(KABUL, Afghanistan) — Chaos has enveloped Kabul after Afghanistan’s government’s collapsed and the Taliban seized control, all but ending America’s 20-year campaign as it began: under Taliban rule.
The U.S. has evacuated approximately 37,000 people since the effort began on Aug. 14, Pentagon officials said Monday, while reiterating their focus remains on maintaining the airport perimeter and increasing the number of evacuees out of Kabul ahead of the Aug. 31 withdrawal deadline.
President Joe Biden sat down with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos for an exclusive one-on-one interview at the White House last week, the president’s first interview since the withdrawal from Afghanistan. Biden has also addressed the nation several times since.
Here are the latest developments. All times Eastern:
Aug 25, 8:05 pm
US Embassy alert tells people to avoid airport, leave certain gates immediately
The U.S. embassy in Kabul issued another alert, but this one with an urgent warning.
“U.S. citizens who are at the Abbey Gate, East Gate, or North Gate now should leave immediately,” it said.
The alert says U.S. citizens should avoid traveling to the airport and avoid the airport gates “unless you receive individual instructions from a U.S. government representative to do so” — the same instructions they have given in recent days.
In a statement later Wednesday, a State Department spokesperson said, “As a general rule, we do not speak to intelligence, but this is a dynamic and volatile security situation on the ground. We take seriously the priority we attach to the safety and security of American citizens.”
Aug 25, 6:07 pm
White House offers little insight into plans for final days
Biden is standing by his Aug. 31 deadline to complete the withdrawal from Afghanistan, but with the end of the month fast approaching, the White House is still fuzzy on what the last chapter of the exit might look like.
“The 31st of course is the deadline for the drawdown, but when do the gears shift from evacuation mission to withdrawing troops?” ABC News correspondent Stephanie Ramos asked White House press secretary Jen Psaki.
She did not say when the fundamental focus of the operation would change, but underscored the fluidity of the situation.
“The president was briefed this morning on … on contingency plans and continues to have optionality should he decide to change plans, even as we are on track to complete our mission by Aug. 31,” Psaki answered. “Commanders on the ground are empowered to make any adjustments as they see fit, when they see fit. That includes changes to the footprint to that end, they confirmed, last night I believe it was, that of the departure from Afghanistan of several 100 U.S. troops.”
ABC News correspondent Karen Travers pressed Psaki again on the same question, asking when evacuations would have to wrap in order to get American troops and equipment out of the country by the end of the month.
“Can you say today when the last flight will leave in order to get the drawdown done by that deadline?” she said.
Psaki said she didn’t anticipate making an exact stop date and time public, citing security reasons, but that “I’m sure we will make clear to all of you when it is the last flight. Absolutely.”
-ABC News’ Shannon Crawford
Aug 25, 5:57 pm
US general in Europe on evacuation efforts there
The top American general in Europe spoke with Pentagon reporters Wednesday afternoon about the flow of Afghan civilians into bases in Europe.
Speaking from his headquarters, he highlighted the arrival and processing efforts at Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany, Sigonella Naval Air Station in Italy and Naval Station Rota in Spain. He listed multiple U.S. military facilities in Germany and another in Kosovo that are housing Afghans and said that overall the bases in Europe could potentially process and house as many as 25,000 evacuees if needed.
The first flights arrived in Ramstein on Friday, and the first departures for the United States occurred on Monday.
“We’ve received 55 flights at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, and we currently have 5783 evacuees on deck at Ramstein. We’ve received three flights at Naval Air Station Sigonella,” said Wolters.
He said that 1,605 evacuees have left Ramstein for Dulles International Airport in Virginia and the plan is to transport evacuees there three to four days after they arrive in Europe.
“When they land at Ramstein or Sigonella, they’re immediately given food, water and shelter. They have medical care as required from a screening perspective. And they have screening, as required, for onward movement to the continental United States,” said Wolters.
He also said that of the 7,000 evacuees have been processed and 52 individuals had been marked for further security screening, but he couldn’t provide further details.
Aug 25, 5:42 pm
Baby’s name inspired by evacuation flight’s call sign
A baby born aboard a C-17 evacuation flight was named “Reach,” the same as the flight’s call sign, Gen. Tod Wolters, commander of U.S. European Command, told reporters Wednesday.
The Afghan woman gave birth to the baby girl as the aircraft landed at Ramstein Air Base in Germany on Saturday, according to the U.S. Air Force.
“The mother went into labor and began having complications. The aircraft commander decided to descend in altitude to increase air pressure in the aircraft, which helped stabilize and save the mother’s life,” U.S. Air Mobility Command said on Twitter.
Medical personnel rushed to the tarmac at the U.S. base in Germany to assist and delivered the baby girl in the cargo bay of the aircraft, according to another tweet. Both the mother and baby were taken to a medical facility and were in “good condition,” according to the Air Force.
