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People evacuated from Afghanistan in front of a German Bundeswehr airplane after arriving at the airport in Tashkent, Uzbekistan
People evacuated from Afghanistan in front of a German Bundeswehr airplane after arriving at the airport in UzbekistanImage: Marc Tessensohn/AP/picture alliance

Airlift continues as world sizes up Taliban — as it happened

August 18, 2021

The UAE confirms it is hosting ousted President Ashraf Ghani after he fled the country. World leaders take stock of the Taliban's plans for Afghanistan as the Kabul airlift continues.

  • Ousted Afghan President Ashraf Ghani is in the UAE
  • First Kabul airlift evacuees arrive in Germany
  • The Taliban give their first press conference
  • NATO leaders react in dismay to manner of withdrawal
  • EU, US "deeply worried" about Afghan women and girls

This live updates article has now closed. This story was last updated at 02:00 UTC/GMT.

Millions of Afghans also face hunger 

The UN food agency's head for Afghanistan has said some 14 million people in the country face severe hunger after the Taliban takeover.

Mary Ellen McGroarty, country director for the World Food Program, said the conflict, the country’s second-worst drought in the past three years and the impact of COVID, had turned an already dire situation into a "catastrophe."

She said more than 40% of crops had perished, and that livestock had been devstated by the drought.

As well as that, thousands of people have been displaced by the advance of the Taliban.

"Really, the race is on to get food where it’s most needed," she said.

IMF freezes Afghan access

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) is suspending Afghanistan's access to IMF resources, including around $440 million (about €380 million) in new monetary reserves.

Officials said it was due to a lack of clarity over the country's government after the Taliban seized power in Kabul.

The IMF's announcement came amid pressure from the US Treasury, which holds a controlling share in the Fund.

Washington is keen to ensure that Afghanistan's share of an allocation scheduled for next Monday does not fall into Taliban hands.

"As is always the case, the IMF is guided by the views of the international community," a spokesperson said.

The Fund has traditionally relied on its membership to decide whether to engage with governments that take power in coups or through disputed elections.

Biden says evacuations could extend beyond US withdrawal deadline

US President Joe Biden said that the US would do "everything in its power" to evacuate US citizens and allies from Afghanistan ahead of an August 31 withdrawal deadline for US forces. 

Speaking with ABC News, Biden said that if "there are American citizens left" in Afghanistan after August 31, the US will "stay until we get them all out." 

Biden's comments come amid reports that the Taliban have been setting up curfews and checkpoints that have prevented access to the airportto those with permission to evacuation.

The US President also said the Taliban was cooperating in allowing US citizens passage out of Afghanistan, adding there was "more difficulty" in evacuating Afghan citizens

Biden also defending the US withdrawal, saying that it was hard to imagine a way the US could have gotten out of Afghanistan "without chaos ensuing." 

US military says it is not prepared to collect evacuees in Kabul

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Wednesday that the US military does not have the capability to extend its mission of securing Kabul airport and help pick up US citizens and at-risk Afghans located elsewhere in the city.

"How far do you extend into Kabul, and how long does it take to flow those forces in to be able to do that?" Austin said.

"We cannot afford to either not defend that airfield or not have an airfield that's secure, where we have hundreds or thousands of civilians that can access the airfield,'' he added.

Around 4,500 US troops are currently maintaining security at the airport.

Austin said US military officials were discussing with the Taliban about ensuring safe passage to the airport for US and Afghan evacuees. 

The US State Department is organizing a massive evacuation mission from Kabul following the takeover of the city by Taliban militants.  

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said that around 2,000 people have been evacuated on US Air Force flights from Kabul over the past 24 hours, with a similar number of flights expected tomorrow. 

Afghans abroad worry for relatives

German Green lawmaker: Germany has 'inhumane' policy on Afghanistan

Jürgen Trittin, a member of the German Bundestag who sits on the foreign affairs committee, said Germany has implemented an "inhumane" policy towards Afghanistan. 

