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Displaced Afghans from the northern provinces are evacuated from a makeshift camp in Kabul, Afghanistan
The fighting has displaced over 10,300 people in the last month alone — with many seeking safety in KabulImage: Paula Bronstein/Getty Images

Taliban press on after seizing key cities

August 13, 2021

With the Taliban capturing Afghanistan's second- and third-largest cities, more than half of regional capitals have fallen. Several countries are now temporarily closing their embassies and withdrawing staff.

  • US embassy Kabul orders staff to prepare for "drawdown"
  • UN Secretary General Guterres says "Afghanistan is spinning out of control"
  • NATO is "deeply concerned" — Stoltenberg
  • Germany says it will reduce Kabul embassy staff to "absolute minimum"
  • Denmark and Norway announce they will close Kabul embassies
  • Afghanistan's second-largest city, Kandahar, has fallen to the Taliban
  • The insurgents also control much of the third-largest city, Herat, and the key city of Ghazni

These live updates are now closed. For more on the Taliban offensive, click here

What happened on Friday in Afghanistan?

The US State Department announced a "drawdown" of the US embassy in Kabul on Friday. Employees were ordered to incinerate any sensitive documents or equipment, especially anything with "embassy or agency logos, American flags or items which could be misused in propaganda efforts".

At the same time, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Kabul was not currently under "imminent threat" of falling to the Taliban.

This as Denmark and Norway announced the temporary closure of their embassies in the Afghan capital, and Finland announced it would be evacuating local Afghan hires and their families. Germany too said it would reduce its staff to the bare minimum.

With more than half of Afghanistan's districts now under Taliban control, including the cities of Kandahar and Herat as of Thursday, NATO convened an emergency meeting Friday. Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg emerged after to say he was "deeply concerned" about the situation.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres called on the Taliban to halt their offensive and return to the negotiating table. He noted, "Afghanistan is spinning out of control."

Canada will resettle 20,000 vulnerable Afghans

Canada's immigration minister, Marco Mendicino, said Friday Canada will resettle upwards of 20,000 vulnerable Afghans, Reuters reports. 

Of particular concern are female leaders, human rights advocates, journalists, and members of persecuted groups such as religious and sexual minorities.

"As the Taliban continues to take over more of Afghanistan, many more Afghans' lives are under increasing threat," Mendicino told a news conference.

The news of Canada's latest resettlement effort is in addition to the Afghans Canada has already welcomed who previously worked for the Canadian government and their families.

A crowd gathers at Chaman border crossing, Afghanistan
A large crowd gathers at the closed Chaman border crossing between Afghanistan and PakistanImage: Jafar Khan/AP Photo/picture alliance

US State Department announces 'drawdown' of Kabul embassy

The facility manager at the US embassy in Kabul Friday sent out a memo to employees there instructing them to make use of on-site incinerators and other means of disposal for documents and equipment, AFP reports.

"Please also include items with embassy or agency logos, American flags or items which could be misused in propaganda efforts," the memo read in part.

As part of what it terms a "drawdown," the embassy is hoping to get rid of any material that could be useful for a hostile adversary such as the Taliban's propaganda purposes.

The memo noted, "Drawdowns at our diplomatic posts around the world follow a standard operating procedure designed to minimize our footprint across various categories, including staffing, equipment and supplies."

Murals in support of woman and girls along the walls of the US embassy in Kabul
Murals in support of woman and girls along the walls of the US embassy in KabulImage: Paula Bronstein/Getty Images

UN: Guterres says Afghanistan 'spinning out of control'

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres called on the Taliban to halt their offensive and return to the negotiating table. He noted, "Afghanistan is spinning out of control."

"The message from the international community to those on the warpath must be clear: seizing power through military force is a losing proposition. That can only lead to prolonged civil war or to the complete isolation of Afghanistan," Guterres said.