Wolters told reporters at Wednesday’s Pentagon briefing that it was his dream that one day that baby will have the opportunity to become an American citizen and join the Air Force.
-ABC News’ Luis Martinez and Joseph Simonetti
Aug 25, 4:23 pm
‘I take responsibility,’ Blinken says
Presented with the problems with the U.S. evacuation mission and with how Biden has placed blame on the Trump administration over visas for Afghans, Secretary of State Antony Blinken was asked at a State Department briefing — his first since the Taliban takeover — whether he and Biden administration officials “can take responsibility yourselves.”
“I take responsibility,” Blinken said. “I know the president has said he takes responsibility. And I know all of my colleagues across government feel the same way.”
“And I can tell you that there will be plenty of time to look back at the last six or seven months, to look back at the last 20 years, and to look to see what we might have done differently, what we might have done sooner, what we might have done more effectively,” he continued. “But I have to tell you that right now my entire focus is on the mission at hand.”
An emotional Blinken spoke at another point of feeling as if he was “punched in the gut” when hearing about a two-year-old daughter of an Afghan translator who was trampled outside the airport in Kabul.
“I’ve got two small kids of my own. Reading that story, and others, was like getting punched in the gut. All of us at the State Department and across the U.S. government feel that way,” he said. “We know that lives and futures, starting with our fellow citizens, including the lives of children, hang in the balance during these critical days.”
Of the more than 82,300 people whom the U.S. and coalition partners have evacuated from Kabul since Aug. 14, Blinken said 45% or 46% have been women and children.
Aug 25, 3:25 pm
Blinken on Afghans trying to get out: ‘They will not be forgotten’
While Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday that the State Department will not end its evacuation mission from Afghanistan on Aug. 31 when the U.S. withdraws its military presence, reporters pressed Blinken about Afghan allies still in the country worried they’ll be left behind without safe passage to the airport.
“They will not be forgotten,” Blinken said. “We will use every diplomatic, economic assistance tool at our disposal, working hand in hand with the international community, first and foremost to ensure that those who want to leave Afghanistan after the 31st are able to do so.”
Blinken said the U.S. has “points of leverage with a future Afghan government” to help make sure people aren’t left behind, although Pentagon officials acknowledged earlier on Wednesday that the future of the Hamid Karzai International Airport is uncertain.
“From my perspective, from the president’s perspective, this effort does not end on August 31, it will continue for as long as it takes to help get people out of Afghanistan who wish to leave,” he said.
Aug 25, 3:10 pm
Blinken: About 1,000 Americans might still need to be evacuated
Secretary of State Antony Blinken, speaking publicly from the State Department for the first time since Afghanistan fell to the Taliban, announced that the U.S. has evacuated at least 4,500 citizens since August 14 but said about 1,000 Americans may still need evacuating.
He said the State Department believed that as of an Aug. 14 analysis, 6,000 American citizens in Afghanistan wanted to leave.
“Over the past 24 hours, we’ve been in direct contact with approximately 500 additional Americans. And provided specific instructions on how to get to the airport safely,” he said. “For the remaining roughly 1000 contacts that we had, who may be Americans seeking to leave Afghanistan, we’re aggressively reaching out to them multiple times a day.”
He added the State Department believes that the number of Americans actively seeking assistance to leave Afghanistan is “likely significantly lower” than 1,000.
While the U.S. military faces an Aug. 31 deadline for a full withdrawal, Blinken said, for the State Department, there is no deadline on evacuating Americans.
“There is no deadline on our work to help any remaining American citizens who decide they want to leave to do so, along with the many Afghans who have stood by us over these many years and want to leave and have been unable to do so. That effort will continue every day past August 31.”
Aug 25, 1:19 pm
Pentagon: More than 10,000 were at Kabul airport Wednesday waiting to depart
Army Maj. Gen. Hank Taylor said at a Pentagon briefing earlier Wednesday that as he spoke there were more than 10,000 people at the airport in Kabul awaiting departure.
Taylor added that six flights are scheduled to bring about 1,800 vulnerable Afghans from Germany to the U.S., and 13 flights will bring about 2,000 vulnerable Afghans to Ramstein Air Base in Germany.
He said a plane departed the airport every 39 minutes on Tuesday.
As next week’s deadline looms, Taylor also told reporters that “the most senior commanders on the ground are out and discussing with the Taliban leaders that are manning these checkpoints exactly what the documentation needs to look like” for more people to get through.
He said the State Department’s consular officers are sharing information about documentation and names with American commanders who are then passing on the information, as needed, “to the Taliban that are at those checkpoints to allow transition in there to get into — into the gates,” Taylor said.
Aug 25, 10:25 am
Pelosi calls lawmakers’ unauthorized trip ‘deadly serious’
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi at her weekly press conference on Capitol Hill said it was “deadly serious” that two House members traveled to Kabul on an unauthorized trip and that the action prompted her to write a letter to lawmakers on Tuesday evening warning them not to travel to Afghanistan.
