Afghanistan updates: US resumes air operations at Kabul airport


(KABUL, Afghanistan) — Chaos has enveloped Kabul after Afghanistan’s president fled the country over the weekend and the Taliban seized control of the presidential palace there, all but ending America’s 20-year campaign as it began: under Taliban rule.

As the crisis intensifies, with images from Kabul showing Afghans storming the airport tarmac and climbing onto military planes after the U.S. assumed control of the airport, President Joe Biden cut his time at Camp David short and headed back to the White House to address the nation Monday afternoon.

The Pentagon said that 6,000 U.S. troops would soon be in the country’s capital as the military races to evacuate diplomats and civilians from an increasingly chaotic Kabul. Despite criticism, the Biden administration is sticking by its decision to withdraw troops from the country by Aug. 31, ending America’s longest war.

Here are some key developments. All times Eastern:

Aug 17, 7:30 pm
Biden’s retreat to Camp David leaves unanswered questions on Afghanistan

At 4:19 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time on Monday, President Joe Biden concluded a speech defending his decision to withdraw U.S. forces from Afghanistan, tapping his binder on a podium in the East Room of the White House for emphasis.

By 4:57 p.m., the presidential helicopter, Marine One, was in the air, headed for the presidential retreat, Camp David. For Biden, there was no looking back.

As Biden withdrew to Camp David, his administration officials were left in Washington to field the lingering questions the president did not address: What exactly will be the fate of endangered Afghans struggling to leave the country? And why was the administration so surprised by the speed of the Taliban’s takeover?

Even members of Biden’s own party are raising questions about the intelligence on Afghanistan. Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va.,chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, proposed investigating what led to the government’s underestimation of the Taliban advance.

-ABC News’ Sarah Kolinovsky

Aug 17, 5:54 pm
US Embassy personnel evacuated from Kabul: State Department

The State Department confirmed Tuesday that all U.S. Embassy personnel have been evacuated from Kabul — leaving a small core group based at the airport — and the priority has shifted to evacuating U.S. citizens and Afghans who helped the U.S.

To that end, the embassy has notified the first group of U.S. citizens to travel to the airport for evacuation flights.

While the Taliban have provided assurances that they will allow safe passage of civilians to the airport, it has been reported that people have been beaten or blocked by Taliban fighters.

State Department spokesperson Ned Price said at a briefing Tuesday that officials don’t take the Taliban at their word and will monitor the situation, but the U.S. is not providing safe passage for those leaving the country.

A U.S. official confirmed that an email went out to Americans who have been notified that says: “the United States government cannot guarantee your security as you make this trip.”

While most embassy personnel have left, the State Department is sending some diplomats into the country, including consular affairs personnel, to help with evacuation efforts. Among those is Ambassador John Bass, who was the most recent Senate-confirmed U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, serving from 2017 to 2020. He is there to coordinate the evacuation effort, while Ambassador Ross Wilson, technically the charge d’affaires at the embassy, remains in charge of the U.S. mission.

Aug 17, 4:39 pm
Air Force launches investigation into human remains on C-17 plane

The Air Force’s Office of Special Investigations is reviewing what happened Monday when a C-17 plane was swarmed by hundreds of people at Kabul’s airport and, later, human remains were found in the plane’s wheel well after it landed in Qatar.

A dramatic video taken earlier Monday showed some people clinging to the plane as it taxied down the runway in Kabul.

A defense official said the individuals swarming the plane had breached the runway from the civilian side of the airport. Air operations were suspended for hours at the airport Monday because of the crush of Afghan civilians desperate to leave Kabul.

“OSI is leading the review in coordination with the U.S. Air Force’s Air Mobility Command and international partners since it involves the loss of life on U.S. military aircraft,” Air Force spokesperson Ann Stefanek said in a statement. “OSI’s review will be thorough to ensure we obtain the facts regarding this tragic incident. Our hearts go out to the families of the deceased.”

-ABC News’ Luis Martinez

Aug 17, 4:18 pm
State Dept.: Talks with Taliban ‘manifestly in our interest’

State Department spokesperson Ned Price said in a briefing from the agency on Tuesday that the U.S. remains cautious, yet prepared after the Taliban said it will allow for the safe passage of Americans and Afghans who aided in the U.S. mission to leave the country.

