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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6:41 a.m. ET, August 15, 2021

US rushes to completely pull out of embassy in Kabul over the next 72 hours

From CNN's Kylie Atwood

This picture taken on Saturday shows planes on the tarmac of the airport in Kabul.
This picture taken on Saturday shows planes on the tarmac of the airport in Kabul. WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP via Getty Images

The US is completely pulling out all personnel from the embassy in Kabul over the next 72 hours, including the top officials, according to two sources familiar with the situation. 

This is a rapid acceleration of the process that was only announced on Thursday. It is a situation that many State Department security officials expected would have to happen as Taliban gains accelerated in recent days. 

Most of the diplomats will go to the airport in Kabul and then fly back to America.

A small number of core personnel, including the top US diplomat in the country, will remain at Kabul’s airport for now, the sources said. This means that the US embassy in Kabul will be shuttered -- at least for the time being -- by Tuesday. 

The other thing to note is that US officials have repeatedly been telling CNN over the last few days that the US doesn’t have great intelligence on the ground right now. This is one of the things that is fueling the decision to get these diplomats home because they really don’t know the precise dynamics of what is happening. 

One of the major reasons for this is because the United States has withdrawn most of their troops -- those who were able to collect some intelligence -- and as one US defense official put it, this makes the United States blind in the face of some potential intelligence that they used to have.

6:27 a.m. ET, August 15, 2021

UK Home office says it's working to get its citizens out of Afghanistan

The UK is working to help its citizens and other eligible former UK staff to leave Afghanistan, said UK Home Office in a post to Twitter on Sunday as Taliban approached Kabul. 

The Home Office said its officials have already resettled over 3,300 Afghan staff and their families.

6:21 a.m. ET, August 15, 2021

Taliban have not entered Kabul, presidential palace source says

From CNN’s Nick Paton Walsh in Kabul

A senior official from Afghanistan's presidential palace said the Taliban had not entered Kabul.

There had been reports of gunfire in the city, which occurred when a scuffle erupted over access to a bank and security guards and army nearby started shooting.

He said the shooting had since died down. The official pointed to the Taliban statement that they would not enter the city.

The official said that there were ongoing negotiations with a sense “of urgency” and that the president was in the palace with his national security adviser and other senior officials. 

He said the Americans and Taliban were part of the “contacts” but would not specify where they were happening.

Our aim is to avoid further bloodshed and unrest in Kabul or harm to people in Kabul. Our aim is to make sure there is no violence,” the official said.
6:13 a.m. ET, August 15, 2021

How did Taliban gain ground so quickly?

A member of Afghan security force walks through a road in Panjshir province on Sunday.
A member of Afghan security force walks through a road in Panjshir province on Sunday. AHMAD SAHEL ARMAN/AFP via Getty Images

After seizing much of the country in the last several weeks, Taliban militants now surround the Afghan capital of Kabul. Carter Malkasian, a former senior adviser to the chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff, says there are a couple of reasons for the armed group's rapid advancement.

"Afghan forces, for a long period of time, have had problems with morale and also their willingness to fight the Taliban," Malkasian, who is also the author of "The American War in Afghanistan: A History," told CNN on Sunday.

"First of all, the Taliban can paint themselves as those who are resisting and fighting occupation, which is something that is kind of near and dear to what it means to be Afghan. Whereas that's a much harder thing for the government to claim, or the military forces forces fighting for the government."

He also said the Taliban's repeated successes in taking provincial cities will have impacted the confidence of Afghan security forces. "There's no doubt that morale suffers when forces face defeat after defeat," he continued. 

"The more defeats that are suffered, the worst morale is going to get, so they've been suffering this kind of chain reaction for, really, the past three months. And on the other side of the fence, the Taliban are getting emboldened by success after success, and these kind of compounding effects make it even harder for the Afghan forces to hold ground."

5:41 a.m. ET, August 15, 2021

Qalat becomes 25th provincial capital to fall to Taliban 

From CNN's Tim Lister

Multiple videos from the city of Qalat, the capital of Zabul province in southeastern Afghanistan, appear to show the Taliban in control of the city, with fighters evident in the main square and the Taliban's white flag flying in several locations. 

A local journalist told CNN Friday that the Taliban had entered the city.

There has been no word from the government or any provincial official on the city's status.

Twenty-five of Afghanistan's 34 provincial capitals are now held by the Taliban. The capital, Kabul, is the only city with a population of more than 100,000 still held by the government. 

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.