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Biden says his 'heart aches' for Afghans — as it happened

August 22, 2021

The US president said 11,000 people were flown out of Kabul over the weekend in a White House address and asserted his top priority is bringing all Americans out of the country by August 31. Follow DW for more.

President Joe Biden speaks from the White House
Biden continues to defend his decision to withdraw from AfghanistanImage: Joshua Roberts/REUTERS
  • G7 to meet Tuesday to discuss Afghanistan
  • US requisitions commercial aircraft to help ferry evacuees
  • NATO: 20 dead over several days
  • Seven die in stampede outside Kabul airport
  • Trump slams Biden for Afghanistan 'humiliation'
  • Taliban sending fighters towards Panjshir Valley to take control

This article was last updated at 23:55 UTC/GMT. Catch up on Saturday's main events here. Follow the latest developments by clicking here.

Chancellor candidate Scholz defends Germany's actions

German chancellor candidate Olaf Scholz, of the Social Democrats (SPD), has defended the Bundeswehr's mission in Afghanistan despite the Taliban's recent seizure of power. 

"It was not a senseless mission," Finance Minister Scholz told the new Bild TV channel. 

The Afghanistan mission was the right reaction to the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States by al-Qaeda, he said.

Regarding the withdrawal, Scholz said it would have been preferable if it had been less hasty, but "it must always be the case that countries are capable of defending themselves." The problem is the Afghan government abandoned the country, he added.

Britain wants sanctions if Taliban commit human rights abuses

The UK plans to push world leaders to consider new sanctions on the Taliban.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will present the proposal to the other G7 members when the group of the world's most advanced economies convene on Tuesday to discuss the crisis in Afghanistan, sources told news agency Reuters.

The group that includes the United States, Italy, France, Germany, Japan and Canada, as well as the UK, will meet online, with Britain of the belief that the G7 should consider economic sanctions and withhold aid if the Taliban commit human rights abuses.

There is also a concern that the Taliban will allow Afghan territory to be used as a haven for militants, according to a British government official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, and a second Western diplomat.

Asked whether he would support Britain's push for sanctions if the Taliban committed abuses, US President Joe Biden said: "The answer is yes. It depends on the conduct."

UK plans to evacuate up to 6,000 people this week

The UK will ramp up its evacuation program this week. 

The evacuation of British and Afghan citizens from Afghanistan will gather pace on Monday under a plan to fly up to 6,000 people out of the country in the coming days, The Times reported.

The military has extended Tuesday's deadline for the last Royal Air Force evacuation flight to Friday or Saturday.

Britain has evacuated more than 5,700 people from Afghanistan since August 13, according to Defense Ministry figures.

Biden: Top priority is bringing home Americans

President Joe Biden addressed the situation in Afghanistan during a White House speech on Sunday, and said his top priority is bringing stranded Americans home "as quickly as possible." 

He added that the US is working to bring home Afghan partners and nationals of NATO allies. The president said he is still hopeful the airlift will end by the August 31 deadline.

He said the evacuations from Kabul would be "hard and painful" no matter what and said his "heart aches" for people trying to leave Afghanistan.

He said his administration is monitoring possible security threats from groups such as the so-called "Islamic State" (IS). The president said Afghan evacuees to the United States would undergo background checks.

He said he does not trust the Taliban, but the group has so far not taken any action against American forces. He said sanctions could be warranted on the Taliban depending on their conduct.

Putin raises alarm about Afghan refugees

Russian President Vladimir Putin suggested Sunday that some militants could be posing as Afghan refugees.

"Our Western partners are persistently raising the question of placing refugees in Central Asian countries before obtaining visas to the United States or other countries," he told Russian officials. "But who is among these refugees? How can we know?"

He claimed that "hundreds, even hundreds of thousands, or maybe even millions" of Afghans may want to leave the country.

WHO, UNICEF urge 'humanitarian airbridge' for Afghanistan

The World Health Organization (WHO) and UN children's agency UNICEF said in a statement on Sunday that a "humanitarian airbridge" is necessary to help bring aid to the Afghan people. 

"WHO and UNICEF call for the immediate establishment of a humanitarian airbridge for the sustained and uninmpeded delivery of aid to Afghanistan," the statement said. "We are also closely following up with all UN and international partners to explore options for expediting aid shipments."