US ready to airlift 'thousands' out of Kabul

At a press conference on Friday, the US Defense Department said troops will arrive this weekend to help start evacuating US citizens and diplomatic staff.

"I expect that by the end of the weekend the bulk of the 3,000 that we talked about yesterday will be in place," said Pentagon spokesman John Kirby.

He added that Washington was preparing to airlift "thousands per day" out of Kabul.

"If there is an attack upon our forces, our commanders have always had the right and responsibility to defend themselves," Kirby said.

The Pentagon spokesman said Kabul is not currently under "imminent threat".

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby would not compare the present siituation in Kabul with the US withdrawal from Saigon at the end of the Vietnam warImage: Alex Brandon/AP Photo/picture alliance

Former US official: 'My biggest fear is unfolding'

As the security situation continues to deteriorate in Afghanistan, DW spoke with Paul Miller, the former Director for Afghanistan on the US National Security Council under former Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

"My biggest fear is unfolding right now," said Miller, who served in Afghanistan.

"I'm afraid the way to push back the Taliban would be to reintroduce international military forces — to give the Afghan forces the support they need," he said. 

Miller added, however, that the prospect of another military intervention under current US President Biden is slim to none.
"So I'm very surprised at the decision he's made and the fact that he's sticking with it day after day as we see the situation deteriorate," he added.

Boris Johnson: UK must 'not turn our backs on Afghanistan'

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson vowed full support for Afghanistan Friday after several strategic cities and districts fell to the Taliban. Johnson said we should "not turn our backs on Afghanistan."

Johnson added it was imperative to "make sure the government of Kabul does not allow that country, again, to be a breeding ground for terror."

Stoltenberg: NATO 'deeply concerned'

Speaking to reporters after an emergency meeting with the permanent representatives of all 30 NATO member states, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance is "deeply concerned about the high levels of violence caused by the Taliban's offensive, including attacks on civilians, targeted killings, and reports of other serious human rights abuses."

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg addressed reporters after an emergency meeting of the 30-nation alliance's permanent representatives
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg addressed reporters after an emergency meeting of the 30-nation alliance's permanent representativesImage: Virginia Mayo/AP/dpa/picture alliance

He added, "The Taliban need to understand that they will not be recognized by the international community if they take the country by force."

Stoltenberg reiterated the alliance remains committed to a political solution and would continue "to support the Afghan government and security forces as much as possible."

While NATO continues to maintain a diplomatic presence in Kabul, the alliance will "continue to adjust as necessary," and "assess the developments on the ground".

Finland to evacuate 130 Afghan staff and their families

Finland's foreign minister Pekka Haavisto said the country could "take in up to 130 Afghans who have worked in the service of Finland, the EU and NATO, along with their families" because of "the quickly weakening security situation".

The decision was taken on humanitarian grounds given the risk that these individuals and their families could be targets of human rights violations in the future.

Fifty of the Afghans are employees of the Finnish Embassy in Kabul, 50 served at the EU's mission in Kabul and 30 worked for NATO. Haavisto said the Finnish government would arrange flights out of the Afghan capital.

NATO 'monitoring' security situation on the ground

A NATO official tells DW, "NATO is monitoring the security situation very closely. We continue to coordinate with the Afghan authorities and the rest of the international community." 

The official added, "We maintain our diplomatic presence in Kabul. As the security of our personnel is paramount, we will not go into any operational details.”

The statement comes after a crisis meeting Friday where evacuation planning was a top priority.

Denmark and Norway to close their Kabul embassies

Danish Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod said Denmark will "temporarily close" its Kabul embassy for the moment and evacuate staff. Politiken reports 45 local staff and their spouses and children under the age of 18 will be offered the possibility of being evacuated as well as temporary residence in Denmark for two years.

Shortly after Copenhagen's announcement, Norwegian Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Soereide announced Norway will also close its embassy in Kabul and evacuate diplomats as well as local employees and their families.

