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Biden backs Afghanistan evacuation strategy — as it happened

August 20, 2021

The US president said the airlift from Kabul was one of the most "difficult" operations ever, but vowed to bring all Americans home.

President Joe Biden speaks from the White House East Room
Biden addressed the ongoing situation in Kabul during a White House speechImage: Susan Walsh/AP/picture alliance
  • German man shot while trying to reach airport
  • Over 18,000 people evacuated since Sunday — NATO official
  • Taliban steps up search for Afghans who helped US — report
  • President Joe Biden has vowed to bring Americans home from Kabul

This live updates article has now closed. It was last updated at 21:40 UTC/GMT. To look back at Thursday's developments in Afghanistan, read on here. Keep up to date with the latest events on Saturday here. 

German Bundeswehr evacuation flight lands in Tashkent

A German A400M Airbus military transport plane has touched down in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. On board were 172 people in need of safety, the Bundeswehr said in an official post on Twitter.

Taliban website outages reported

The official websites of the Taliban appeared to have vanished from the internet late on Friday.

The Taliban operate separate websites in Pashto, Dari, Arabic, Urdu and English. All five appeared to be unreachable on Friday. The outage was first reported by The Washington Post.

It was not immediately clear whether a technical fault or something else was to blame.

Countries agree to temporarily host Afghan evacuees

The United Arab Emirates has agreed to host 5,000 Afghan nationals. The Gulf state will host the evacuees for 10 days on their way to a third country at the request of the United States, the country's foreign ministry said on Friday. The Afghans will be evacuated by the US military.

The UAE has so far facilitated the evacuation of 8,500 people from Afghanistan on its aircraft and through its airports, it said.

A Qatari official told news agency Reuters the Gulf Arab state was "continuing our efforts to evacuate people from Afghanistan. Additional flights are scheduled during the upcoming days."

The tiny Gulf kingdom of Bahrain has said it will also allow planes carrying evacuees to stop over in the kingdom as part of efforts to assist rescue operations in Afghanistan.

In South America, Colombia has also said it will temporarily host Afghans while they await approval to enter the United States, President Ivan Duque said on Friday.

Duque did not specify how many Afghans would transit through Colombia. US and Colombian media outlets have reported that the number will be about 4,000.

Turkey's Erdogan speaks with Greek Prime Minister

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis by phone on Friday about the situation in Afghanistan. 

Erdogan said Afghan migrants could present "a serious challenge for everyone" and urged the EU to stick to a 2016 refugee deal.

Mitsotakis reportedly said there is a need to help Afghanistan's Central Asian neighbors take in the migrants.

Greece reportedly finished contruction on a new wall with Turkey on Friday as a means to keep out the migrants.

NATO has 'some leverage' over Taliban, Stoltenberg tells DW

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told DW Friday that the alliance has "some leverage" over the Taliban to faciliate evacuations.

Stoltenberg: "Lessons to learn" for NATO

"The problem is not the lack of planes. Many allies have stated clearly that they're ready to receive Afghans. The challenge is to get them there," he said.

He said NATO will "use political tools, diplomatic tools, potential sanctions" to ensure the "Taliban live up to their commitments" to allow people to leave the country.

He said this requires "tactical operational contacts with Taliban."

He added that the current situation is "difficult for NATO" but said there needs to be strong ties between North America and Europe regardless of what happens in Afghanistan.

Biden gives update on evacuations in White House address

President Joe Biden gave an update on ongoing evacuations from Afghanistan in an address from the White House on Friday. 

Biden said about 13,000 people have been evacuated from Afghanistan since August 14. He said nearly 6,000 US troops are currently in Afghanistan to assist in the operations at Kabul airport.

The president said any Taliban attack on US troops in Afghanistan will be met with a "swift and forceful response." He claimed the US is monitoring for any terrorist activity near Kabul airport. 

He vowed to bring home Americans who are still stranded in Afghanistan. He said he had spoken with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel about the evacuations.

