Afghanistan Live Updates: The Taliban Tighten Their Grip On Kabul As Afghanistan's Government Disintegrates

Published August 15, 2021 at 8:52 AM EDT
Afghan security forces patrol in the Afghan capital of Kabul city, Afghanistan, on August 15, 2021.
Haroon Sabawoon
Anadolu Agency via Getty
Afghan security forces patrol in the Afghan capital of Kabul city, Afghanistan, on August 15, 2021.

Good afternoon.

The situation in Kabul is fluid and moving very fast. Here's the latest:

— The Morning Edition live blog team

Emily Alfin Johnson, Rachel Treisman, Nicole Hernandez, Nell Clark, James Doubek, Dave Mistich, Scott Neuman, Julian Ring and Emily Abshire

Catch Up

The Taliban Appears To Be In Control Of Afghanistan. Here's How The Day Unfolded

Posted August 15, 2021 at 5:01 PM EDT
A man sits on top of a military vehicle, with rifles, facing away from the camera. There are other busses and cars on the road behind and in front of him.
Haroon Sabawoon/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
Afghan security forces patrol in the Afghan capital of Kabul city, Afghanistan, on Sunday.

It's been a day of fast-moving developments in Afghanistan, with Taliban forces quickly closing in on Kabul and edging closer to control.

Afghanistan's president has left the country, and residents and diplomats are scrambling to leave — though Kabul's airport is now closed to commercial flights. The U.S. embassy has lowered its flag, and the Taliban said in a statement it is working to restore law and order.

The rapid Taliban takeover is raising questions on the ground and around the world: What happens next, and what's at stake? How will women and girls fare? What does this mean for the Biden administration? How are other countries responding?

"The day's events were a dramatic coda to American's longest war," writes Scott Neuman. He explains how we got here, what's happening on the ground and where the situation may be headed.

Read the story here, and come back to for updates.

Afghanistan's Government

President Ghani Makes His First Public Comments Since Fleeing Afghanistan

Posted August 15, 2021 at 4:00 PM EDT
A man wearing a black-and-white striped headscarf stands at a wooden podium with a bouquet of flowers on it, in front of a green, black and red flag. A man in a suit sits at a table behind him, looking on.
Wakil Kohsar/AFP via Getty Images
Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani, pictured at the Afghan Parliament house in Kabul on August 2, 2021.

In his first public comments since fleeing Afghanistan Sunday, President Ashraf Ghani says he left to avoid further bloodshed. It was not immediately clear from where Ghani penned the message.

In a post made on a verified Facebook page, Ghani explained his reasons for fleeing Afghanistan Sunday after Taliban forces made their way into the capital city of Kabul.

“Today, I came across a hard choice; 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 protecting the past twenty years,” Ghani wrote.

“In order to avoid the bleeding flood, I thought it was best to get out,” he continued.

Ghani said the insurgent forces — whose offensives accelerated in recent days leading to Sunday’s collapse of Kabul — are now responsible for “protecting the countrymen's honor, wealth and self-esteem.” In recent days, Ghani had been accused of ineffectual leadership and a lack of communication as Taliban offensives swept across the country and solidified their control.

“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,” he said.

Ghani said that many people are in fear of an unknown future in the country. He called on the Taliban to make clear their plans for how the country will operate — namely, towards groups who were marginalized in an era under Taliban rule prior to 2001.

“It is necessary for Taliban to assure all the people, nations, different sectors, sisters and women of Afghanistan to win the legitimacy and the hearts of the people,” he said. “Make a clear plan to do and share it with the public.”

Meanwhile, the Al Jazeera television network has broadcast images of Taliban fighters inside the presidential palace, the Arg, a highly secure compound in Kabul. A Taliban source, who spoke to NPR on the condition of anonymity, confirmed that the Taliban had entered the palace.

Veteran Reaction

For U.S. Veterans Who Served In Afghanistan, A Day Of Confusion, Frustration And Grief

Posted August 15, 2021 at 3:39 PM EDT
Men in green military uniforms ride in the back of a green vehicle, with mountains in the background.
Ahmad Sahel Arman/AFP via Getty Images
Soldiers from Afghan Security forces travel on a armed vehicle along a road in Panjshir province of Afghanistan on Sunday.