“We have also said there has been engagement with the Taliban on the ground in Kabul. This is a military-led channel. It’s a channel that is tactical, that, again, is focused rather squarely on issues like safe passage for civilians,” Price said. “It is manifestly in our interests to have these open channels of dialogue with the Taliban.”

He said the government has received “assurances” but acknowledged the U.S. response in the coming days will depend on the group’s actions.

“We’re going to be looking for the follow-through. We’ll be looking for the deeds,” Price said.

He also said the State Department is dispatching career diplomat John Bass, who formerly served as U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, to Kabul “to lead logistics coordination and consular efforts,” as the race to evacuation thousands continues.

Aug 17, 3:57 pm
Volunteers needed to help process Afghan visas

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services is asking for volunteers to help process Special Immigrant Visas for Afghan nationals and their families, according to an agency-wide email obtained by ABC News.

The agency says it has set up a temporary field office at Fort Lee in Virginia but could also deploy volunteers from across the agency to other locations throughout the country “to support rapid response temporary on-site immigration processing and adjudications.”

The email notes that as the situation in Afghanistan evolves “USCIS is working with departmental agencies to determine the total number of processing sites needed at various U.S. military bases.”

In addition to USCIS personnel, a Department of Homeland Security spokesperson said agents from Customs and Border Protection are also helping process SIV applications.

-ABC News’ Luke Barr

Aug 17, 3:27 pm
Top US commander in Middle East visits Kabul airport

Gen. Frank McKenzie, head of U.S. Central Command who is the top U.S. military commander in the Middle East, visited the airport in Kabul Tuesday.

McKenzie confirmed the visit, which was kept secret for security reasons, in a statement.

“I saw firsthand our defensive lay down and the work our forces are doing to efficiently operate the airfield while ensuring the safe movement of civilians and diplomats who are leaving Kabul,” he said in the statement.

“Currently, the airfield is secure and now open to civilian air traffic operating under visual flight rules,” he added.

He restated that he met with Taliban leaders over the weekend in Doha, where he said he “cautioned them against interference in our evacuation and made it clear to them that any attack would be met with overwhelming force in the defense of our forces.”

Aug 17, 3:14 pm
Afghan student says Taliban spreading fear outside Kabul

An Aghan student and local journalist who recently left Kabul tells ABC News she is in touch with friends across Afghanistan and that although the Taliban are attempting to portray order in Kabul, members are imposing fear tactics and limiting civilian behavior in other provinces.

Nasrin Nawa says her friend in the Ghazni province who works in a hospital told her she is already getting harassed by members of the Taliban.

“She told me that the Taliban hanged a curtain among men and women in the hospital. She said they warned them to not communicate, to not talk to each other. They said to her, ‘Don’t leave your slippers on the ground because men should not see them,'” Nawa recalled. “They warned if anyone doesn’t obey the new rules, they will encounter them. My friend, she is scared.”

“Kabul is different than other provinces. It’s not the same in other cities,” she said. “They are more cruel with people outside of Kabul, because they don’t have any voice right now — these people,” she added, speaking to the Taliban seizing control of rural areas and civilian populations.

-ABC News’ Desiree Adib

Aug 17, 2:49 pm
‘Premature’ to recognize Taliban government: White House

Asked at Tuesday’s press briefing whether the White House was recognizing the Taliban as the legitimate governing power in Afghanistan, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said it was “premature” to answer that question.

“Right now, there is a chaotic situation in Kabul where we don’t even have the establishment of a governing authority, so it would be really premature to address that question,” Sullivan said. “Ultimately it’s going to be up to the Taliban to show the rest of the world who they are and how they intend to proceed. The track record has not been good. But it’s premature to address that question at this point.”

Later on, asked if the U.S. believes the Taliban when it says it will allow for the safe passage of both Americans and Afghans, Sullivan confirmed the U.S. government is in talks with the Taliban as the military works to ensure those evacuations.

“We believe that this can go till the 31st. We’re talking to them about what the exact timetable is for how this will all play out, and I don’t want to negotiate in public,” he said. “I’m working out the best modality to get the most people out in the most efficient way possible objective.”