"Conflict, displacement, drought, and the COVID-19 pandemic are all contributing to a complex and desperate situation in Afghanistan," the agencies added. "Humanitarian agencies need to be supported and facilitated to meet the enormous and growing needs in Afghanistan, and make sure that no one dies unnecessarily due to lack of access to aid."

EU foreign policy chief expresses regret about Kabul airport situation

EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell expressed regret about the evacuations at Kabul airport and said the 27-member bloc had asked the US for more "flexibility."

"The problem is access to the airport — the US checks and security measures are very strong," he told news agency AFP.

"I regret greatly the way in which things have gone, but noone asked for the opinion of the Europeans," he said of the US-led pullout strategy in Afghanistan.

"Some countries are going to have to ask themselves questions about an American ally which, as Joe Biden said, doesn't want to fight other people's wars for them," Borrell added. "The Europeans don't have a choice. We must organize ourselves to deal with the world as it is and not the world that we dream of."

Baby girl born on US evacuation flight

An Afghan woman gave birth to a healthy baby girl on a US evacuation flight from Afghanistan. 

The woman went into labor onboard and had complications, with the plane descending in altitude to save the woman's life.

The woman gave birth in the cargo bay of the aircraft with the help of medics after arriving at Ramstein Air Base in Germany.

Anti-Taliban leader calls for negotiations

Anti-Taliban leader Ahmad Massoud has called for negotiations with the Taliban during an interview with Reuters news agency. Massoud leads a resistance force in the Panjshir Valley region, which has not yet been taken by the Taliban.

"We want to make the Taliban realize the only way forward is through negotiation," he told the news outlet. "We do not want a war to break out."

"They want to defend, they want to fight, they want to resist against any totalitarian regime," he said of his supporters. "We are defending the whole country in one province."

The Taliban said Sunday in an Arabic-language tweet that "hundreds" of fighters were heading towards the Panjshir Valley to take control of the region.

German protesters demand speedy evacuation of vulnerable Afghans

Groups protested across Germany Sunday, demanding the quick and unbureaucratic evacuation of threatened people in Afghanistan.

Under pouring rain, hundreds of demonstrators gathered in front of the Federal Chancellery in Berlin. Speakers demanded, among other things, the fast evacuation of local forces of the Bundeswehr, human rights activists, women's rights activists, scientists and female athletes. 

The Berlin police spoke of about 1,700 participants, predominantly younger people. 

In Kiel, several hundred people demonstrated on Sunday for an airlift of threatened people in Afghanistan. The refugee organization Seebruecke (Sea Bridge) counted about 600 participants, while the police said the real number was about half that. There were also protests in Frankfurt.

A protester holds up a sign at a rally in Berlin
Despite the rain, 1,700 people rallied in Berlin. Protests also took place in Kiel and FrankfurtImage: Omer Messinger/Getty Images

Taliban hit out at US over turmoil at Kabul airport

The Taliban blamed the United States for the chaotic evacuation of tens of thousands of Afghans and foreigners from Kabul.

"America, with all its power and facilities... has failed to bring order to the airport. There is peace and calm all over the country, but there is chaos only at Kabul airport," Taliban official Amir Khan Mutaqi said.

Britain's defense ministry said Sunday seven people had died in the crowds at the airport.

The Taliban meanwhile have been focusing on forming a government.

The group's co-founder Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar flew into Kabul and planned to meet jihadi leaders, elders and politicians in the coming days, an official told the French AFP.news agency.

Among them are leaders of the Haqqani network, a US-designated terrorist organization with million-dollar bounties on its leadership.

Muslim body calls for dialogue to ensure peace

The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation called for inclusive dialogue to resolve the crisis in Afghanistan following the Taliban's takeover.

The Jeddah-based Organization said it would dispatch envoys to Afghanistan to stress the importance of "peace, stability, and national reconciliation".

In a statement, the OIC "called upon the future Afghan leadership and the international community to ensure that Afghanistan is never again used as a platform or haven for terrorists and not allow terrorist organizations to have a foothold there."

It also raised the alarm over the humanitarian situation in the country, with surging numbers of displaced people and refugees.

