reported earlier that discussions were taking place at the presidential palace in Kabul between government officials and Taliban representatives.  

Ghani is a former economist and academic, who has served as Afghanistan's president since 2014. He was reelected in September 2019 but due to a protracted process was not sworn in until March 2020.  

He used to be an American citizen but he gave up his passport to run for the Afghan presidency in 2009.

Ghani previously taught anthropology at Berkeley and Johns Hopkins University in the United States between 1983 and 1991, and later began working at the World Bank. He was at the global financial institution in Washington during the September 11 attacks, and used the tragedy as a springboard for his re-engagement in Afghan politics, returning to his home country just months after the event. 

10:07 a.m. ET, August 15, 2021

Canada suspends Kabul embassy operations

From CNN’s Vasco Cotovio

Canada has suspended its operations at the country’s embassy in Kabul, its Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Sunday. 

“The situation in Afghanistan is rapidly evolving and poses serious challenges to our ability to ensure the safety and security of our mission,” the statement read. “After consulting with Canada’s Ambassador to Afghanistan, the decision was made to temporarily suspend our diplomatic operations in Kabul.”

“The Canadian embassy will resume its operations as soon as the security situation in Afghanistan allows us to guarantee appropriate service and adequate security for our staff,” the statement added.

The foreign ministry also condemned the escalation in violence and remembered the sacrifices its armed forces as well as Afghan citizens had made in the pursuit of democracy.

“The Afghan people have put their lives at great risk in the pursuit of democracy, human rights, education, health and security over the past 20 years,” the statement said. “As we watch the situation unfold, our thoughts also turn to the sacrifices Canadians, including our armed forces, diplomats and other civilians, have made for the people of Afghanistan over so many years.”

“Canada firmly condemns the escalating violence and calls for a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire. We call for an end to the injustices faced by Afghans, especially women, girls, and ethnic minorities, in areas controlled by the Taliban,” it added. “Canada remains committed to Afghanistan and the Afghan people and we will continue to do all that we can to support them.”

9:58 a.m. ET, August 15, 2021

Sweden to evacuate all embassy staff in Kabul by Monday

From CNN's Henrik Pettersson

Sweden will evacuate all embassy staff in Kabul, Afghanistan, by no later than Monday, Minister for Foreign Affairs Ann Linde told reporters during a news briefing on Sunday.

On Friday, the Swedish Foreign Ministry announced it was reducing the number of embassy staff but noted it would wait to decide whether to fully evacuate the embassy.

Linde said last week that well-developed evacuation plans could be activated on short notice. "The safety of the staff at the embassy is a top priority," Linde said on Friday.

10:02 a.m. ET, August 15, 2021

US Senator slams leadership for troop withdrawal

From CNN's Angela Dewan

US Sen. Ben Sasse speaks during a hearing in Washington, DC, on April 27, 2021.
US Sen. Ben Sasse speaks during a hearing in Washington, DC, on April 27, 2021. Tasos Katopodis/AFP/Getty Images

US Senator Ben Sasse, a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, released a statement on Afghanistan Sunday, saying the US would "regret" its moves and foreign relations would suffer as a consequence.

“The unmitigated disaster in Afghanistan – the shameful, Saigon-like abandonment of Kabul, the brutalization of Afghan women, and the slaughter of our allies – is the predictable outcome of the Trump-Biden doctrine of weakness," Sasse said in a blistering statement.

"History must be clear about this: American troops didn’t lose this war – Donald Trump and Joe Biden deliberately decided to lose. Politicians lied: America’s options were never simply this disgraceful withdrawal or an endless occupation force of 100,000 troops (we haven’t had that in Afghanistan in a decade)."

Sasse continued that US leadership "didn't tell the truth" over how crucial the nation's peace-keeping force to Afghan security was.