Before U.S. troops have even fully departed the country, Afghanistan is poised to fall back to where it was 20 years ago — forced back under Taliban rule.

"It's tragic, it's numbing," Mike Jason, a retired Army colonel who served in Afghanistan, told NPR'sWeekend Editionabout watching the chaos unfold.

Jason has been communicating with the widows of his friends and colleagues from his time in Afghanistan. Like many other veterans who fought against the Taliban, the day is filled with confusion, frustration and grief.

"Was it all for nothing? Was it for the values that we champion in our institution, in the army? We try to find ways of answering and dealing with it and processing it while watching in real time. I don't think there is an answer," he said. "As quickly as the districts are falling or units are surrendering, we cannot possibly emotionally or spiritually process what we're watching and what we've been through over the last couple decades."

The first years of the war saw al-Qaida broken up and the Taliban government retreat. But the next phase of the war meant that service members were continually sent back to Afghanistan every time others were pulled out — the Taliban would rebound every time U.S. presence pulled away.

"We didn't fight a 20-year war, we fought 20 individual wars incoherently, kind of without a policy strategic direction."
Mike Jason, retired Army colonel who served in Afghanistan.

Retired veteran Lance Cpl. William Bee, who ended his Afghanistan tours in 2010, says he believes he was able to help Afghans during his time there.

"The people whose lives we affected, I personally think we did them better, that they're better off for it," Bee told The Associated Press. "But I also wouldn't trade a handful of Afghan villages for one Marine."

According to a Brown University count, more than 2,400 American service members died in Afghanistan, along with more than 3,800 U.S. contractors, 66,000 members of Afghan security forces and 47,000 Afghan civilians.

U.S. In Afghanistan

Commercial Planes Are No Longer Flying Out Of Kabul's Airport

Posted August 15, 2021 at 2:43 PM EDT
Military helicopters stand on an airport tarmac in the foreground, with a hazy view of city skyscrapers in the background.
Wakil Kohsar/AFP via Getty Images
Military helicopters stand on the tarmac of Kabul's military airport on Saturday.

Tom Bowman, NPR's Pentagon correspondent, has this update:

Reaction From Great Britain

British Prime Minister Johnson Urges Countries To Not Recognize The Taliban As Afghanistan’s Government

Posted August 15, 2021 at 2:34 PM EDT

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson says other countries should not recognize the Taliban as the official government of Afghanistan.

He acknowledged it was clear there would be a new administration in the country after Taliban fighters entered Kabul and Afghanistan’s president fled.

"We don't want anybody bilaterally recognizing the Taliban," he said in a Sunday interview, according to Reuters. "We want a united position amongst all the like-minded as far as we can get one." Johnson says he thinks the West should work together in trying to keep the nation from becoming a home to terrorist groups.

"Nobody wants Afghanistan once again to be a breeding ground for terror and we don't think it is in the interests of the people of Afghanistan that it should lapse back into that pre-2001 status," the prime minister said.

Members of the British Parliament will return from a summer holiday break Wednesday to debate the consequences of the military withdrawal from Afghanistan, the BBC reported.

The U.K. currently has about 150 to 170 personnel on the ground in Afghanistan, according to The Guardian, and says it has obligations to remove up to 4,000 Afghan personnel who have worked for Britain during its military campaign there. The British government said last week it would send an additional 600 military personnel to aid in the evacuations.

Just In
White House

Biden Holds National Security Meeting On Afghanistan

Posted August 15, 2021 at 1:44 PM EDT

President Biden met with national security officials by video conference this morning to discuss the situation in Afghanistan, the White House press office has informed reporters.

Biden remains at Camp David, where he has been since Friday.

There have been no further updates on the president’s schedule.

He addressed his views publicly in a written statement on Saturday, in which he said that approximately 5,000 U.S. troops were being sent to evacuate U.S., allied and Afghan partner personnel.

Here's analysis on what the latest in Afghanistan could mean for Biden politically.

International Dispatch

Afghans In France Watch In Horror As The Taliban Enters Kabul

Posted August 15, 2021 at 1:26 PM EDT

Afghans in the diaspora are devastated as they look on with horror as the Taliban encircles their country's capital of Kabul.