 Representatives of the OIC met at the body's headquarters in the Red Sea city of Jeddah on Sunday after Saudi Arabia called for the meeting.

Son of famous Afghan commander tells UAE channel about resistance effort 

Ahmad Massoud, the son of Ahmad Shah Massoud, one of Afghanistan's most famous commanders who formed part of the anti-Soviet resistance during the 1980s, told al-Arabiya television Sunday that he will not surrender the part of Afghanistan still under his control to the Taliban.

Massoud told the Dubai-based network that he was willing to talk with the Taliban but should they refuse, civil conflict would be "unavoidable".

US national security advisor cagey on Americans' exit from Kabul

US national security advisor Jake Sullivan would not say whether US special operations forces were assisting US citizens who cannot reach Kabul airport. He told CNN Sunday that he "will not speak to the operational parameters of what is happening at the airfield right now." 

Sullivan said the deaths, which include a trampled two-year-old baby Saturday, are a "sign of the human costs of what is happening in Afghanistan right now."

The US State Department instructed American citizens who have not been specifically instructed not to go to the airport due to threats from the so-called Islamic State (IS) armed group.

"The threat is real, it is acute, it is persistent, and it is something we are focused on," Sullivan said.

US soldiers stand guard behind barbed wire as Afghans sit on a roadside near the military part of the Kabul airport
US national security advisor Jake Sullivan would not address Sunday whether special operatons forces are being used to extract Americans from Kabul and delivery them to the airport for evacuationImage: Wakil Kohsar/AFP/Getty Images

G7 meeting on Tuesday to discuss Afghanistan

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he will convene a virtual summit of G7 leaders Tuesday to discuss Afghanistan.

On Twitter, Johnson wrote, "It is vital that the international community works together to ensure safe evacuations, prevent a humanitarian crisis and support the Afghan people to secure the gains of the last 20 years."

A virtual summit of G7 leaders Thursday resulted in a joint statement of foreign ministers urging the Taliban to provide safe passage for those trying to leave Afghanistan.

While Biden has said the deadline for evacuations is August 31, it is expected the virtual summit Tuesday will in part focus on prolonging the deadline for evacuations from Kabul airport.

Demonstration in Berlin in support of Afghans

Activists across Germany gathered Sunday to demand the quick, unbureaucratic evacuation of Afghans facing reprisals from the Taliban.

Police said about 1,000 people were gathered at a rally outside the chancellery, though organizers said they expect several thousand to show yet. 

The demonstrations are being organized by a coalition of groups under the banner, "Afghanistan: take responsibility – start now!" 

The protest group asks that in addition to local military support forces, others who are threatened by the Taliban also be airlifted out. Afghans in Germany should also be given protection as refugees.

US activates commercial aircraft to provide auxiliary support for evacuations

The White House said Sunday US commercial aircraft will be used to assist with the relocation efforts of those who have been airlifted from Afghanistan.

The Pentagon is making use of the Civil Reserve Air Fleet program, which enables the use of US commercial aircraft for national security purposes. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has requested three aircraft from American Airlines, Atlas Air, Delta Air Lines and Omni Air as well as two planes from Hawaiian Airlines and four aircraft from United Airlines.

US commercial airlines would not fly into Kabul but instead would ferry those who have been evacuated from Afghanistan to other places. 

The use of the Civil Reserve Air Fleet program enables the military to focus on the airlift mission of bringing people out of Kabul, according to Pentagon spokesman John Kirby.

Civilian flights are not expected to be impacted in any major way.

Tony Blair criticizes Biden, attacks decision to withdraw forces

Tony Blair, the British Prime Minister from 1997 until 2007 who sent troops into Afghanistan after the September 11 attacks and later backed the US-led war in Iraq, penned an essay posted to his website late Saturday that attacked the US decision to withdraw forces from Afghanistan.

Blair writes, "The abandonment of Afghanistan and its people is tragic, dangerous, unnecessary, not in their interests and not in ours."

Blair said the decision to withdraw left "every Jihadist group round the world cheering."

Blair notes, "the Taliban is part of a bigger picture that should concern us strategically," adding, "Look no further than Pakistan’s prime minister congratulating the Taliban on their 'victory'".

In the UK, Blair's reputation took a thrashing after no alleged weapons of mass destruction were located in Iraq, the ostensible justification for the US-led invasion in 2003.