Aug 17, 2:36 pm
Diplomats’ union demands State Dept. require vaccines as COVID concerns loom

With the surge in COVID cases wreaking havoc on the U.S. embassy Kabul and essentially keeping staff in their rooms in a severe lockdown, the union for U.S. diplomats is demanding a change in policy — requiring vaccines of most individuals serving at embassies and consulates abroad.

The American Foreign Service Association said Tuesday the Biden administration must “take swift action” to allow the State Department to require vaccines for all personnel as a condition for their physical presence in the workplace, including non-American local employees and outside U.S. contractors.

“This has always been a matter of life and death, but now it literally has become exactly that for our members and colleagues serving their country abroad,” the union said in a statement.

The union suggested exemptions for those who cannot get vaccinated because of medical reasons, disabilities, or religious beliefs — and point to a recent federal court ruling that backed a hospital’s policy of requiring health care workers be vaccinated.

The group also argues that COVID could damage U.S. national security because “a stable and positive presence in Afghanistan” is essential as the U.S. military withdrawal accelerates and the security situation deteriorates across Afghanistan.

Aug 17, 2:00 pm
White House defends military withdrawal

Biden’s National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan opened Tuesday’s press briefing from the White House with an update on the president’s response to the ongoing evacuations in Kabul, saying Biden has been in talks with top military commanders and his national security team from Camp David.

“They discussed the status of ongoing evacuations of U.S. citizens, SIV applicants and other vulnerable Afghans at risk, and how we would do this safely and efficiently,” he said, adding Vice President Kamala Harris joined for some of those talks.

Reiterating points made in Biden’s address to the nation Monday, Sullivan dug into the White House defense for withdrawing troops from America’s longest war.

“The images from the past couple of days at the airport have been heartbreaking, but President Biden had to think about the human costs of the alternative path as well, which was to stay in the middle of the civil conflict in Afghanistan,” he said.

Sullivan went on to argue that “what has unfolded over the past month has proven decisively that it would have taken a significant American troop presence multiple times greater than what President Biden was handed” to stop the Taliban, he said. “And we would have taken casualties.”

Aug 17, 1:34 pm
Taliban hold 1st press conference from Kabul

The Taliban held its first-ever press conference from Kabul on Tuesday after claiming the formation of a new “Islamic Emirate” in Afghanistan.

ABC News Senior Foreign Correspondent Ian Pannell asked a Taliban spokesperson what guarantees it can give to the Afghans who worked with Americans and want to leave the country as the U.S. scrambles to evacuate thousands of allies who aided in the 20-year mission there.

“We are assuring the safety of all those who have worked with the United States and allied forces whether as interpreters or any other field that they have worked with them,” said Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Majahid, translated from Arabic. “As for their talents and their skills, we do not want them to leave the country. We want them to serve our homeland.”

He also acknowledged the case of American civil engineer Mark Frerichs, who is a hostage of the Taliban, though he didn’t refer to Frerichs by name or offer any information on his whereabouts. It comes as Frerichs’ family in the U.S. pleads with the Biden administration not to leave him behind.

“As for the contractor that was…perhaps has gone missing as reported by the media we do not have any information about him at the moment,” Majahid said.

The event was held at a media center in Kabul that was previously held by the Afghan government.

Aug 17, 12:17 pm
US commanders in communication with Taliban

U.S. military commanders at Hamid Karzai International Airport have been in touch with Taliban leaders in Kabul multiple times a day, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said in a briefing Tuesday morning.

“I would just let the results speak for themselves. I’m not going to get into the details of how those discussions are progressing because there are interactions multiple times a day,” Kirby said of the talks. “There’s been no hostile interactions from the Taliban to our operations at the airport,” he added.

As for talks with Afghan allies, Kirby said he was unaware of any Pentagon-level communications recently.

“I know of no high-level communications here from the Pentagon with Afghan counterparts over the last couple of days,” he said.

But Maj. Gen. William “Hank” Taylor, who joined Kirby at the podium, said military commanders are talking to Afghan National Security Forces, 500-600 of whom are helping the U.S. with airport security, despite the Taliban having toppled the capital.