A member of the Afghan security force stands guard along the roadside as Taliban took over the police headquarters in Herat Thursday
A member of the Afghan security force stands guard along the roadside as Taliban took over the police headquarters in Herat ThursdayImage: AFP

Iran calls on Taliban to 'guarantee' safety of diplomats

Iran's foreign ministry spokesman Rusoul Mosavi on Friday called on the Taliban for "guarantees of complete safety for its diplomatic missions and the lives of its staff" in Herat after the insurgents seized the city on Thursday.

Mosavi said the foreign ministry was "in contact" with the city which is located only 115 kilometers (70 miles) from the Iranian border. The diplomatic mission closed down after the Taliban entered the city on Thursday.

He confirmed the diplomats were "well" so far and that "the forces that now control the city gave guarantees of full protection for the consulate, diplomats and other staff."

Germany cuts embassy staff

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas says Berlin will reduce the number of staff at its embassy in Kabul to the "absolute minimum."

According to the Foreign Office, the number of Germans currently in Afghanistan is estimated to be in the high double digits — not counting members of the Bundeswehr and other "seconded personnel," such as those at the embassy.

Meanwhile, Danish broadcaster TV2 quoted Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod as saying that staff at Copenhagen's embassy in Kabul were being evacuated.

UK holds emergency talks

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is set to hold an emergency response meeting on Friday to discuss the Afghan situation, a spokesperson said. 

Some 600 troops have already been sent to help evacuate British nationals from the country, as the Islamists seize more control.

Earlier, UK Defense Minister Ben Wallace said Britain could return to Afghanistan if the country started to once again host al-Qaida in a way that threatened the West. 

Morale is low, says Kabul professor

Low levels of morale in the Afghan army have only deepened as the Taliban continue to take more territory in the country, Victoria Fontan, a professor of Conflict Studies at the American University of Afghanistan in Kabul told DW.

"This war has been won, I would say mostly psychologically from the start, then militarily, because most of the provinces that were that were gathered by the Taliban at the beginning were empty provinces," said Fontan. "Then the numbers started to rise and the morale started to plummet in the Afghan security forces."

The university professor said women in Kabul "fear that Afghanistan is being set back for many years to come” and worry whether they will be able “to continue studying, to continue being part of our society."

'Taliban 2.0' keep us awake at night, says Afghan media boss

The director of one of Afghanistan’s largest media companies told DW that he is "deeply concerned" about the welfare of his journalists and staff in the country amid the Taliban advance. 

"The signs are not good. Taliban 2.0 is exactly the same as the earlier version. They have not changed, not when it comes to women, not when it comes to media. Not when it comes to civil society," said Saad Mohseni, an Afghan-Australian who founded the MOBY Media Group in 2002.

Mohseni accused the US and Afghan governments of failing civilians. He criticized the US for withdrawing troops too quickly, in effect removing vital support they provided to the Afghan army.

"We have a pretty inept, hopeless government that has not managed this transition. But also the Americans have completely failed their Afghan partners. They've tied the Afghans hands behind their backs and have said 'go and keep fighting.'"

Taliban take western provincial capital

Fazel Haq Ehsan, the chief of the provincial council in the western Ghor province, says the militants have entered the provincial capital, Feroz Koh, and taken the city. The official said the city had been secured without much resistance.

Infografik - Kabul vor dem Fall? - EN

NATO convenes emergency meeting  

NATO is set to hold a meeting on the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, with one source telling the AFP news agency it would focus on evacuation planning. 

The alliance's Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg is set to lead the talks at 13:00 UTC/GMT with representatives of some 30 allies.  

"It is about determining who does what, when, and how, and what support is given for this," the source said.  

Leading NATO powers the US and Britain have ordered the deployment of thousands of troops to the country to help with the evacuation of their nationals. 

Provincial hub falls on doorstep of Kabul — lawmaker

The Taliban are on the move in Logar province, just south of Kabul, where the AFP news agency says they have seized the provincial capital of Puli-e Alim.