NATO official: 20 dead over last week amid Kabul airport chaos

A NATO official told Reuters Sunday that at least 20 have died around the Kabul airport since the city fell to the Taliban one week ago, calling the situation "unfortunate". 

"Our forces are maintaining strict distance from outer areas of the Kabul airport to prevent any clashes with the Taliban," the official said.

The British and US military assist in the evacuation of people from Kabul
The British and US military assist in the evacuation of people from KabulImage: Ministry of Defence/dpa/picture alliance

Taliban official concedes managing airport chaos a 'complex task'

A Taliban official told Reuters Sunday: "We are seeking complete clarity on foreign forces' exit plan," adding, "Managing chaos outside Kabul airport is a complex task."

Seven Afghans were killed in a stampede Sunday and a dozen more last week amid the chaos and violence of Taliban efforts to control the scenes outside the airport. Saturday, 150 people were briefly detained by the Taliban, including several Indian nationals.

A Taliban fighter stands at a checkpoint in Kabul
The Taliban has called managing security outside the airport a "complex task" and wants to meet wth governors and bureaucrats from across the country in the coming daysImage: Rahmat Gul/AP/dpa/picture alliance

The Taliban has publicly pledged to be more moderate given the sheer brutality and fundamentalism characteristic of their last reign in power from 1996 until 2001 when alleged adulterers were stoned, thieves had their hands chopped off and girls were forbidden from attending school. These pledges though have failed to stem the tide of thousands of Afghans seeking an exit from their country with the fall of Kabul.

The Taliban official said commanders will meet with former governors and bureaucrats from more than 20 of the 34 provinces in the country over the next few days. Officially, they want to ensure their safety and cooperation.

"We are not forcing any former government official to join or prove their allegiance to us, they have a right to leave the country if they would like," the Taliban official told Reuters.

Multiple children missing in Kabul airport chaos

Numerous children have gone missing amid the chaos at Kabul airport, German news agency DPA reports.

One family from Kabul has been caring for a lost six-year-old boy they found caught in barbed wire at the airport, Afghan television network Ariana reported. The family has been unable to locate the child's parents despite their best efforts.

The boy told the network his father was trampled in the crowd, and he has not seen his parents since then.

According to local journalists, people have been posting photos of missing children at the airport.

Seven killed amid stampedes at Kabul airport

A statement from the UK Ministry of Defense said on Sunday that seven Afghan civilians have been crushed to death outside Kabul airport as panicked crowds attempt to board evacuation planes.

"Conditions on the ground remain extremely challenging but we are doing everything we can to manage the situation as safely and securely as possible," the statement said.

Taliban fighters also sparked panic by firing into the air to drive off more people who were attempting to get into the airport.

"Our sincere thoughts are with the families of the seven Afghan civilians who have sadly died in crowds in Kabul," the ministry statement said.

Afghan woman gives birth on US military jet

An Afghan mother gave birth while on board a US Air Force aircraft shortly before landing at the US military base of Ramstein in Germany, according to a tweet by the US Department of Defense.

Most aid organizations plan on staying in Afghanistan

The majority of the humanitarian organizations working in Afghanistan, including all agencies connected to the UN, are planning on staying, according to a report from the UN Geneva office published in the German newspaper Welt am Sonntag.

There are around 300 foreign and 3,000 local workers connected with the UN aid agencies in the country. The report also estimates that the majority of the 150 non-governmental organizations there will also stay.

The newspaper quoted the international children's rights agency UNICEF as saying: "We've been asked by the Taliban in many provinces to stay and continue our demonstrably successful work for children."

UNICEF's Chief Field Operations Mustapha Ben Messaoud visits the Haji internally displaced camp in Kandahar in July
UNICEF's Chief Field Operations Mustapha Ben Messaoud visits the Haji internally displaced camp in Kandahar in JulyImage: Unicef

Austria refuses to take in fleeing Afghans

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz reiterated his government's refusal to take in Afghans who are fleeing the Taliban.

"I am clearly opposed to us now voluntarily taking in more people and that will not happen during my chancellorship," Kurz said according to released excerpts from an interview with TV channel Puls 24.

