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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11:21 a.m. ET, August 15, 2021

Taliban entered "peacefully" into Kabul

From CNN's Nick Paton Walsh in Kabul

The Taliban entered Kabul, the capital city of Afghanistan, "peacefully," CNN's Nick Paton Walsh reported from the ground.

"We are hearing crackles of gunfire here and there, but there are not reports of... street-to-street fighting or Afghan security forces amassing in specific areas in order to prevent their entry. As far as we are aware, and it is dark here, so we are not able to go around and witness these events, they are moving gently across the city," Paton Walsh told CNN's Fareed Zakaria.

He added that it is unprecedented times, "Partly, because nobody imagined the Taliban would enter into the city of six million unimpeded," and because the Afghan President "said that he essentially wanted to stick around and has now disappeared without a transitional government in potentially to take over."

11:29 a.m. ET, August 15, 2021

Biden administration struggles to project order as Taliban enters Kabul

From CNN's Kevin Liptak and Jason Hoffman 

US President Joe Biden speaks during a meeting at the White House on August 3, 2021.
US President Joe Biden speaks during a meeting at the White House on August 3, 2021. Shawn Thew/EPA/Bloomberg/Getty Images

President Biden and his administration struggled Sunday to project order amid a race by American and other foreign personnel to evacuate Afghanistan as Taliban fighters entered Kabul.

The rapid fall of Afghanistan's national forces and government has come as a shock to Biden and senior members of his administration, who only last month believed it could take months before the civilian government in Kabul fell – allowing a period of time after American troops left before the full consequences of the withdrawal were laid bare.

Now, officials are frankly admitting they miscalculated.

"The fact of the matter is we've seen that that force has been unable to defend the country," Secretary of State Antony Blinken told Jake Tapper on "State of the Union," referring to Afghanistan's national security forces. "And that has happened more quickly than we anticipated” he said.

The risks for Biden politically are uncertain; a majority of Americans say in polls they support withdrawing troops from Afghanistan, and Biden’s aides have calculated the country shares his weariness at prolonging a 20-year conflict.

Yet the chaotic scenes playing out as that war ends — evoking the fall of Saigon in 1975, an image that haunted Biden as he weighed a withdrawal earlier this year — are certain to trail Biden as the Taliban asserts control over large swaths of the country.

Already, some members of Congress are demanding more information from the administration on how its intelligence could have so badly misjudged the situation on the ground, or why more robust contingency plans for evacuating Americans and their allies weren’t in place. 

The notion the civilian government led by President Ashraf Ghani would be unable to withstand the Taliban’s advances is not a surprise. Intelligence assessments over the past year have offered differing timetables for what was viewed by many national security officials as an inevitability.

Read the full article here.

11:13 a.m. ET, August 15, 2021

Majority of US Embassy staff now at Kabul airport, US official tells CNN

From CNN's Jennifer Hansler

The majority of US Embassy staff are out of the diplomatic compound in Kabul, a US official told CNN.

CNN reported earlier that a small number of core personnel, including the top US diplomat in the country, will remain at the Kabul airport for now, the sources said.

12:20 p.m. ET, August 15, 2021

Afghan politician slams Ghani for leaving the country

From CNN's Tim Lister

The Afghan Chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation Abdullah Abdullah has bitterly criticized President Ashraf Ghani for fleeing the country.

In a video statement recorded in Kabul, Abdullah said: "The fact that the former Afghan president left the country and put the people and country in such a bad situation, God will hold him accountable and the people of Afghanistan will also judge him [for doing so]."

Abdullah also told the Afghan people: "During the current circumstances, the only one thing I want for you is that God give you the ability to maintain your peace. I request the country’s defense and security forces to cooperation in maintaining security. I request forces of the Taliban movement to give negotiations a chance, without entering the city, so the suffering of the people does not continue or deterioration of the security situation, which will result in causing casualties and losses inflicted upon the people."

"Once again I request patience for you and may God help you and be with you, and that these difficult days pass and a solution is realized for the peaceful living of the Afghan people," Abdullah said. 

Abdullah served as the Chief Executive Officer of the Unity Government of Afghanistan from September 2014 until March 2020. 

10:50 a.m. ET, August 15, 2021

Taliban spokesperson confirms they are in Kabul city

Taliban fighters have entered Kabul, arguing they were doing so because Afghan government security forces had abandoned their posts in parts of the city, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in a statement on Sunday. 

In the statement, the Taliban called on the people not to be afraid of the Taliban.

"That is certainly a huge update," CNN's Chief International correspondent Clarissa Ward told CNN's Fareed Zakaria, adding that it will "undoubtedly be frightening very many people who face an uncertain future." 

Ward described the panic people there are feeling right now as the Taliban have been inching closer and closer.

"People here woke up to the news in the morning that the Taliban was at the gates, just outside Kabul. There was chaos in the streets. People double parking, people were driving down the wrong side of the road, people were just absolutely panicked. There was a run on the banks. There were people waiting outside in long lines outside of the passport office," she said. 

The Taliban have made sweeping gains seizing control of every other major city across the country in just two weeks.

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.