The city is just 50 kilometers (30 miles) from Kabul, effectively opening a path to the national seat of power.

"Now the Taliban are 100 percent in control. There is no fighting at the moment. Most of the officials fled to Kabul," lawmaker Saeed Qaribullah Sadat told AFP.

Two cities fall, apparently with little resistance

The DPA news agency has confirmed that the capitals of the provinces of Uruzgan and Zabul have fallen, saying that they did so with little or no resistance.

Qalat, the capital of Zabul, and Tirinkot, the capital of Uruzgan, have 44,000 and 116,000 inhabitants respectively.

All security forces in Tirinkot were reported to have surrendered to the Taliban. The troops were reported to have nowhere to flee because all roads out of the city were blocked by the Islamists.

Qalat was also finally handed over to the Islamists, according to officials, despite skirmishes with the Taliban on the outer part of the city in recent weeks. 

Southern province is major Taliban prize

Among the most significant gains for the Taliban has been the apparent conquest of the capital of Helmand province, Lashkar Gah.

US, British and other allied NATO forces have fought some of the bloodiest battles in the past 20 years in the province.  

Hundreds of foreign troops have been killed in the battle for the province, which is also a major hub for the opium trade. 

The AP news agency cites Attaullah Afghan, the head of the provincial council in Helmand, saying the Taliban have raised their flag over governmental buildings.  

Three national army bases outside the capital remain under the control of government forces, he says.

The southerly province is the largest of Afghanistan's 34 regional divisions.

Germany must help Afghan staff quickly — minister

Germany’s Interior Minister Horst Seehofer has said his country must ensure local staff who worked for the Bundeswehr in Afghanistan are able to leave the country quickly.

Seehofer said some of the usual paperwork would have to be waived so that such staff are not left behind and subject to retribution. 

"The situation in Afghanistan is becoming increasingly threatening," he said in a statement. 

"Whether charter flights or issuing visas after arrival in Germany, I support all measures that enable our local support staff and their families to leave the country quickly." 

"There is no time for bureaucracy, we must act," he added. 

Two more capitals fall — reports

A provincial council chief in Zabul province says the local capital of Qalat has fallen to the Taliban and that officials there are preparing to leave from a nearby army camp, the AP news agency reports. 

The agency also cites lawmakers from Afghanistan's southern Uruzgan province saying local officials have surrendered the provincial capital, Tirin Kot, to the insurgents as they make their rapid advances. 

The insurgents now control 18 of 34 regional capitals, with second-city Kandahar among them. The third-largest city, Herat, was largely taken over by the Islamists on Thursday.

Map showing who is in control in various regions of Afghanistan
The government still controls Kabul, but regions around it are already being fought over

UNHCR urges neighbors to provide refuge 

United Nations refugee agency the UNHCR is calling on Afghanistan’s neighbors to keep open their borders as the insurgents advance and violence intensifies

It says the fighting poses a grave threat to civilians and has pledged help for countries that take refugees.  

"An inability to seek safety may risk innumerable civilian lives. UNHCR stands ready to help national authorities scale up humanitarian responses as needed," a spokesperson for the agency told a briefing in Geneva. 

Taliban capture 'Lion of Herat'

Taliban insurgents have detained veteran militia commander Mohammad Ismail Khan, known as the "Lion of Herat," the Reuters news agency reports a local official as saying. 

Only a month ago, Khan — one of Afghanistan's most famous warlords — vowed to defend his city from the Taliban as he called for locals to join the fight. 

Khan was among those who battled Soviet occupiers in the 1980s and was a key member of the Northern Alliance whose US-backed forces ousted the Taliban in 2001. 

Provincial council member Ghulam Habib Hashimi told Reuters that, as part of a pact, Khan was was handed over to the insurgents along with the provincial governor and security officials. 

"The Taliban agreed that they will not pose any threat or harm to the government officials who surrendered," Hashimi said.