Zohra Yari
Zohra Yari was given asylum in France in 2018 and is now earning a university degree in international humanitarian aid. She says it’s torture to watch what’s happening in her homeland where her mother, two brothers and two sisters remain.

"I cry the whole day," Yari said. "I can’t control myself. My body is in France — but my whole mentality is all in Afghanistan with my family with my friends with my country."

Yari, who is 29, says her family is dealing with a second wave of the Taliban. Her father was kidnapped in 2000 and they never saw him again. Today she says she's especially worried about her 14-year-old niece.

Cheleba Hachemi
Cheleba Hachemi is a 47-year-old Afghan woman who is also a French citizen, and runs a network of girls' schools across her home country.

Hachemi came to France in 1984, when she was 11. She returned to Afghanistan in 2001 to become the first woman to serve in a free Afghan government.

She says there were several years of hope. But the last weeks have been harrowing as her teachers were being kidnapped and killed.

Hachemi says there will be worldwide repercussions to the U.S. and Europe abandoning Afghanistan.

Twenty years after coming to defeat the terrorists, the West is leaving. But this time, she says, "we’re giving them the keys."

Hachemi says they will build a new country that will be a laboratory for international terrorism. She calls that country "Terroristan."

Some 40,000 Afghan refugees were given asylum in the European Union last year according to official figures.

Analysis from India

Indian Official Says Taliban Takeover Of Afghanistan Is Bad News For New Delhi

Posted August 15, 2021 at 1:20 PM EDT
People in face masks stand in an open area memorial.
Hindustan Times via Getty Images
Hindustan Times
Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh with party leaders paying tribute after inaugurate Jallianwala Bagh Centenary memorial on August 14, 2021 in Amritsar, India.

A senior Indian official is expressing anxiousness following the Taliban’s swift takeover of Afghanistan.

The chief minister of the state of Punjab, Capt. Amarinder Singh, worries that the fall of the Afghan government could, ultimately, mean trouble for India.

“Afghanistan’s fall to #Taliban doesn’t augur well for our country,” Singh, who is also a military historian, wrote in a tweet.“It’ll strengthen the Sino-Pak nexus against India (China has already sought militia’s help on Uyghur). The signs are not at all good, we need to be extra vigilant now at all our borders.”

Conversely, Pakistan -- which has served for decades as a sanctuary for the Afghan Taliban -- has yet to comment publicly about Sunday's Taliban takeover in the country. It did not condemn the insurgent group in the prelude to its seizing power. Insurgent forces have frequently crossed Afghanistan’s porous eastern border with Pakistan and the group has long enjoyed tacit support or at least acquiescence from Islamabad.

Earlier, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan said that the Taliban had informed his government that “as long as [President] Ashraf Ghani is there, we (Taliban) are not going to talk to the Afghan government.”

International Response In Kabul

France Moves Its Embassy In Kabul To The Airport, Deploys Troop Reinforcements

Posted August 15, 2021 at 12:32 PM EDT

France is moving its embassy in Kabul to the airport in the face of the rapidly-degrading situation in Afghanistan.

The French foreign ministry also announced troop reinforcements to the United Arab Emirates to help evacuate French diplomats.

President Emmanuel Macron called an emergency defense meeting by video conference, and said in a statement that he is following the situation hour by hour and in close contact with European partners.

France had troops in Afghanistan until 2014, and has since taken in some 600 Afghans — and their families — who worked with the French military.

French politicians from across the spectrum are denouncing the West's abandonment of Afghanistan.

Mainstream conservative Xavier Bertrand called it a failure of the international community and a new terrorist threat.

Far right leader Marine Le Pen pointed to the inefficiency of the European Union.

"While those technocrats debate the sex of angels, fanatical Islamists are attempting to establish a caliphate which will put the whole world in grave danger," she tweeted.

Le Pen also warned of a massive wave of migration toward Europe.

