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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9:54 p.m. ET, August 15, 2021

All US Embassy personnel have evacuated, the State Department said

From CNN's Jennifer Hansler

All personnel have evacuated from the US Embassy in Kabul and are now at the Kabul airport, the State Department said Sunday night. 

“We can confirm that the safe evacuation of all Embassy personnel is now complete. All Embassy personnel are located on the premises of Hamid Karzai International Airport, whose perimeter is secured by the US Military,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price said in a statement.
9:47 p.m. ET, August 15, 2021

Russia is not evacuating its embassy in Afghanistan

From CNN's Zahra Ullah in Moscow and Nathan Hodge

The Russian government is not preparing to evacuate its embassy in Kabul, a senior Russian diplomat told Russian state news agency RIA-Novosti.

"The evacuation of the embassy is not being readied," said Zamir Kabulov, Russian President Vladimir Putin's special representative for Afghanistan, RIA-Novosti reported Sunday. "I am in contact with our ambassador, they are working calmly and closely watching events as they unfold."

Kabulov said the Taliban had guaranteed security for the Russian Embassy.

Russian Ambassador to Afghanistan Dmitry Zhirnov is planning to meet with representatives of the Taliban to discuss the security of the Russian diplomatic mission, the embassy's press attache, Nikita Ishchenko, told RIA-Novosti.

Russia has previously designated the Taliban as a terrorist organization, but the Kremlin government has also hosted the group's top negotiators at diplomatic conferences in Moscow.

9:12 p.m. ET, August 15, 2021

"Vast majority" of assets in Afghanistan's central bank are not held in the country

From CNN’s Jeff Zeleny

Da Afghanistan Bank is seen in Kabul on November 3, 2017.
Da Afghanistan Bank is seen in Kabul on November 3, 2017. Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg/Getty Images

The abrupt collapse of the Afghanistan government on Sunday has raised questions about assets held by the Afghanistan's central bank, Da Afghanistan Bank, and whether they could end up in the hands of the Taliban.

However, the “vast majority” of the the bank's assets are not held in Afghanistan, a US official familiar with the matter told CNN.

Separately, a Biden administration official said Sunday that any assets the Afghan government has in the United States will not be made available to the Taliban.

So while it’s not exactly clear just how much money is being held in reserves at Da Afghanistan Bank, the US administration is pushing back on some critics who believe the Taliban will have access to the money.

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.