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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9:18 p.m. ET, August 15, 2021

More than five dozen countries call for safety of people wishing to leave Afghanistan

From CNN’s Colin McCullough

Passengers enter the departures terminal of Hamid Karzai International Airport, in Kabul, Afghanistan, on August 14.
Passengers enter the departures terminal of Hamid Karzai International Airport, in Kabul, Afghanistan, on August 14. Rahmat Gul/AP

More than five dozen countries are urging “all parties” to safeguard the departure of foreign nationals and Afghans who wish to leave the country, according to a joint statement released by the US State Department on Sunday.

“Afghans and international citizens who wish to depart must be allowed to do so; roads, airports and border crossing must remain open, and calm must be maintained," the statement says.

“Those in positions of power and authority across Afghanistan bear responsibility -- and accountability -- for the protection of human life and property, and for the immediate restoration of security and civil order,” the statement read

Joining the United States in the statement are: Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Belgium, Burkina Faso, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Côte d’Ivoire, Czech Republic, Denmark, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Estonia, The High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liberia, Lichtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta , Marshall Islands, Mauritania, Nauru, Netherlands, New Zealand, Niger, Norway, Palau, Panama, Paraguay, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Republic of Korea, Republic of Cyprus, Romania, Sierra Leone, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Suriname, Sweden, Togo, Tonga, Uganda, United Kingdom, Ukraine and Yemen.

9:07 p.m. ET, August 15, 2021

Congressman: US troops presence in Afghanistan kept America safe for 20 years

Republican Rep. Dan Crenshaw -- a Navy SEAL and a veteran of the war in Afghanistan -- said Sunday the sacrifices that US troops have made in the country were not in vain, but in fact prevented terrorist attacks on the United States.

"You kept America safe for 20 years," the Texas congressman said of his compatriots in an interview with CNN's Pamela Brown.

On why he thinks the Afghan forces melted so quickly, Crenshaw said he thinks Afghan forces fell so quickly because the country's military is young and it takes more than just a few years to build up and train a fighting force.

"We can't just train them for a few years and they'll be off and running and able to destroy one of the leanest, meanest insurgencies that the world has ever known. It's not that easy," Crenshaw said.
10:09 p.m. ET, August 15, 2021

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

People protest in support of Afghanistan and against the Taliban take over of the country, at Lafayette Square across the street from the White House in Washington DC on August 15.
People protest in support of Afghanistan and against the Taliban take over of the country, at Lafayette Square across the street from the White House in Washington DC on August 15. Michael Reynolds/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

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

A Qatar Airways aircraft takes off from the airport in Kabul on August 14.
A Qatar Airways aircraft takes off from the airport in Kabul on August 14. Wakil Kohsar/AFP/Getty Images

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

A US Chinook helicopter flies over the city of Kabul, Afghanistan, on August 15.
A US Chinook helicopter flies over the city of Kabul, Afghanistan, on August 15. Rahmat Gul/AP

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 Joe Biden speaks during an East Room event at the White House August 11, in Washington, DC.
President Joe Biden speaks during an East Room event at the White House August 11, in Washington, DC. Alex Wong/Getty Images

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.