Just In

Acting Ambassador Ross Wilson Evacuated To Kabul Airport

Posted August 15, 2021 at 12:17 PM EDT
Acting US Ambassador to Afghanistan Ross Wilson (L) along with Chairman of Afghanistan's High Council for National Reconciliation, Abdullah Abdullah (R) participate in an official handover ceremony at the Resolute Support headquarters in the Green Zone in Kabul on July 12, 2021.
AFP via Getty Images
Acting US Ambassador to Afghanistan Ross Wilson (L) along with Chairman of Afghanistan's High Council for National Reconciliation, Abdullah Abdullah (R) participate in an official handover ceremony at the Resolute Support headquarters in the Green Zone in Kabul on July 12, 2021.

Associated Press sources are reporting the U.S. military is evacuating Charge d'affaires Ross Wilson, the acting ambassador to Afghanistan, from the embassy to the Kabul airport.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken defended the U.S.'s pullout of Afghanistanon ABC’s This Week Sunday morning as the U.S. rushes to evacuate staff in the capital of Kabul.


The U.S. Underestimated The Taliban, A Former Top NATO Commander Says

Posted August 15, 2021 at 12:11 PM EDT
A Taliban fighter is pictured from the chest down, wearing combat boots and holding a rifle.
AFP via Getty Images
A Taliban fighter stands guard on a street in Herat, Afghanistan on Saturday.

As insurgents took control of Kabul on Sunday, the former Supreme Allied Commander of NATO said the U.S. and others had “underestimated the leadership and the will” of Taliban forces in Afghanistan.

Speaking to NPR’sWeekend Edition Sunday, Ret. Admiral James Stavridis said insurgent fighters have been clever and relentless — and have performed well in combat.

“Conversely, what we see on the other side is you can buy all the equipment in the world, but you can't purchase leadership or political will or, in particular, battlefield will,” Stavridis said. “And therefore, we see this ghosting of the Afghan army. It's quite heartbreaking.”

Stavridis says he believes NATO and U.S. forces failed by not creating an Afghan military in the same mold as their enemy — Taliban fighters who have demonstrated agility and independence in two decades of fighting.

“What I mean by that is lighter, faster — not reliant on the exquisite technologies, not reliant on endless air power — quick to move, well-led internally,” he said. “Instead, we created kind of a mini-me army, U.S. Army version. And when we pulled out, the support to [the Afghan security forces] collapsed.”

Stavridis also says he feels like progress had been made in Afghanistan for the first time “toward the end of the Trump administration” but said the insistence of the U.S. government to leave the country – in a deal hammered out by the Trump White House — spurred on the insurgency.

“Once the Taliban saw that we were absolutely determined to leave on a date-certain, their calculus changed. And I think that led to the cascade of events here,” Stavridis said.

Stavridis also blamed corruption within the central Afghan government as a reason for the swift takeover. Listen to the full conversation here.

Just In
U.S. In Afghanistan

The Security Situation At Kabul's Airport Is Quickly Deteriorating

Posted August 15, 2021 at 11:59 AM EDT

In an update posted on its website, the U.S. Embassy in Kabul says the security situation at the airport, where most diplomats were being evacuated to, is deteriorating.

“There are reports of the airport taking fire; therefore we are instructing U.S. citizens to shelter in place,” the note says.

It goes on to explain steps people should take if they want to be repatriated out of Kabul.

Read it here.

Just In

Former President Hamid Karzai Says A Council Is Being Formed To 'Prevent Chaos'

Posted August 15, 2021 at 11:56 AM EDT
Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai (2L) is greeted by Sadat Mansoor Naderi (2R), the Afghan State Minister for Peace Affairs prior to a press conference at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul on July 16, 2021.
AFP via Getty Images
Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai (2L) is greeted by Sadat Mansoor Naderi (2R), the Afghan State Minister for Peace Affairs prior to a press conference at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul on July 16, 2021.

In a series of tweets, former Afghan President Hamid Karzai says he, head of the government’s negotiating team Abdullah Abdullah, and head of the Hezb-I-Islami party, and former warlord, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, are forming a “coordinating council” to “prevent chaos and reduce the suffering of the people and to better manage the affairs related to peace.”

It’s not clear if this is a step towards an interim government, or a step towards handing power to the Taliban, or if this is a move negotiated with, and sanctioned by, the Taliban.