Aug 17, 12:09 pm
Taliban hold press conference, address concerns over women’s rights

The Taliban held a press conference in Kabul Tuesday and answered questions on the new “Islamic Emirate” it has claimed in Afghanistan.

Asked what assurances the Taliban can give to women and girls that the rights they’ve exercised for the past 20 years will be protected, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Majahid said, as translated from Arabic, “Women will be afforded all their rights.”

“Whether it is at work or other activities, because women are a key part of society, and we are guaranteeing all their rights — within the limits of Islam,” he said.

When the Taliban last ruled, it enforced a strict version of Shariah — or Islamic law — and barred women from working or studying. Rina Amiri, a senior fellow at New York University’s Center for Global Affairs and fellow at the Center for International Cooperation Rena Amiri, told ABC News Live earlier Tuesday that women have no reason to believe that will change now that the Taliban has seized back control.

“They’re hiding in their homes because the Taliban has been coming to their doors. I’ve received so many calls where they have been intimidating them and their families,” she said of the women in Afghanistan, fearful of the Taliban. “They’re creating a climate of incredible repression and threat.”

“What we see in Afghanistan is not a new Taliban that’s better for women. We see one that’s more strategic more brutal and far more effective,” she added.

Amiri stressed that women who’ve been activists or leaders in the community are in imminent danger.

“It’s laudable that the administration wants to help those that work directly for the U.S., but these are the U.S.’s strongest allies and supporters — the women and the human rights defenders in the country — and they are being abandoned, to a terrible fate,” she said.

Aug 17, 11:25 am
Pentagon: US plans to evacuate 5K-9K a day from Kabul

Pentagon officials said the U.S. will have up to 4,000 troops on the ground in Kabul by the end of the day as the military races to continue its evacuation efforts ahead of the Aug. 31 withdrawal deadline the administration has set.

U.S. Army Major Gen. William Taylor of Joint Staff Operations told reporters in a press briefing at the Pentagon Tuesday that the U.S. has the capacity to evacuate 5,000 to 9,000 individuals a day now on a mix between commercial and military aircraft. However, operations may depend on whether the Taliban will allow those commercial planes to fly.

It comes as bipartisan lawmakers express concern with getting out Afghan allies who are unable to access the airport in Kabul as surrounding streets are patrolled by the Taliban.

The White House said Tuesday that both sides of the airport are now open and operational with flights able to land and depart. There were 3,500 U.S. troops on the ground to help control airport operations as of Tuesday morning.

More than 700 people were evacuated by the U.S. military on Monday, including 150 American citizens, officials said.

Aug 17, 11:02 am
Taliban’s co-founder returns to country

The Taliban’s co-founder and de facto leader Mullah Baradar returned to the country Tuesday, leading a Taliban delegation that arrived in Kandahar and taking his first step onto Afghan soil in decades, according to the Taliban spokesperson.

Baradar led the Taliban negotiating team in talks with the Trump administration, securing a U.S. military withdrawal and the release of thousands of Taliban prisoners — longtime goals of the group. He remains sanctioned by the U.S. and United Nations as a terrorist, although he was granted a waiver after being released from a Pakistani prison to travel to Doha, Qatar, and participate in negotiations with the U.S.

“This afternoon, a high-level delegation from the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan headed by Mullah Baradar Akhund left Qatar and arrived in our beloved country this afternoon and landed at Kandahar Airport,” a spokesperson for the Taliban said on Twitter, translated from Arabic.

Seizing control of the country after the Afghanistan president fled, the Taliban has now claimed the formation of the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.”

Aug 17, 10:45 am
NATO Secretary-General: ‘The collapse was swift and sudden’

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg in a press conference said the North Atlantic Council has met to discuss Afghanistan, calling the situation there “extremely serious and unpredictable.”

“Kabul has fallen, and the Taliban have taken control of most of the country. I am deeply saddened by what I see unfolding in Afghanistan,” he said.

NATO’s focus now is to ensure the safe departure of personnel from Allied and partner countries, and of the Afghans who have helped in the mission.