Pelosi said she learned that veterans and Reps. Peter Meijer, R-Mich., and Seth Moulton, D-Mass., traveled to the Hamid Karzai International Airport “a little bit before it was in the public domain” but said officials couldn’t make their visit known wider until the lawmakers were in safe airspace.
“There’s a real concern about members being in the region,” Pelosi said. “With the knowledge of the secretary of defense, as to what the risk would be to these members, the resources necessary to facilitate their visit and to protect them, [it] was an opportunity cost of what we needed to do to be evacuating as many people as possible.”
“This is deadly serious,” she added. “They do not want members to go.”
Pelosi said she hasn’t yet spoken to Meijer or Molton but took the chance to deter other members from following suit, saying it would present “a call on our resources.”
“We wanted to make sure they were safe for themselves, but also for what consequences could flow, ramifications, if something happened to them while they were there, so they have to make their own case as to why they went,” she said. “But it was not, in my view, a good idea.”
Meijer and Moulton have defended the trip amid criticism that they distracted from the mission.
Aug 25, 7:18 am
US evacuates 19,000 people from Kabul in past 24 hours
The United States has evacuated and facilitated the evacuation of some 82,300 people from Kabul since Aug. 14 when the Taliban closed in on Afghanistan’s capital, according to a White House official.
In a 24-hour period from Tuesday to Monday, 42 U.S. military flights carried approximately 11,200 evacuees out of Kabul. Another 7,800 people were evacuated via 48 coalition aircraft. Since the end of July, approximately 87,900 people have been relocated from Kabul via U.S. military and coalition flights, the White House official said.
Aug 25, 6:20 am
World Bank freezes aid to Taliban-ruled Afghanistan
The World Bank said it has suspended funding for projects in Afghanistan in the wake of the Taliban’s return to power, becoming the latest international organization to do so.
“We are deeply concerned about the situation in Afghanistan and the impact on the country’s development prospects, especially for women,” a World Bank spokesperson told ABC News in a statement Wednesday. “We have paused disbursements in our operations in Afghanistan and we are closely monitoring and assessing the situation in line with our internal policies and procedures.”
“As we do so, we will continue to consult closely with the international community and development partners,” the spokesperson added. “Together with our partners we are exploring ways we can remain engaged to preserve hard-won development gains and continue to support the people of Afghanistan.”
The World Bank, headquartered in Washington, D.C., has committed some $5.3 billion for reconstruction and development projects in Afghanistan since 2002.
Last week, the International Monetary Fund announced that its financial resources will no longer be accessible to Afghanistan due to a “a lack of clarity within the international community” over the country’s government, after the Taliban seized control of the capital.
Aug 24, 9:09 pm
2 House lawmakers take unauthorized trip to Kabul amid evacuation operation
Veterans and Reps. Peter Meijer, R-Mich., and Seth Moulton, D-Mass., traveled to Afghanistan to review the situation at the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul – an unauthorized trip they are now defending amid criticism that they distracted from the evacuation mission.
The Washington Post first reported on their unauthorized trip, and the anger it prompted inside the Pentagon and State Department as officials work around-the-clock to evacuate endangered Americans and Afghans.
Their trip prompted the letter to lawmakers House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sent Tuesday that said travel to the region would distract from the ongoing evacuations.
Official travel by members of the House must be approved by the speaker or relevant committee chairs.
In a joint statement, the two representatives said they conducted the visit in secret to gather information about operations there and not disrupt them.
They provided few details on what they learned — except to say how proud they are of the U.S. officials — military and civilian — on the ground. They added that “Washington” should be “ashamed” of the position they’ve put these public servants in.
They added that they went into the visit wanting Biden to extend his deadline, but after talking to commanders on the ground, it is impossible to get “everyone out on time,” even if Biden pushed back the full withdrawal until Sept. 11.
“Sadly and frustratingly, getting our people out depends on maintaining the current, bizarre relationship with the Taliban,” they said in the statement.
While a congressional delegation to this humanitarian crisis took up time and seats, the two lawmakers defended themselves in their statement by saying in part, “We left on a plane with empty seats, seated in crew-only seats to ensure that nobody who needed a seat would lose one because of our presence.”
Aug 24, 7:52 pm
Pelosi warns lawmakers to avoid travel to Afghanistan
In a dear colleague letter, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi warned lawmakers to avoid traveling to Afghanistan given security concerns.
“Given the urgency of this situation, the desire of some Members to travel to Afghanistan and the surrounding areas is understandable and reflective of the high priority that we place on the lives of those on the ground,” she wrote. “However, I write to reiterate that the Departments of Defense and State have requested that Members not travel to Afghanistan and the region during this time of danger.”
“Member travel to the Afghanistan and the surrounding countries would unnecessarily divert needed resources from the priority mission of safely and expeditiously evacuating (Americans) and Afghans at risk from Afghanistan,” she continued.
Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.