Afghanistan Updates: Biden Is Set To Speak As Chaos Unfolds In Kabul

Published August 16, 2021 at 7:23 AM EDT
A volunteer carries an injured man as other people can be seen waiting at the Kabul airport on Sunday.
Wakil Kohsar/AFP via Getty Images
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A volunteer carries an injured man as other people can be seen waiting at the Kabul airport on Sunday.

We're keeping a close eye on developments in Afghanistan today. The Taliban have taken control in Kabul, and the U.S. and its allies are scrambling to leave the country.

🎧 Also, on Up First, our daily podcast, the death toll from the earthquake in Haiti continues to rise.

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UN Secretary-General Urges The International Community To Protect Afghan Civilians

Posted August 16, 2021 at 12:31 PM EDT

In his remarks to the United Nation’s Security Council, UN Secretary-General António Guterres called for the international community to unite to protect lives and human rights in Afghanistan.

“I call on all parties to provide humanitarians to deliver timely and life-saving services and aid,” Guterres said. “I also urge all countries to be willing to receive Afghan refugees and refrain from deportations.”

In his statement, Guterres also raised concerns about the rights of Afghan women under Taliban rule. He also urged the UN to ensure that Afghanistan is “never again used as a platform or safe haven for terrorist organizations.”

Guterres emphasized Afghanistan’s need for its institutions, such as education and infrastructure, to continue.

The crisis in Afghanistan is currently affecting about 18 million people — a little over half the country’s population, he said.

Biden Had No Good Choices On Afghanistan, National Security Adviser Says

Posted August 16, 2021 at 11:49 AM EDT
Jake Sullivan in the White House briefing room
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National security adviser Jake Sullivan talks to reporters during the daily news conference in the Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House on June 7.

National security adviser Jake Sullivan is laying the Taliban victory over the government in Kabul squarely at the feet of the U.S.-trained and equipped Afghan security forces, who were routed in the final days of the fighting.

“[We] could not give them the will and ultimately they decided that they would not fight for Kabul,” Sullivan said in Monday-morning interviews with television networks ABC and NBC.

At the same time, Sullivan acknowledged that President Biden faced “bad choices” in Afghanistan, but ultimately, didn’t want the U.S. to go through a “third decade of conflict” there.

“What we learned over the course of the past two weeks is that if we had stayed one more year, or two more years, or five more years or 10 more years – no amount of training, equipping, or money or lives lost by the United States was going to push the Afghan army in a position to be able to sustain that country on its own,” Sullivan told Today.

He added: “It is heartbreaking to see what is happening in Kabul, but the president had to make the best possible choice he could, and he stands by that decision.”Biden is set to give an address this afternoon.

In an interview with NPR’s A Martinez, former U.S. CENTCOM Commander Gen. Joseph Votel suggested there is more that the U.S. could have done to ease the transition.

“From my perspective, once the decision to withdraw our forces was taken, I think what was required was a more deliberate plan, militarily and diplomatically built around specific conditions that had to be worked with the Afghan government,” the retired general said. “And I think that extends to the military forces and making sure that they were up to the challenge that this withdrawal of U.S. and other coalition forces would present.”

Context

A Watchdog Group Had Been Sounding The Warning About Afghanistan's Meltdown For Years

Posted August 16, 2021 at 11:24 AM EDT

For those wondering how Afghanistan could fall so swiftly to the Taliban, the dozens of dispatches from a Congress-created watchdog group reflect that it didn’t: the meltdown was a slow-motion disaster years in the making.

This link will take you to every report filed by SIGAR, the Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction. Congress created the agency to maintain an independent oversight on the billions of dollars the U.S. appropriated for Afghanistan’s reconstruction since 2002.

“All the signs have been there,” the head of the watchdog agency, John Sopko, told NPR on Sunday.

John Sopko, Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, poses for a portrait in his office in Arlington, Va., Friday, December 18, 2015.
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John Sopko, Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, in 2015.

Sopko said his agency released multiple reports and he testified more than 50 times to sound the warning in the last decade.

“I mean, we've been shining a light on it in multiple reports going back to when I started 2012 about changing metrics, about ghosts, ghost soldiers who didn't exist, about poor logistics, about the fact that the Afghans couldn't sustain what we were giving them. So these reports have come out,” he said.

The speed with which the Taliban overtook Afghanistan “maybe is a little bit of a surprise," Sopko said. But "the fact that the ANDSF [Afghan National Defense and Security Forces] could not fight on their own should not have been a surprise to anyone."