Karzai was Afghan leader from December 2001 till September 2014. By the time he left office, his relations with the U.S. were deeply strained.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and his immediate team have left the country earlier today.

Voices On The Ground

Women Are Especially Vulnerable To Taliban Control

Posted August 15, 2021 at 11:47 AM EDT
Two women wearing purple and black dresses and veils walk past a beauty salon billboard of two women with dramatic makeup and nail polish.
Sajjad Hussain/AFP via Getty Images
Fully veiled women walk past a billboard put up on the wall of a beauty salon in Kabul on August 7, 2021.

Taliban control likely means a shakeup of Afghan society — and women are especially vulnerable.

Freshta Karim, founder and director of the Charmaghz mobile library, spoke to NPR from Kabul on Sunday. She describes a deadly silence there, "as if the music of people's lives has stopped, and they're just waiting for their uncertain future, for politicians to decide what will happen."

Listen to the conversation here, as helicopters whir in the background.

Karim says the Taliban's rapid takeover came as a shock, because it moved much faster than the Afghan or U.S. governments predicted. The Taliban have said they will allow women to have jobs and rights — but Karim says women see those rights as intrinsic, and the Taliban's language implies that they see themselves as superior.

A "War against women" is at the core of the group's ideology and identity, Karim says, and she's skeptical that will change.

In the 20 years since the Taliban was in power, Karim — who works closely with youth — says there's been flourishing of music, poetry and democracy. She notes that half of the population in Afghanistan is below 15 years old, and has grown up with liberal values: "Where will it take us back?"

She worries that the Taliban's takeover will impact the country's value system as well as its economy, especially if women aren't allowed to work.

Plus, an 17-year-old Afghan girl shares her fears.

The White House

What The Taliban's Advancement In Afghanistan Means For Biden

Posted August 15, 2021 at 11:31 AM EDT

As NPR's Tamara Keith explains, the evacuation of U.S. personnel from Kabul calls to mind the iconic images of diplomats and civilians being airlifted from the U.S. embassy during the fall of Saigon in April 1975.

At that point, according to Gallup, 60 percent of the American public considered it a mistake to have sent troops to Vietnam. Two months later, Gallup's measure of then-President Gerald Ford's approval had increased.

Flash forward several decades: Last month, 47% of respondents told Gallup that U.S. involvement in Afghanistan was a mistake. Now, the Taliban is poised to take control of the country.

NPR's National Political Correspondent Mara Liasson walks us through what all of this means for President Biden politically. Listen to that conversation here or read excerpts below.

What does the public think? "The majority of Americans decided over 20 years and billions of dollars spent to train the Afghan forces with, it seems, very little result that this wasn't worth it. Two consecutive presidential administrations decided that leaving troops in Afghanistan was not in America's national security interest ... American voters have lost their stomach for foreign military interventions and especially long occupations over a very long period of time and there are a lot of questions remaining that will determine the political fallout for [Biden], for instance, will the Taliban give Al Qaeda a safe haven again and what happens now. "

What's are members of the U.S. government saying? "At least for the moment the elite reaction is really devastating. When you have Ryan Crocker, former ambassador to Afghanistan, saying, "I'm left with some grave questions in my mind about Biden's ability to lead our nation as commander in chief, to have read this so wrong or even worse to have understood what was likely to happen and not care." I mean that is just really devastating. Now at the same time, anecdotally, we hear reports from members of congress that they're just not getting calls about Afghanistan, even congressmen who represent large veteran populations."

What does this mean for Biden's approval rating? "Two things can be true at the same time: The public might not really care about what's happening there, on the other hand, he's the president of the United States while this is happening. Whenever America is humiliated or presides over something like what we're seeing now in Afghanistan it's bad for the current president, there's just no doubt about that. Now it's also true that Donald Trump did negotiate with the Taliban for a withdrawal as of May 1st, and it's possible that the Biden Administration concluded that the Taliban would have launched this attack anyway if the United States didn't pull out and then Biden would have had to put more troops in — more than the 2,500 he had at the time. So there was only escalation or withdrawal. But there will be a lot of questions about ... could the withdrawal have been handled better? Why did the United States and the Biden Administration so grossly underestimate the speed that the Taliban would move?"