The president said allies are not questioning US "credibility" amid the withdrawal.

Biden said G7 leaders are expected to meet next week to discuss the situation. 

He continued to defend his decision to pull out US troops from the country: "It's time to end this war."

"There's no way in which you'd be able to leave Afghanistan without some of what you're seeing now," Biden said.

Taliban claim they are not stopping people from leaving

A Taliban official told Reuters news agency Friday that the group is not preventing people from leaving Afghanistan. 

"We are only pushing [away] those who have no legal papers to travel, but who are adding to the chaos at Kabul airport gate," the unnamed official said.

The statement comes after the NATO alliance urged the Taliban to let evacuees leave the country.

US using Ramstein Air Base for evacuations

The US is using the Ramstein Air Base in western Germany for the evacuation of Afghan nationals, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said Friday. 

Maas said US flights will also take German nationals to Ramstein and added that German planes are also evacuating people from other countries.

The foreign minister said Germany is working closely with international partners to evacuate as many people as possible.

The US State Department is expected to announce that more evacuation flights out of Kabul will land in Europe, Reuters news agency reported Friday. 

Merkel, Putin discuss Afghanistan in Moscow

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed the latest developments in Afghanistan during a meeting in Moscow on Friday.

Putin urged the international community to prevent the "collapse" of Afghanistan but also said other nations should not impose their "outside values" on the country.

Merkel said the risk of terrorism from Afghanistan is manageable for now. She said discussions with the Taliban can be used to help facilitate evacuations.

"I have given information that we in Germany consider it most important to evacuate people who have worked for over 20 years for us. Those citizens of Afghanistan should receive a place to stay in Germany," the chancellor said.

NATO Secretary-General: Evacuations are top priority

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told journalists Friday that safe evacuations from Kabul are the top priority for the alliance, along with keeping the airport in operation.

"The situation remains difficult and unpredictable," Stoltenberg said. "The main challenge we face is ensuring that people reach and enter Kabul airport."

Stoltenberg expressed gratitude towards the US, UK and Turkey for maintaining security at Kabul airport. 

NATO foreign ministers took part in a virtual meeting on Friday to discuss the situation.

A joint declaration by NATO's 30 member countries following the meeting urged the Taliban to let evacuees leave Afghanistan. The allies said they will remain in "close coordination" on evacuation operations and called on all parties in Afghanistan to form an "inclusive and representative government" that respects human rights.

The declaration also said the alliance would not tolerate Afghanistan becoming a safe haven for terrorism.

Some NATO countries suggested that Kabul airport be used for evacuations beyond the current deadline of August 31.

NATO members have been withdrawing troops from Afghanistan following President Joe Biden's decision earlier this year to end the US combat mission in the country.

Female Afghan lawmaker plans to stay in Afghanistan

Afghan member of parliament and women's rights activist Farzana Kochai told DW she intends to stay in Afghanistan, despite the Taliban takeover. 

She said she had "feeling of responsibility and obligation" towards the Afghan people, especially women.

"We need some people to speak up about what's going on," she explained. "We have to stay and be a voice... for all those women, millions of women, who can't leave the country."

When the Taliban ruled most of Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, the group did not allow women to go to school or work. Women were also forced to cover themselves with the burqa while in public.

Dozens of Afghan migrants trapped between Poland and Belarus

At least 32 migrants who fled Afghanistan are stranded in the border area between Belarus and Poland amid a standoff between the two countries.

Poland has accused Belarus of exploiting the migrants and using them as a "political instrument" against the EU.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has been angered by western sanctions in recent months, after the controversial state-backed hijacking of a Ryanair flight in May.

Growing crisis at Belarus-EU border

Polish opposition lawmakers have demanded the government help the migrants. 

The Polish government said Friday it would evacuate at least 300 Afghans who cooperated with the NATO alliance. 