Sopko said the final report from his agency comes out Tuesday.

It’ll lay out what the U.S. can do differently in other countries where it’s involved in relief and reconstruction.

“Well, the top-line lesson is that we have a very difficult time developing and implementing a coherent rule, a multi-agency approach to these type of problems. And we got serious problems with the way we send people over there and HR the system. We have serious problems about our procurement system. And we have serious problems of going into a country and not understanding the culture and the makeup of that country. “

Just In
White House

Biden Will Address The Nation About Afghanistan This Afternoon

Posted August 16, 2021 at 11:22 AM EDT

President Biden will address the nation on Monday as more U.S. forces are on their way to Afghanistan to help with the evacuation of U.S. personnel and allies.

This will be the first time Biden speaks publicly since the Taliban moved into Kabul.

The president, who has been following the crisis overseas from Camp David, returned to the White House Monday afternoon. He is planning to address the public from the White House at 3:45 p.m. ET.

The White House said Biden was briefed this morning by his national security team "on the security situation at Hamid Karzai International Airport, and ongoing efforts to safely evacuate American citizens, US Embassy personnel and local staff, SIV applicants and their families, and other vulnerable Afghans.”

Future Of Afghanistan

Fear And An Uncertain Future Ahead For An Afghan Artist

Posted August 16, 2021 at 11:06 AM EDT
Four men stand in front of a red wall topped with barbed wire. They are painting a mural of a girl on the wall.
Christine-Felice Röhrs/ Picture Alliance via Getty Image
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picture alliance
Omaid Sharifi, left, co-founder of the group ArtLords, paints a wall mural in Kabul, Afghanistan, in July.

Many inside and outside Afghanistan watched as the Taliban took over the capital of Kabul. Now, they're wondering: "What comes next?"

For artist Omaid Sharifi, the future is uncertain. He's the co-founder and president of ArtLords, a nonprofit arts organization in Kabul.

When the Taliban ruled the country from 1996 to 2001, creating art was dangerous. The Taliban disapproved of music, destroyed the giant carved Buddha statues of Bamiyan and banned all artistic representations of the human form.

Sharifi says his murals focus on empathy and kindness. "And I strongly believe that my country, a wounded country, it needs healing," he says. "And I am healing it through my art."

On Sunday, he and his organization were painting a mural on a Kabul street when the panic and chaos started. He posted this video on Twitter:

He spoke to NPR's Don Gonyea onWeekend All Things Considered about the surreal events of Sunday.

Sharifi says the future is unclear, but he's hopeful. "It feels that — I'm not sure I may be able to paint again or not. I'm not sure my organization will be there. I'm not sure if my paintings will be there tomorrow. I'm really not sure, Don," he says. "But still, in this day, couple of hours ago, I was painting in a street of Kabul. And I hope I will be able to do it again."

Click here to listen to their full conversation.

Afghanistan's National Museum Once Again Fears Looting

Posted August 16, 2021 at 10:49 AM EDT
In this August 2019 photo, a statue which was destroyed by Taliban fighters is on display after it was restored
Rafiq Maqbool/AP
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AP
In this August 2019 photo, a statue which was destroyed by Taliban fighters is on display after it was restored, at the National Museum of Afghanistan in Kabul, Afghanistan. Items in the museum are once again at risk.

Afghanistan’s National Museum released a statement Sunday on Facebook, saying its employees and tens of thousands of artifacts are safe for now, “but continuation of this chaotic situation causes huge concern.” It pleaded with the Taliban “and other influential parties” in Afghanistan “to pay attention to the safety and security of objects and do not let the opportunists to use this situation and cause for deterioration and smuggling the Objects and Goods of this institution.”

The Taliban blew up two colossal Buddha statues in Bamiyan in 2001 and destroyed other ancient objects. In the early 1990s, before they came to power, the Kabul museum was severely damaged, hit by a rocket and looted by mujahideen forces.

Afghanistan is home to numerous archaeological sites; the region was a cradle of ancient Buddhist civilization some 2,000 years ago and its heritage extends thousands of years before that.

The Taliban have said they will protect Afghanistan’s antiquities. But “we have great concerns for the safety of our staff and collections,” the Kabul museum's director told National Geographic last week.