Austria took in a large number of refugees during 2015 and 2016. Its Afghan population is second only to Germany, within Europe. But Kurz, who came to power in 2017 as the head of the center-right Austrian People's Party (ÖVP), has built his career on opposing immigration.

Germans call for evacuations of social campaigners

People in Germany's capital Berlin are planning a protest in support of Afghans on Sunday.

A broad alliance of groups will demand that people who are threatened by the Taliban because of their social commitment should also be flown out of the country. This would be in addition to those who worked with the former Afghan government or US and NATO forces.

All Afghans in Germany should also be given refugee protection, the groups said.

According to the police, 1,000 participants have been registered for a rally at 1 p.m. (11:00 UTC) at the chancellery. The organizers say they expect several thousand people to turn up.

Several marches in support of Afghanistan have already taken place, including in Berlin and in the western city of Bonn. Protests were also called in Hamburg, Frankfurt, Hanover and Kiel during the weekend.

Australia evacuates more than 300 overnight from Kabul

Australia ran four flights into Kabul, Afghanistan, on Saturday night, evacuating more than 300 people, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Sunday.

Those evacuated included Australians, Afghan visa holders, New Zealanders, as well as US and British citizens.

Australia said it was continuing flights, even as the United States and Germany told their citizens in Afghanistan to avoid traveling to Kabul airport, citing security concerns.

Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne said that some passengers on the flights bringing evacuees from Kabul to Australia suffered injuries. "It is dangerous," she said.

The Australian government has now evacuated more than 550 people from Kabul since August 18.

Stoltenberg: "Lessons to learn" for NATO

Trump assails Biden for Afghanistan 'humiliation'

Former US president Donald Trump has criticized President Joe Biden's handling of the retreat of US forces from Afghanistan, calling it "the greatest foreign policy humiliation" in the country's history.

"Biden’s botched exit from Afghanistan is the most astonishing display of gross incompetence by a nation’s leader, perhaps at any time," Trump said at a rally near Cullman, Alabama.

During his presidency, Trump negotiated the US withdrawal that triggered the fall of the country to the Taliban. But he has repeatedly blamed Biden for the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan.

At the rally, Trump blamed the situation on Biden not having followed a plan devised by his administration. "This is not a withdrawal. This was a total surrender," he said.

"We could have gotten out with honor," Trump added. "We should have gotten out with honor. Instead, we got out with the exact opposite of honor."

Evacuees from Kabul wait under the wing of a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster lll aircraft after arriving for processing
The US is using C-17s to fly evacuees to countries acting as transit stopsImage: A1c Kylie Barrow/U.S. Army/Planet Pix/ZUMA Wire/picture alliance

US considers getting airlines to help with evacuations

The Biden administration is considering drafting US commercial airlines to help the ongoing evacuation effort from Afghanistan.

The government can activate this under the Civil Reserve Air Fleet program. This adds to military aircraft capability during a crisis related to national defense.

The US Transportation Command said in a statement on Saturday that the Pentagon has not approved such a program but it said it had issued a warning order to US carriers on Friday night. The order was first reported by the Wall Street Journal newspaper.

If called upon under the program, the airlines' planes and crews may be required to help transport US citizens, embassy personnel and foreign nationals to another country, following their initial evacuation out of Kabul by military aircraft.

A number of countries are providing temporary transit points for evacuees, including the Gulf states of the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.

The carriers could also be required to transport people from Virginia's Dulles International Airport to US military bases.

Saturday's key developments

Afghanistan's former president, Hamid Karzai, met with Taliban's acting governor for Kabul who "assured us that he would do everything possible for the security of the people'' of the city.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell told AFP that it was "mathematically impossible" for the US and its allies to evacuate the tens of thousands of Afghan staff and their families by August 31. 

The head of German Chancellor Angela Merkel's party, Armin Laschet, admitted that the German government should have listened to calls to speed up the evacuations before the Taliban takeover.

The US and Germany advised citizens against traveling to Kabul airport due to concerns over potential security threats.

Protests took place in Germany and in the UK's capital city London in a show of support for Afghans.

US Major General Hank Taylor said US citizens coming to the Kabul airport were still being processed, despite an earlier warning by the State Department against going to the airport. 

jsi, ab, kmm, ar, wd/sri, mm (AFP, Reuters, AP, dpa)