Voices On The Ground

17-Year-Old Afghan Girl Explains What's At Risk: 'I Lose Everything'

Posted August 15, 2021 at 11:14 AM EDT

Morning Edition reporter and editor, HJ Mai has been looking into the impact of the U.S. withdrawal on the people of Afghanistan. Here's what one young woman told the New York Times' Fatma Faizi:

Among the great successes over the last 20 years in Afghanistan has been the progress the country has made towards gender equity in education. Many fear those gains will be lost under Taliban control.

The White House

Secretary Of State Blinken Defends U.S. Pullout As Kabul Embassy Staff Evacuate

Posted August 15, 2021 at 11:03 AM EDT
Secretary of State Antony Blinken, wearing a suit and dark tie, looks off camera in front of a blue graphic showing a map of world countries.
Brendan Smialowski/POOL/AFP via Getty Images
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken leaves after speaking during a briefing at the State Department on August 2, 2021, in Washington, DC.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken defended the U.S. pullout of Afghanistan on ABC’s This Week Sunday morning as the U.S. rushes to evacuate staff in the capital of Kabul.

"We're relocating the men and women of our embassy to a location at the airport. It's why the president sent in a number of forces, to make sure that as we continue to draw down our diplomatic presence we do it in a safe and orderly fashion," he said.

Blinken deflected a follow-up question as to whether the evacuations meant the embassy was being shut down entirely. He also rejected comparing Sunday’s scene in Afghanistan to a frantic exodus from Vietnam in 1975.

"Let's take a step back. This is manifestly not Saigon," said Blinken, saying the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 had succeeded in its primary goal, getting rid of Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks.
Other U.S. officials described the situation as more dire.

“The majority of staff is out” of the embassy in Kabul, according to one official who asked not to be named. The official told NPR: “we are operating at an alternate location. Flag is down. gunfire at airport.”


Why The Afghan National Army Couldn't Stop Taliban Forces

Posted August 15, 2021 at 10:40 AM EDT

"Why are some soldiers in the Afghan National Army not fighting back?"

That's a question Monika Evstatieva, senior producer for NPR's Investigations Unit, has been asked multiple times this week. So she set out to provide some context in this 10-part Twitter thread, which covers causalities, training, corruption and more:

U.S. In Afghanistan

As The Taliban Close In On Kabul, The U.S. Embassy Steps Up Evacuations

Posted August 15, 2021 at 10:29 AM EDT
A helicopter flies over mountains and buildings.
Wakil Kohsar/AFP via Getty Images
A U.S. military helicopter is pictured flying above the U.S. embassy in Kabul on Sunday.

For U.S. officials, the mission in Afghanistan is now focused on the urgent need to evacuate Americans and Afghans who have been working with the U.S. The pace of the operation and the resources involved remains unclear, despite thousands of U.S. troops being sent to Kabul this weekend as the collapse of the Afghan government appeared imminent.

“The majority of staff is out” of the Embassy in Kabul, according to one official who asked not to be named. The official writes, “we are operating at an alternate location. Flag is down. gunfire at airport.”

Until a few days ago, the focus had been on maintaining a sizable presence in the U.S. Embassy to assist the Afghan government. The U.S. was planning to keep about 650 troops in Kabul to protect both the embassy and the airport, which are separated by only a few miles.

But on Thursday, as Taliban advances in the countryside gained steam, the U.S. announced its embassy would be reduced to only a core staff. On Friday, NPR obtained a memo detailing emergency operations — including the destruction of computers, documents and other sensitive material. As of Sunday morning, smoke was reportedly rising near the U.S. Embassy.

"Capacity is not going to be a problem. We will be able to move thousands per day," Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Friday.

There are reports of more than 4,000 at U.S. embassy, most of whom are Afghans.

Just In

The Taliban Enters Kabul

Posted August 15, 2021 at 10:27 AM EDT

The Taliban have released a statement where they say that entered the capital to take care of the security situation in Kabul given that most Afghan forces have melted away. They say they are trying to maintain law and order in the city.

Eyewitnesses in Kabul tell NPR they can confirm that they can see Taliban fighters in the streets of the city.