International Reaction

China Says It Will Seek Friendly Relations With Afghanistan Under The Taliban

Posted August 16, 2021 at 10:15 AM EDT

BEIJING – China says it will forge “friendly and cooperative relations” with Afghanistan under Taliban control, but stopped short of fully endorsing a Taliban government.

"Based on fully respecting the national sovereignty of Afghanistan and the will of various factions in the country, China has maintained contact and communication with the Afghan Taliban and played a constructive role in promoting the political settlement of the Afghan issue," said Hua Chunying, a foreign ministry spokesperson.

In the last few months, as the United States prepared to withdraw all its troops from Afghanistan, China sought to strengthen its relations with the Taliban. Beijing sees the Taliban as a potential partner in stopping terrorist activity from creeping into China’s borders, particularly in China’s western region of Xinjiang, which shares a border with Afghanistan, as well as Pakistan, Kazakhstan and Russia, among other countries.

Xinjiang is also home to the Uyghurs, a Turkic ethnic minority China which has historically faced discrimination in China, and which China has detained and imprisoned in the thousands.

Beijing claims the Uyghurs are part of terrorist groups, such as the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), though most analysts say the group has long since ceased to exist.

Western governments, human rights groups, and academics say China has rounded up hundreds of thousands of Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities in the country without due process in an attempt to eradicate Uyghur language, culture and religion.

Less than three weeks ago, China welcomedan official visit from Taliban leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar. During the meeting, Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi asked the Taliban “to make a clean break with all terrorist organizations including the ETIM and resolutely and effectively combat them.”

The Taliban’s Baradar pledged to leave Chinese citizens and interests untouched during the then-ongoing Taliban takeover of Afghanistan.

The Chinese embassy in Kabul remains open this week, though in a statement posted on its website, it warned Chinese citizens in Afghanistan to avoid going out.

In the statement, the Chinese embassy also reminded the Taliban of its earlier commitment: “The Chinese Embassy in Afghanistan has asked the various factions in Afghanistan to ensure the safety of Chinese citizens, Chinese institutions and Chinese interests in Afghanistan."

What's Next For Afghan Girls' Education Under The Taliban

Posted August 16, 2021 at 9:54 AM EDT

The last time the Taliban were in power in Afghanistan, girls were banned from public school and women nearly erased from public life, allowed to leave their homes only when accompanied by a male relative.

The Taliban have said they will give women more rights than they did 20 years ago. But experts believe that the insurgents will reverse all the progress women and girls have made since then.

Pashtana Durrani, the executive director of LEARN, a nonprofit focused on education in Afghanistan, says that women and girls are no longer safe at work or at school.

Giving an example of changes already underway, Durrani referenced reports that as the Taliban took control of Afghan cities, the insurgents entered banks and escorted women working there to their homes, told them not to leave and sent male relatives to work in their place.

Durrani told NPR's Noel King she has no plans to leave the country. For now, she said, she is working to arrange online schooling for girls.

"I know for sure that I won't be abandoning my girls like the world did," she said. "I will be making sure they access education, even if it is underground."

🎧 Listen for more on Afghan girls and education.
Read what women's advocacy groups worldwide are doing for women in Afghanistan.

Analysis

Lessons On The Afghan President's Leadership

Posted August 16, 2021 at 9:15 AM EDT
People walk near a mural of President Ashraf Ghani at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul on Saturday.
Rahmat Gul/AP
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AP
People walk near a mural of President Ashraf Ghani at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul on Saturday.

One key figure central to what’s happening in Afghanistan is Ashraf Ghani, the sitting president who fled the country on Sunday. In a Facebook post, Ghani said leaving was a difficult decision but he did so to avoid bloodshed.

To understand more about Ghani and the country’s situation, NPR’s Don Gonyea spoke with journalist George Packer, who profiled Ghani for The New Yorker in 2016.

Packer described Ghani as an intellectual who first served as the finance minister, which influenced his governing style.

“When he came to power in 2014, he would be well-positioned to do what no other Afghan leader had been able to do, which is to modernize the country and do it while keeping the country together,” Packer said.

But Ghani’s academic idealism was also his vice — he wanted to learn more about clean energy while swaths of his country had zero power.

"He was, in a sense, governing a country that existed in his own mind," Packer said. "He was so sure of himself and so isolated in his arrogance and in his brilliance that he never could bring the country along with him."

Ghani antagonized generals who thought differently than he did. And when the Taliban began to take over Kabul, he did not want to ally and share power with leaders from other provinces to stop the siege.