Evacuation planes leaving 'partly empty,' says Madrid

Spain says the country's military transport planes are leaving Kabul partly empty because chaos at the city's airport is preventing Afghans from evacuating.

Defense Minister Margarita Robles said Friday that one Afghan family taken out by Spain had left behind a daughter they lost in the airport crush.

She told Spanish public radio RNE that an ideal solution would be to set up corridors into the airport, but that's impossible because "nobody's in control of the situation."

Robles said that after Afghan President Ashraf Ghani left his country the airport's air traffic controllers and security staff walked out, rendering it inoperative until United States forces took it over.

She said the US has given assurances that its forces won't leave the airport until the last person awaiting evacuation is out.

Fleeing expatriates abandon their Afghan domestic staff

Expatriates leaving Afghanistan suddenly have left their domestic employees stripped of income and opportunity, Reuters news agency reports.

Maids, drivers, guards and many of the small businesses serving expatriates have been left fearing for their livelihoods.

Thousands of foreign nationals have been scrambling to leave the country after the Taliban took control of the capital Kabul on Sunday. They were only able to give minimal notice — if any — to their staff.

The international community — which once included tens of thousands of troops, as well as aid workers and entrepreneurs — has been a key source of jobs for Afghans these past 20 years.

Many local businesses have also thrived by catering to foreigners — be it hotels, restaurants, cafes or stores.

Afghanistan is an aid-dependent economy, with foreign assistance making up more than 40% of the country's GDP, World Bank data shows.

More than half of Afghanistan's 38 million people live on less than $1.90 (€1.63) a day.

Taliban 'to do nothing' until August 31 — report

The Associated Press reported that the Taliban does not plan to make any decisions or announcements about the upcoming government until after the August 31 US withdrawal date passes.

Citing an Afghan official familiar with talks with the militant group, the news agency said Taliban lead negotiator Anas Haqqani has told his ex-government interlocutors that the insurgent movement has a deal with the US "to do nothing" until after the final withdrawal date passes.

The source did not elaborate on whether the reference to doing nothing was only in the political field. 

Haqqani's statement raises concerns about what the religious movement might be planning after August 31, and whether they will keep their promise to include non-Taliban officials in the next government.

Until now the Taliban have said nothing of their plans to replace the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces, or what a replacement would look like.

German national shot en route to airport

A German man was shot while traveling to the airport in Kabul and is being treated, a German government spokesperson said.

The person, described as a civilian, is being treated and is not in a life-threatening condition.

"A German civilian suffered a gunshot wound on his way to Kabul airport. He is receiving medical attention, but his life is not in danger," deputy government spokesperson Ulrike Demmer said.

Reports later said he had been flown out of Kabul.

Afghanistan Kabul | Zerstörte Autos vor dem Flughafen
People fleeing Afghanistan have abandoned their vehicles at the entrance to Kabul airport. The cars were later damaged by those who could not get into the airportImage: Aykut Karadag/AA/picture alliance

German military sending helicopters to Kabul

The German military is sending two special forces helicopters to Kabul to assist with evacuations, the Defense Ministry said, confirming a report by Der Spiegel.

The choppers are specially designed for hostage rescues and can land in tightly packed cities.

The German Bundeswehr plans on using the helicopters to airlift small groups out of the Kabul airport and other Taliban-controlled areas in Afghanistan, Der Spiegel reported.

A German general later said that the helicopters will only be used in Kabul at the moment, not in other cities.

German military aircraft have so far evacuated more than 1,600 people since Monday.

German politicians have been calling for more evacuation flights, particularly in areas outside of Kabul.

There have been growing calls in recent days from German politicians for evacuations to be carried out in other parts of the country. 

Taliban killed members of Hazara ethnic minority

Amnesty International says the Taliban were responsible for the torture and killing of several members of Afghanistan's Hazara ethnic minority last month.

 The rights group said Friday that its researchers in spoke to eyewitnesses in Ghazni province who recounted how the Taliban killed nine men in the village of Mundarakht on July 4-6.