U.S. Embassy In Kabul

A 'Core Mission' Embassy Staff Will Work From 'An Alternative Location'

Updated August 15, 2021 at 10:18 AM EDT
Posted August 15, 2021 at 10:06 AM EDT

Here's what we know:

“The majority of staff is out” of the Embassy in Kabul, according to one official who asked not to be named. The official writes “ we are operating at an alternate location. Flag is down. gunfire at airport.”

'This is not Saigon'
Secretary of State Antony Blinken brushes off those who compare the scenes to the fall of Saigon at the end of the Vietnam war.

This is not Saigon. We went to Afghanistan 20 years ago with one mission. and that mission was to deal with the folks who attacked us on 9/11 and we succeeded in that mission” he told CNN’s State of the Union.

From the archives: Lessons From The U.S. Embassy In Saigon During The Vietnam War

He says the U.S. has told the Taliban that if they interfere with the U.S. withdrawal there will be a swift response.

The embassy used to be one of the largest in the world, but there was a draw down earlier in the year and now they are expected to take out everyone except for what they are calling the "core mission" that would be an ambassador and a few top aides. Those individuals will be based at the airport for a quick escape.

Before leaving an embassy — staffers have to get rid of classified documents and computer equipment.

What's the "core mission"? Not much frankly. The line all week from the State Department is that they will be there to support the Afghan government and help with the evacuation of Afghans who worked with the U.S. 

But while they've taken 1,200 of these Afghans and their families out to date, there are tens of thousands more who want/need to be evacuated. The military had been offering and said they could do it.  But now it looks too late. 

Afghans who worked with the U.S. fear retaliation now. That's not just military but also aid groups and military.  They can now apply to come to the U.S. but they have to get out of the country on their own. 

USAID is erasing any records or social media posts etc. of Afghans who worked on U.S. aid programs.

What's State Antony Blinken doing? Working the phones. This morning he said the U.S. really had no other choice but to leave because of the deal that the Trump administration negotiated with the Taliban.

He said the U.S. is going to keep in place a capacity to deal with any terrorist.

In Congressional hearings earlier this year — he was really downplaying a rapid Taliban advance ... and that was the line we were hearing really for the past couple of weeks too. That Afghan forces would be able to hold the line. But we've really just seen the afghan forces abandon their posts.

NATO keeping airport open. Russians have negotiated with the Taliban to keep the Russian embassy open.

This is a developing story. We'll keep you posted as we know more.

On The Ground

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani Has Left The Country

Updated August 15, 2021 at 10:52 AM EDT
Posted August 15, 2021 at 10:04 AM EDT
A man wearing a striped headscarf, white shirt and black vest speaks while looking off camera.
Sajjad Hussain/AFP via Getty Images
Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani greets people before addressing a function at the Afghan presidential palace in Kabul on August 4.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and his immediate team have left the country, according to various news reports. Abdullah Abdullah, the head of the government’s negotiating team, and former chief executive officer of the country, also confirms in a video message that Ghani has left the country.

Ghani has been under enormous pressure to resign. The Taliban have asked for his resignation and demanded a transfer of power to an interim government. Listen to the story.

This is a developing story. Check back for more updates.


A Taliban Takeover In Kabul Would Be The City's Fourth In 30 Years

Updated August 15, 2021 at 12:45 PM EDT
Posted August 15, 2021 at 9:20 AM EDT

As NPR National Security Correspondent Greg Myre notes:

He offers us some more historical context as the day's developments play out:

  • "Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled Kabul, in keeping with other Afghan leaders who've been forced out over the past 30 years. One who didn't make it out was Najibullah. The Taliban hanged him from a lamppost when they captured the city in 1996."
  • "If the Taliban take full control and the fighting ends, it will be the first time Afghanistan has not been at war since 1978. That's right, 43 years of non-stop conflict."

Check out Myre's Twitter account for more.