Although his achievements as finance minister are his legacy, Packer says, his inability to make his ideas a reality as president will leave a lasting impression on the Afghan people.

Listen to the interview and learn more about Ghani here.

Watch
Video

Chaos At The Kabul Airport Reflects The Desperation Of The Moment

Posted August 16, 2021 at 8:24 AM EDT

The scenes out of Afghanistan’s international airport in Kabul reflect the chaos and desperation the country is facing.

Images from the ground show hundreds if not thousands of Afghans crowding the airport, including the tarmac, in an apparent attempt to flee the country, as NPR’s Greg Myre described onMorning Edition Monday.

An Afghan family rushes to the Hamid Karzai International Airport in as they flee the Afghan capital of Kabul on Sunday.,
Haroon Sabawoon/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
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Anadolu
An Afghan family rushes to the Hamid Karzai International Airport in as they flee the Afghan capital of Kabul on Sunday.,

Here's one such video shared by TOLOnews in Afghanistan:

U.S. forces have set up razor wire to keep the crowd back, and there have been reports of gunfire at or near the airport (NPR has not confirmed the details). The U.S. said Sunday an additional 1,000 troops would head to Kabul to help with evacuation airports, boosting the overall expected numbers to about 6,000 U.S. troops in the country.

The airlift of thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of people, includes dual Afghan-U.S. citizens as well as Afghans who’ve helped the U.S., “but it seems many people have just rushed to the airport on their own,” Myre reports.

TOPSHOT - Afghans crowd at the tarmac of the Kabul airport on August 16, 2021, to flee the country as the Taliban were in control of Afghanistan after President Ashraf Ghani fled the country and conceded the insurgents had won the 20-year war.
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AFP
Afghans crowd at the tarmac of the Kabul airport.

NPR’s Michele Kelemen adds that the U.S. State Department says all embassy personnel are safe and at the airport.

Listen to this morning's update here.

U.S. IN AFGHANISTAN

An Afghan Interpreter Who Helped The U.S. Is Sleepless And Desperate To Leave

Posted August 16, 2021 at 8:12 AM EDT
A military medal sits on a black velvet bag. The medal is inscribed with the shape of Afghanistan, inside are the flags of Afghanistan and the U.S.
Paula Bronstein/Getty Images
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Getty Images Europe
A Mission Essential Personnel Heart Award pictured in July in Kabul, Afghanistan. Thousands of Afghans who worked with the U.S. government are seeking visas to come to the United States, but the approval process has been slow.

Thousands of Afghan nationals who worked alongside the U.S. during the 20-year war in Afghanistan are in danger from the Taliban.

Many Afghan nationals worked as translators, drivers, and in other roles assisting the U.S. and coalition members. But when the U.S. began to withdraw forces, these interpreters were left vulnerable to attacks by the Taliban.

Roughly 18,000 Afghan nationals, along with tens of thousands of their family members, have applied for special immigrant visas to come to the U.S. But the system is backlogged and slow — which means many of these U.S. allies are still in Afghanistan and fearing for the safety of themselves and their families.

NPR's Steve Inskeep spoke with one of these Afghan interpreters on Monday's Morning Edition. He worked alongside the U.S. Army for nine years, going by the nickname Reggie. We aren't using his full name for security reasons. You can listen to their full conversation here.

Reggie describes the Taliban takeover from Kabul.

From his roof, he watched Taliban forces move through his neighborhood shortly after the city's police abandoned the nearby station.

Reggie says the Taliban drove around and spoke to citizens.

NPR - General 1 - 2021-08-16 at 7.16am.mp4

"[The Taliban were] telling them, 'Don't worry. We are here for your protection.' And, "We're not going to harm any one of you guys. And we are here for the enemy of this country.' So, they were actually giving the people time in order to be relaxed. But still, no one can trust on their words. They can do anything, any moment, whatever they want," Reggie says.

Reggie knows he could become a target of the Taliban.

"So currently, sir, to be honest with you, I'm standing out in front of my house, but I'm not feeling safe. There isn't a single moment that I can be feeling relaxed," he says. What's worse, Reggie says, there are pictures of him serving with the U.S. military on Google, making him easier for the Taliban to identify.

"Since these insurgents have arrived, I cannot sleep for a minute. I can't sleep for a single minute. Because there is always threat and scariness in my heart, sir. Not just me. Because of my service, my family is suffering right now. My family, my kids is telling me that, 'Bad guy is going to come in, is going to kill you, then us.' And I keep telling them, 'No, there are a lot of good friends that I have in America. Have made a lot of good friends and they're going to take us. baby, you don't have to worry about it." Reggie says.

