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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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.

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

Passengers trying to fly out of Kabul International Airport amid the Taliban offensive wait in line in Kabul, Afghanistan, on August 13.
Passengers trying to fly out of Kabul International Airport amid the Taliban offensive wait in line in Kabul, Afghanistan, on August 13. Tameem Akghar/AP

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

Taliban fighters and local residents sit over an Afghan National Army (ANA) humvee vehicle along the roadside in Laghman province on August 15.
Taliban fighters and local residents sit over an Afghan National Army (ANA) humvee vehicle along the roadside in Laghman province on August 15. AFP/Getty Images

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.

4:57 p.m. ET, August 15, 2021

French military to evacuate French nationals from Afghanistan on two planes

From CNN's Saskya Vandoorne and Mitch McCluskey

Two French military planes will evacuate French nationals from Afghanistan to the United Arab Emirates as the Taliban continues to claim territory in the country, the French army said in a statement on Sunday.

The transport planes will take off from Kabul Sunday night and Monday morning for Air Base 104 in Al Dhafra, UAE. The planes will be reinforced by French soldiers who are stationed in the UAE.

The French nationals will then be transported to the city by other military planes after arriving at the airbase.

The French army is carrying out the operation in coordination with the ministries of Europe and foreign affairs, the statement said.

A spokesperson for the Elysee Palace announced Sunday that French President Emmanuel Macron will address the nation on Afghanistan on Monday.

4:38 p.m. ET, August 15, 2021

Turkey says it will work with Pakistan to help stabilize Afghanistan and prevent new wave of Afghan migrants

From CNN’s Celine Alkhaldi in Dubai

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks during a naval ceremony, in Istanbul, Turkey, on August 15.
Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks during a naval ceremony, in Istanbul, Turkey, on August 15. Turkish Presidency/Pool/AP

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Sunday that Turkey will work with Pakistan to help stabilize Afghanistan, according to the state news agency Anadolu.

Speaking at a ship-launching ceremony in Istanbul alongside his Pakistani counterpart Arif Alvi, Erdogan said that Turkey is "facing a wave of Afghan migrants through Iran," according to Anadolu.

He said Turkey "will continue efforts to enable the return of stability in the region," emphasizing the need to pursue and strengthen cooperation with Pakistan in doing so, according to Anadolu.

The Turkish President said his country is determined to mobilize all the means at its disposal to succeed, according to Anadolu Agency.

Erdogan also spoke to Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan over the phone on Sunday to review the evolving situation in Afghanistan. Khan conveyed that Pakistan was "extending facilitation in the evacuation of diplomatic personnel and staff of international organizations and others in Kabul," according to a statement shared by his office.

The statement said that both Erdogan and Khan will reconvene on Monday, following the National Security Committee, which will tackle developments in Afghanistan. The meeting will be held in Islamabad and attended by senior government and military officials, according to the Prime Minister's office.

Anadolu reported on Saturday that Turkish National Defense Minister Hulusi Akar, together with military commanders, conducted on-site inspections of the measures taken on the Iranian border. Soldiers at the post reassured Akar that "neither terrorists nor illegal immigrants can enter our country while we are here."

According to UNHCR figures from 2019, about 90% of the world's Afghan refugees are hosted in Iran and Pakistan, and according to a 2020 report, more than 116 thousand Afghan asylum seekers and nearly 1,000 Afghan refugees reside in Turkey.

5:45 p.m. ET, August 15, 2021

Here’s how the Taliban regained control in Afghanistan

Taliban fighters raise their flag at the Ghazni provincial governor's house in Ghazni, Afghanistan, on August 15, 2021.
Taliban fighters raise their flag at the Ghazni provincial governor's house in Ghazni, Afghanistan, on August 15, 2021. Gulabuddin Amiri/AP

After 20 years of US intervention, thousands of deaths and at least $1 trillion dollars, the Taliban's advance in the country has been strikingly swift — here’s a look back at how the situation evolved to where it stands today:

Less than a month after terrorists linked to al Qaeda carried out the 9/11 attacks, American and allied forces begin an invasion of Afghanistan called Operation Enduring Freedom, to stop the Taliban from providing a safe-haven to al Qaeda and to stop al Qaeda’s use of Afghanistan as a base of operations for terrorist activities.

On Dec. 7, 2001 the Taliban lost its last major stronghold as the city of Kandahar fell. Since then, the Taliban have attempted to gain ground in Afghanistan throughout the time US forces have been there and throughout multiple US administrations.

More recently, in January 2017, the Taliban sent an open letter to then-newly elected US President Trump, calling on him to withdraw US forces from the country.

Between 2017 to 2019 there were attempts at peace talks between the US and the Taliban that never finalized into an agreement.

During a surprise trip to Afghanistan in November 2019 for a Thanksgiving visit with US troops, Trump announced that peace talks with the Taliban were restarting. The peace talks resumed in Doha, Qatar, in December of that year.

The US and the Taliban signed a historic agreement in February 2020, which set into motion the potential of a full withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan. The "Agreement for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan" outlined a series of commitments from the US and the Taliban related to troop levels, counter terrorism, and the intra-Afghan dialogue aimed at bringing about "a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire."

In the month following the signing of the Trump administration’s peace deal with the Taliban, the insurgent group increased its attacks on America’s Afghan allies to higher than usual levels, according to data provided to the Pentagon’s Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction.

In August 2020, Afghanistan’s grand assembly of elders, the consultative Loya Jirga, passed a resolution calling for the release of the last batch of some 5,000 Taliban prisoner, paving the way for direct peace talks with the insurgent group to end nearly two decades of war. The release of the 400 prisoners was part of the agreement signed by the US and the Taliban in February.

In March 2021, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and the Biden administration proposed to the Afghan government that they enter into an interim power-sharing agreement with the Taliban.

In April 2021, President Biden announced that the US would withdraw forces from Afghanistan by September 2021.

In August, just months after the US began withdrawing forces, the Biden administration sent in 5,000 troops into Afghanistan after the Taliban began gaining control in the country.

On Aug. 15, after the Taliban seized control of every major city across Afghanistan, apart from Kabul, in just two weeks, the Taliban engaged in talks with the government in the capital over who will rule the nation. 

The Taliban is now edging closer to taking full control of the country and have seized the presidential palace in Kabul after President Ghani fled the country. Earlier talks to form a transitional government appear to have been scuppered by Ghani's departure.

CNN's Clarissa Ward, Tim Lister, Vasco Cotovio, Angela Dewan, Mostafa Salem and Saleem Mehsud contributed reporting to this post.