Citizens Of Afganistan

A Quarter-Million People Have Fled Their Homes As Violence In Afghanistan Escalates

Posted August 15, 2021 at 9:13 AM EDT
Internally displaced Afghans from northern provinces, who fled their home due to fighting between the Taliban and Afghan security personnel, take refuge in a public park Kabul, Afghanistan, Friday, Aug. 13, 2021. The Taliban have completed their sweep of the country's south on Friday, as they took four more provincial capitals in a lightning offensive that is gradually encircling Kabul, just weeks before the U.S. is set to officially end its two-decade war. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)
Rahmat Gul
Internally displaced Afghans from northern provinces, who fled their home due to fighting between the Taliban and Afghan security personnel, take refuge in a public park Kabul, Afghanistan, Friday, Aug. 13, 2021. The Taliban have completed their sweep of the country's south on Friday, as they took four more provincial capitals in a lightning offensive that is gradually encircling Kabul, just weeks before the U.S. is set to officially end its two-decade war. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)

As violence intensifies in Afghanistan, United Nations leaders are warning of a massive humanitarian crisis in the country that is having a devastating impact on civilians, particularly women and children.

Since May, nearly 250,000 people have been forced from their homes; 80% of them are women and children, said Shabia Mantoo, a spokesperson for the U.N. refugee agency.

The conflict "has accelerated much faster than we all anticipated and the situation has all the hallmarks of a humanitarian catastrophe,"World Food Programme spokesperson Tomson Phiri said.

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Taliban Fighters Enter Kabul As Helicopters Land At U.S. Embassy

Updated August 15, 2021 at 9:15 AM EDT
Posted August 15, 2021 at 9:10 AM EDT

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Taliban fighters entered the outskirts of

the Afghan capital on Sunday and said they were awaiting a "peaceful

transfer" of the city after promising not to take it by force, but

panicked residents raced to the leave, with workers fleeing government

offices and helicopters landing at the U.S. Embassy.

In a nationwide offensive that has taken just over a week, the Taliban has

defeated, co-opted or sent Afghan security forces fleeing from wide

swaths of the country, even though they had some air support from the

U.S. military.

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The White House

Here's Why Biden Is Sticking With The U.S. Exit From Afghanistan

Posted August 15, 2021 at 9:07 AM EDT
President Biden, wearing a suit and black face mask, walks between two vehicles while carrying binders and books under one arm.
Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty Images
President Joe Biden steps off Marine One upon arrival at Delaware Air National Guard Base in New Castle, Delaware on Thursday.

President Biden promised that the United States withdrawal from Afghanistan would not be a hasty rush to the exits.

It would be responsible, deliberate and safe.

But clearly he and his administration misjudged the speed with which the Afghan forces would collapse and the Taliban would take control.

"The jury is still out. But the likelihood there's going to be the Taliban overrunning everything and owning the whole country is highly unlikely," Biden said on July 8, but just a month later that appears to be exactly what's happening.

As fears rise of the Kabul government collapsing, Biden now has to send 3,000 troops back to Afghanistan on a temporary mission to help evacuate most of the American embassy in Kabul and Afghan civilians who supported the U.S.

The move has led to more questions about whether the United States was mistaken by withdrawing so quickly, but Biden said this week Afghans "must fight for themselves" as the U.S. military remains on track for a full withdrawal by the end of August.

Read the five reasons the U.S. is not likely to return to war in Afghanistan.

1. Voters are opposed to staying in Afghanistan
2. Returning would risk American casualties
3. Doubts more time would create a different outcome
4. The U.S. mission wouldn't be clear
5. Biden's focus is on domestic challenges — and China


4 Reasons A Taliban Takeover In Afghanistan Matters To The World

Posted August 15, 2021 at 9:07 AM EDT
Security personnel stand outside a yellow gate , with trees mountains in the background.
Wakil Kohsar/AFP via Getty Images
Afghan security personnel stand guard in front of a gate in the Green Zone of Kabul on Sunday.

Taliban fighters have entered Kabul after a nationwide offensive that took just over a week.

The speed of the radical religious movement's advance alarmed many inside and outside the country. The Taliban have gained a reputation, after all, for brutality and enforcement of a harsh brand of Islamic justice in the five years they ruled until being toppled by invading U.S.-led forces in 2001.

Click here to read four reasons why what's happening in Afghanistan matters far beyond its borders:

  1. Afghanistan will become a human rights problem
  2. A Taliban regime could again become a safe haven for extremists
  3. A Taliban-ruled Afghanistan might destabilize Pakistan
  4. China could gain a foothold in the region