Reggie has been seeking a special visa to come to the U.S. for over a decade. He's hoping those in the U.S military will acknowledge his sacrifice and finally approve his visa.


Further reading and listening:

International Dispatch
Voices

The Perspective Of Women Journalists In Afghanistan

Posted August 16, 2021 at 7:34 AM EDT

This morning, there is plenty of news, analysis and images coming out of Afghanistan.

One Twitter thread from the weekend that we think is worth your time to go back and look over comes from Khushbu Shah, the editor-in-chief of The Fuller Project. The Fuller Project is a nonprofit, global newsroom focused on women. Shah began her career reporting out of Afghanistan.

She curated a thread that pulled photos, quotes and reporting from Afghan journalists in Afghanistan. It includes scenes from around Kabul — such as billboards with images of women being painted over.

The thread also includes the reflections and voices of many women journalists who are on the ground in Afghanistan and already seeing a change in public spaces with vocal embraces of the Taliban, along with hostility towards women.

Follow the full thread here.

Profile

The New Taliban Are Much Like The Old Taliban, Experts Say

Posted August 16, 2021 at 7:34 AM EDT
Taliban fighters in Zanbaq Square in Kabul
Wakil Kohsar/AFP via Getty Images
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AFP via Getty Images
Taliban fighters stand guard along a street near the Zanbaq Square in Kabul on Monday.

When the Taliban were last in full control of Afghanistan two decades ago, they led a pariah state that gained a reputation for repression and brutality of women and ethnic and religious minorities.

The isolated regime was shunned by much of the world and recognized by just three countries: Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Ultimately it was toppled in a 2001 U.S. invasion.

Although top Taliban leaders have been on a whirlwind tour of regional capitals in recent weeks seeking broader international support from China, Russia and Iran, among others, experts say there is little else to distinguish the Taliban of 2001 from the Taliban of 2021.

"They have not changed at all ideologically," says Husain Haqqani, a former Pakistan ambassador to the U.S. who is now director for South and Central Asia at the Hudson Institute.

Meanwhile, many Afghans who aided the U.S. over 20 years of conflict but were unable to obtain visas to leave under a special State Department program face possible reprisals from the country’s new rulers.

Speaking at a recent U.N. Security Council meeting, Shaharzad Akbar, the chair of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission said, “Millions of Afghans are living in terror to see what comes next.”

Picture Show
Photos

What The Taliban Takeover Looked Like

Posted August 16, 2021 at 7:25 AM EDT

People fled their homes and offices in droves as Taliban fighters descended over the weekend. Here are some of the images from around the country:

Taliban fighters take control of Afghan presidential palace after the Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled the country, in Kabul.
Zabi Karimi/AP
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AP
Taliban fighters take control of the Afghan presidential palace in Kabul after Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled the country on Sunday.
A U.S. Chinook helicopter flies near the U.S. Embassy in Kabul on Sunday.
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A U.S. helicopter flies near the U.S. Embassy in Kabul on Sunday. Helicopters landed and diplomatic vehicles left the compound as the Taliban advanced on the Afghan capital.
Taliban fighters patrol inside the city of Kandahar, southwest Afghanistan, on Sunday.
Sidiqullah Khan/AP
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Taliban fighters patrol inside the city of Kandahar, in southwest Afghanistan.
Afghans wait in long lines for hours at the passport office as many are desperate to have their travel documents ready to go on in Kabul.
Paula Bronstein/Getty Images
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Getty Images
Afghans wait in long lines for hours at the passport office as many are desperate to have their travel documents ready to go.

See more images of Afghanistan in NPR's Picture Show blog.

Update

All U.S. Diplomats Have Been Evacuated From The Kabul Embassy

Posted August 16, 2021 at 7:24 AM EDT
Afghans crowd at the airport in Kabul as U.S. soldiers stand guard on Monday
Shakib Rahmani
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AFP via Getty Images
Afghans crowd at the airport in Kabul as U.S. soldiers stand guard on Monday.

All personnel at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul have been evacuated to the airport, the State Department says.

“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 U.S. Military,” says State Department spokesperson Ned Price.

The U.S. added an additional 1,000 troops to secure the airport on Sunday, bringing the overall expected number to some 6,000 troops in Afghanistan.