"America’s leaders didn’t tell the truth that our small, forward-deployed force of a few thousand was the backbone of intelligence and special forces’ successful work to decapitate terror organizations," his statement read. "The looming defeat will badly hurt American intelligence and give jihadis a safe haven in Afghanistan, again. America will regret this. Our allies will trust us less and our adversaries fear us less. China is already exploiting this latest instance of American retreat. We need a long-term national security strategy.”

Earlier US Secretary of State Antony Blinken admitted that Taliban gains in Afghanistan happened "more quickly than we anticipated," but defended America's withdrawal.

9:49 a.m. ET, August 15, 2021

UK Parliament will be recalled next week to discuss Afghanistan

From CNN’s Vasco Cotovio

The UK House of Commons will be recalled from summer recess on Wednesday at 9:30 a.m. local, the British Parliament announced on its website

“The Speaker of the House of Commons granted a request from the Government to recall the House of Commons at 9.30am on Wednesday 18 August in relation to the situation in Afghanistan,” the announcement read.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has also convened a Cabinet Office Briefing Rooms (COBR) meeting this afternoon to discuss the situation in Afghanistan, his office said in a statement. 

“The Prime Minister has convened a COBR meeting for later this afternoon to discuss the situation in Afghanistan,” a Downing Street spokesperson told CNN on Sunday.
9:43 a.m. ET, August 15, 2021

Pakistan reopens crucial border crossing with Afghanistan for transfer of goods only

From CNN's Zahir Shah Sherazi and Sophia Saifi

Pakistan has just reopened the Torkham border crossing in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, the busiest commercial point of entry between Pakistan and Afghanistan, for the transfer of goods and supplies, according to senior border official. 

The border is not open to pedestrians or travelers on Sunday afternoon. Heavy trucks transporting perishable items including fruits and vegetables are being given priority.

The only other open border crossing between the two countries is the Chaman-Spin Boldak border crossing, another of the key points of entry between the two countries. 

The Taliban had closed that border for a period, but reopened it to the transfer of goods on Saturday, according to the same official speaking to CNN. 

The official previously told CNN on Saturday night the Torkham Border crossing had been “completely sealed” by Pakistani authorities as the Taliban continued to make gains across Afghanistan.

10:26 a.m. ET, August 15, 2021

This is what it's like on Kabul's streets as the Taliban surrounds the city

From CNN's Brent Swails in Kabul

This picture taken from a hillside shows a view of Kabul, Afghanistan, on August 15, 2021.
This picture taken from a hillside shows a view of Kabul, Afghanistan, on August 15, 2021. Wakil Kohsar/AFP/Getty Images

Journalist Najibullah Quarashi in Kabul tells CNN the streets are empty, and the normally busy capital has been transformed into a ghost town.

He added that it reminded him of the '90s, when the Taliban swept across the country and stood at the gates of the city to take the capital.

Government and private security have removed their uniforms and are wearing normal clothes, he said. Many government and private security personnel are wearing white scarves, the color of the Taliban.

Earlier in the day, images and video from Kabul showed long lines at ATMs at some locations around the city where people were trying to take out cash from the bank. Others had rushed to food markets to stockpile food, uncertain of what the weeks ahead would bring.

9:37 a.m. ET, August 15, 2021

High level Afghan delegation arrives in Islamabad

From CNN’s Sophia Saifi

A high-level Afghan delegation has arrived in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad.

“Just received a high level Afghan political leadership delegation including Speaker Ulusi Jirga Mir Rehman Rehmani, Salah-ud-din Rabbani, Mohammad Yunus Qanooni, Ustad Mohammad Karim Khalili, Ahmad Zia Massoud, Ahmad Wali Massoud, Abdul Latif Pedram, and Khalid Noor,” Pakistan special Representative for Afghanistan Mohammad Sadiq tweeted on Sunday. “Matters of mutual interest will be discussed during the Afghan political leadership's visit.”

The delegation is expected to discuss the current situation in Afghanistan with the political leadership in Pakistan.