Like Biden, Stoltenberg said NATO never intended to stay in Afghanistan “forever” and pointed to the “failure of Afghan leadership” for leading to the unfolding humanitarian crisis.

“Despite our considerable investment and sacrifice over two decades, the collapse was swift and sudden,” he said. “There are many lessons to be learned.”

Aug 17, 9:03 am
‘Situation under control’ at Kabul airport, NATO official says

Stefano Pontecorvo, NATO’s senior civilian representative to Afghanistan, said the runway at Kabul’s main airport was “open” and calm on Tuesday morning.

“I see airplanes landing and taking off,” Pontecorvo posted on Twitter, alongside an image and a video of the runway. “Situation under control.”

The footage, which Pontecorvo took from behind a chain-link fence, showed a relatively empty runway with American troops on the tarmac and what appeared to be a military cargo plane in the distance.

Pontecorvo’s tweets follow a chaotic scene on Monday when scores of Afghans rushed to the airport and onto the tarmac in a desperate attempt to leave the country, after the Taliban’s takeover of the capital. Some even clung to moving planes that were trying to take off.

Aug 17, 8:17 am
ICRC expects ‘to receive patients for months and years to come’

The International Committee of the Red Cross said it has treated more than 7,600 people wounded by weapons across Afghanistan since the start of the month when the Taliban escalated its nationwide offensive.

“Our medical teams and physical rehabilitation centers expect to receive patients for months and years to come as they recover from wounds from explosive devices that litter the country, many of them newly laid in recent weeks,” ICRC Director-General Robert Mardini said in a statement Tuesday. “It is heartbreaking to see our wards filled with children and young men and women who have lost limbs.”

So far, more than 40,000 people wounded by weapons have been treated at ICRC-supported facilities in June, July and August.

“Afghanistan is in the middle of a transition that is difficult for Afghans, and for us, to predict the outcome of,” Mardini added. “But we know that humanitarian needs will remain high.”

Aug 17, 8:08 am
Human remains found in wheel of C-17 evacuation flight

A U.S. official has confirmed that upon landing at al Udeid air base in Qatar on Monday, human remains were found inside the wheel well of a C-17 military plane that had been swarmed by hundreds of people on the tarmac at Kabul’s airport.

This C-17 was seen in video Monday being surrounded, with some individuals clinging to the plane as it taxied down the runway.

Aug 17, 7:54 am
Pentagon says focus is ‘squarely’ on Kabul airport

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby told ABC’s “Good Morning America” on Tuesday that operations at the airport in Kabul have continued after the U.S. military moved more than 700 people out of Afghanistan in the last 24 hours, he said.

Our focus militarily is very squarely on the airport, making sure that we can keep it up and running, that we can maintain security and stability there,” Kirby said, adding they’ve had some issues controlling the civilian side of the airport.

Kirby said the State Department has started giving evacuation cues to Americans sheltered in place. The U.S. effort to evacuate and rehouse some 30,000 individuals from Afghanistan will continue in the coming weeks, he said.

“We plan on being on the ground there in Afghanistan for the next couple of weeks. It’s not just about moving out Americans, it is very much about meeting our moral and sacred obligations to those Afghans who helped us over the last 20 years, getting as many out as we can,” he said.

Asked directly about Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell claiming Biden overruled his military leaders in making the decision to withdraw troops, Kirby said he would not talk about the advice the president was given.

“The commander in chief is the commander in chief. It’s not about overruling his military leaders or other advisers,” Kirby said. “The president made his decision, and now we’re in execution mode, George. That’s the way it works.”

Aug 17, 6:39 am
US ambassador to Afghanistan says he has not fled

Ross Wilson, acting U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, said he is still in Kabul despite media reports that he had fled as the country descended into chaos.

Wilson took to Twitter on Tuesday morning to address the “false reports,” saying he remains in Afghanistan’s capital “working hard to help [thousands] of U.S. citizens and vulnerable Afghans.”

“Our commitment to the Afghan people endures,” Wilson tweeted.

Aug 17, 6:23 am
Taliban declares ‘amnesty,’ urges women to join government

The Taliban on Tuesday declared an “amnesty” for all in Afghanistan and encouraged women to join their government.