 It said six of the men were shot and three were tortured to death.

The head of Amnesty International, Agnes Callamard, said the brutality of the killings was "a reminder of the Taliban's past record, and a horrifying indicator of what Taliban rule may bring."

The rights group warned that many more killings may be occurring but are so far unreported, because the Taliban have cut cellphone services in many of the areas they've captured to prevent images from being published.

A Taliban militant holds a rifle while standing on a street in Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan
Amnesty warned that the killings of the Hazara minority were a warning of 'what Taliban rule may bring'Image: Sputnik/dpa/picture alliance

Afghanistan to top agenda during Merkel-Putin talks

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian President Vladimir Putin are set to hold talks in Moscow on Friday amid the crisis unfolding in Afghanistan.

Merkel is heading to Russia on the one-year anniversary of Putin critic Alexei Navalny's poisoning with a Soviet-developed nerve agent. He fell gravely ill while on a plane flying over Siberia on August 20, 2020.

Meanwhile, French President Emmanuel Macron has called on the US and Russia to work together on the situation in Afghanistan, in two separate phone calls, according to a statement on Thursday night. 

In his call with Biden, Macron stressed the absolute need for close international coordination among the allies present in Afghanistan to rescue embassy staff, local employees and other Afghans at risk, the Elysee Palace said. 

In his call with Putin, Macron discussed expectations of the Taliban, including breaking with international terror groups, combating drugs and weapons trafficking, and respecting women's rights.

Taliban face financial squeeze from West

The speed of the Taliban's capture of Afghanistan last weekend has left the West scrambling to curtail the Islamist militants' grip on the country.

Military action has been all but ruled out and instead the United States and its NATO allies have turned to financial warfare.

US President Joe Biden and the Federal Reserve have frozen billions of dollars in Afghan currency reserves held in the US.

Nearly $9 billion (€7.7 billion) in assets are kept in the US and other countries, including $1.3 billion in gold and more than $300 million in international currencies.

Several countries have cut development aid and the International Monetary Fund has refused to release foreign exchange reserve assets that the Taliban could turn into hard currency. Read more about the likely cash crunch here.

Infografik Afghanistans Devisen-Reserven EN

Afghan governor, police chiefs detained or missing — report

Several former Afghan government officials are missing or being held by the Taliban, the Afghan news site Tolo reported Friday.

Citing relatives, Tolo said Abdul Wali Wahidzai, the former governor of the eastern Laghman province, and Lotfullah Kamram, the former police chief of the province, remain in custody after surrendering to the Taliban at the weekend.

Mohammad Hashem Ghalji, the former police chief from a suburb of Ghazni, is also missing.

Their detention comes despite the militant group declaring an amnesty on military or civil service workers under the country's ousted government.

Maas blames spy agency for Afghanistan failures

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas has blamed the country's BND intelligence service for the failure to predict the speedy fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban.

"The BND has obviously made a wrong assessment of the situation, just like other [intelligence] services," Maas told the news magazine Der Spiegel in an interview published Friday. 

He said the secret service bears considerable responsibility for the foreign policy debacle surrounding the mission in Afghanistan.

"The decisions that were made on the basis of these erroneous reports were made to the best of our knowledge and belief," Maas added. "But they were wrong in the end," with catastrophic consequences. 

The minister said there would be reforms in the way Germany's spy agencies work and intelligence from other agencies would be scrutinized more thoroughly.

20 years in Afghanistan – Was it worth it?

Germany evacuates more than 1,600 people

The German military, the Bundeswehr, wrote on Twitter that it has evacuated more than 1,600 people on 11 flights.

The latest flight, an Airbus A400M military transporter with 161 people on board, landed in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, early Friday.

Paratroopers, police officers, a crisis support team and other specialists are on-site to provide security and support. 

The military said more flights are expected to leave Friday.

The German government has pledged to help bring all citizens and local Afghan staff who worked for the German military, aid groups or news organizations out of the country.  

Germany's commanding officer in Kabul, Gen. Jens Arlt, said the evacuation has been hampered by a large number of people outside Kabul airport hoping to get onto planes out of Afghanistan.

Tense NATO talks set to discuss relations with Taliban

NATO foreign ministers are to discuss their ongoing evacuations on Afghanistan later Friday.

Foreign ministers will also seek to establish how they can deal with the Taliban going forward.

The alliance also promised to maintain support for the Afghan people despite the military withdrawal, but it is unclear how this can be done if the Taliban control state institutions.

NATO maintains a civilian presence of some 800, including many Afghans, in the Central Asian nation, but no longer has a single military personnel member on the ground, Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg this week.

Alliance member states, including the United States, Britain and Turkey, still have boots on the ground, mainly to protect Kabul airport and coordinate evacuation flights.

Germany pulled the last of its troops out in June, but has sent 600 soldiers to help with evacuations.

Earlier Friday, a NATO official said that more than 18,000 people have been flown out of Kabul since the Taliban took over Afghanistan's capital.

The military alliance is facing mounting pressure as images of the chaos and desperation in Afghanistan are shared around the world.

Why did Afghan forces fail to resist the Taliban?

Social media giants step up security to protect Afghan users

Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp have introduced new measures to protect users in Afghanistan after the Taliban's lightning takeover.

Following recommendations from activists, journalists and civil society groups, Facebook said users can now shield their posts from people they don't know.

The social media giant has temporarily removed the ability to view a user's friend list and search an accounts friends list in Afghanistan, to guard against the risk of targeting people possibly wanted by the Taliban.

Users of Facebook-owned Instagram in Afghanistan will receive notifications informing them of methods to protect their accounts.

Meanwhile, the Financial Times reported a Taliban WhatsApp helpline allowing citizens to report looting had been shut down.

Facebook, which owns Instagram and WhatsApp said it is blocking the group's accounts on its networks as it is viewed as a terrorist organization.

Taliban hunting blacklisted Afghans; relative of DW journalist shot dead

The Taliban have begun rounding up Afghans on a blacklist of people with suspected links to the previous Afghan administration, according to a report by a Norwegian intelligence group.

The Norwegian Center for Global Analyses (RHIPTO) said the militant group is "intensifying the hunt-down of all individuals and collaborators with the former regime."

It said if they are not successful, the group is targeting and arresting family members and punishing them according to Shariah Law.

Taliban fighters hunting a DW journalist have shot dead one member of his family and seriously injured another, it was revealed on Thursday.

The Taliban were conducting a house-to-house search to try and find the journalist, who now works in Germany.

Other relatives were able to escape at the last moment and are now on the run.

The Taliban are attempting to present a more moderate image since seizing Afghanistan's capital on Sunday.

They have pledged full amnesty for all who worked with the Western-backed, elected Afghan government.

Evacuation total surpasses 18,000, NATO official says

The effort to evacuate foreigners and Afghan nationals from Afghanistan is in full swing, a NATO official told Reuters news agency. The official said more than 18,000 people have been evacuated since Sunday.

Thousands of people, desperate to flee the country, continued to throng the airport, the official who declined to be identified said.

The Biden administration, meanwhile, said the United States has evacuated around 9,000 people, including around 3,000 on Thursday.

A White House official said they included 350 US citizens, their families, Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) applicants and vulnerable Afghan nationals.

The US State Department said Thursday it was sending more consular officers to Kabul and other locations, including Qatar and Kuwait, to help with the evacuation effort.

State Department spokesman Ned Price said 6,000 fully processed people were currently at the airport in Kabul and would soon be boarding planes.

He added Washington would nearly double the number of consular officers in Kabul, without disclosing how many are deployed.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas tweeted Thursday that his country has so far evacuated more than 1,000 people.

mm, wd/rs, msh (Reuters, AFP, dpa, AP)