“The Islamic Emirate doesn’t want women to be victims,” Enamullah Samangani, a member of the Taliban’s cultural commission, said on Afghan state television, using the group’s phrase “Islamic Emirate” to refer to the country of Afghanistan. “They should be in the government structure according to Shariah law.”

“The structure of government is not fully clear,” he added, “but based on experience, there should be a fully Islamic leadership, and all sides should join.”

There are fears that the militants will seek revenge on those who worked for the toppled Afghan government or foreign nations, such as the United States. There are also concerns for the future of girls and women under the Taliban’s government, which stripped them of nearly all their rights when it previously ruled Afghanistan.

Aug 17, 5:41 am
Former Afghan interpreters for US speak out: ‘It’s a nightmare’

Some former Afghan interpreters for the U.S. government are speaking out while they watch in fear from afar as the Taliban seizes control of their country.

Ismail Khan, a former interpreter for American troops in Afghanistan who worked with the U.S. Army as a translator from 2006 to 2012, described the situation as chaotic and dire.

“It’s a nightmare,” Khan told San Francisco ABC station KGO in an interview on Monday. “We never thought it would come to this.”

Khan, who is now the special immigrant visa ambassador for Seattle-based nationwide nonprofit No One Left Behind, said that any Afghans who have worked for or helped the U.S. government are at risk of being killed by the Taliban — and it’s not just interpreters.

“Cooks, cleaners, there are security guards, there are mechanics, there are laundry guys,” he explained. “There are a lot of people that worked with U.S. forces, and not only their lives but their family’s lives are also in danger.”

“People are going to die,” he added. “They (the Taliban) are going door-to-door to slaughter those who raised their hand and wanted to help.”

Khan believes there are more than 60,000 Afghans who need to be evacuated “right now,” but the Biden administration has only approved visas for a few thousand.

“They’re begging for help,” he said. “We should stand up and do something about it. It’s a matter of life and death.”

Another former interpreter, Muhammad, who withheld his last name for fear of retribution, said his wife and five children are still in Kabul. Muhammad worked as an interpreter for the U.S. embassy there until moving to Philadelphia in 2019. He and his family returned to Afghanistan’s capital this summer to visit relatives.

Muhammad went back to the United States last week while his family stayed behind, after receiving assurances from his contacts at the U.S. embassy that his wife and children would be safely evacuated. Now, they can’t get out.

“I cannot live without my family,” Muhammad told Philadelphia ABC station WPVI in an interview on Monday. “They are concerned, they are scared, but they have no option.”

Aug 16, 10:53 pm
Former President Bush calls on America to help Afghan refugees

Former President George W. Bush and former first lady Laura Bush released a statement late Monday night calling on America and its allies to aid the people of Afghanistan as the Taliban has taken over the country.

They said the Biden administration has the authority to help now.

“The Afghans now at the greatest risk are the same ones who have been on the forefront of progress inside their nation. President Biden has promised to evacuate these Afghans, along with American citizens and our allies,” they said in a statement. “The United States government has the legal authority to cut the red tape for refugees during urgent humanitarian crises. And we have the responsibility and the resources to secure safe passage for them now, without bureaucratic delay. Our most stalwart allies, along with private NGOs, are ready to help.”

Despite the sudden collapse of the Afghan government, the Bush’s said they remain hopeful for the country and its people.

“In times like these, it can be hard to remain optimistic. Laura and I will steadfastly remain so. Like our country, Afghanistan is also made up of resilient, vibrant people,” their statement said. “Nearly 65 percent of the population is under twenty-five years old. The choices they will make for opportunity, education, and liberty will also determine Afghanistan’s future.”

Aug 16, 8:11 pm
Details about C-17 flight mobbed by thousands at Kabul airport

In a dramatic video, hundreds of Afghan civilians surrounded a U.S. C-17 military transport aircraft as it taxied on the runway at Kabul’s airport.

A U.S. defense official said these were not special visa applicants, but people who had breached the runway from the civilian side of the airport.

According to the official, the C-17 had landed with cargo and as the landing crew attempted to unload, it was rushed by hundreds of Afghan civilians. The aircrew decided it was not safe to unload and began taxiing to fly away to safety.

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