He told DW that Germany was reluctant to bring home Afghans from Kabul because it wanted to avoid another refugee crisis.

"The federal government bears responsibility, not only the Ministry of Defense, the Ministry of the Interior also played a role here," he said of Germany's hesitation to evacuate German nationals and local staff from Kabul.

"The result is that today between 500 and 1,000 people in Kabul are waiting ... to be rescued," he said.

"With this inhuman behavior, there is no other way to describe it, the federal government has put Germany in a situation where today, if they want to save these 1,000 people, they can simply be blackmailed by the Taliban. They have opened Germany up to blackmail."

He claimed the German government had been warned in July about the Taliban's impending advance.

Former Afghan women's affairs minister: Taliban have not changed

Former Afghan deputy minister of women's affairs Hosna Jalil told DW that the Taliban have not changed. She expressed doubt about the group saying they will respect women's rights in line with Islamic law.

Taliban law means 'no justice, no security' for women

"I don't buy it for a couple of reasons," she said of the Taliban's claims.

"During the Doha negotiations, the Taliban were asked about women's rights. They said the application of Sharia law would apply. I lived under the old Taliban regime. Under the old regime, this meant lack of access to education and restricted access to health services. No access to justice, no shelter, no food security, no employment, literally nothing."

"Over the last 20 years, we have achieved women's presence in technology, media, sports, and security. But the Taliban have already started making women step down from their posts. They allow women to work in healthcare, but they've always allowed that. Why try to fantasize that they will change?" she said.

She said when Afghanistan is forgotten again, "the Taliban will show us their true face."

Top US official: Ghani no longer a player in Afghanistan

A top US official said Wednesday that the Biden administration no longer views ousted President Ashraf Ghani as a key player in Afghan politics.

"He's no longer a figure in Afghanistan," Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman told journalists. 

Ghani, who is now in the UAE, has vowed to return to Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said the line of communication with the Taliban is open. He said around 4,500 US military personnel are in Kabul.

Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said around 2,000 people have been evacuated out of Kabul by the US military in the past 24 hours.

Turkey, Iran comment on Afghanistan

Both Turkish President Erdogan and Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi commented on the developing situation in Afghanistan on Wednesday.

Erdogan said he is open to cooperation with the Taliban and added Turkey still intends to provide security at Kabul's international airport. 

Raisi told Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping in phone calls that he is ready to work with those two countries to keep "stability and peace" in Afghanistan.

Merkel speaks with Biden

German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke with US President Joe Biden by phone on Wednesday to discuss the ongoing developments in Afghanistan. 

The two leaders agreed that the US military and Bundeswehr should closely cooperate in securing Kabul airport and evacuating individuals in need of protection.

Merkel's office said the two leaders "agreed to fly out as many people in need of protection as possible."

"In all the phone conversations, the chancellor reinforced her demand to to the Taliban to refrain from violence, to respect human rights, and to provide safe passage to anybody who wanted to leave Afghanistan," a statement released by German government spokesperson Steffen Seibert said.

Merkel also spoke with Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev and thanked him for helping with evacuation operations from Afghanistan.

Ousted President Ashraf Ghani defends actions in video message

Ousted President Ashraf Ghani, who is now the UAE, defended his decision to leave Afghanistan in a video message on Wednesday. He said the move was intended to prevent further bloodshed.

Ghani said accusations that he took hordes of cash whle leaving the country are "baseless."

"I am in consultation with others until I will return so that I can continue my efforts for justice for Afghans," the ousted president said.

Ghani said he supports the talks between Hamid Karzai, Abdullah Abdullah and the Taliban.

Taliban says it held talks with Karzai, Abdullah

Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai and top Afghan official Abdullah Abdullah met with senior Taliban leaders in Kabul on Wednesday, the SITE Intelligence Group reported.

Hamid Karzai, Abdullah Abdullah and Taliban officials
Hamid Karzai and Abdullah Abdullah seated with Taliban officials in KabulImage: Handout Taliban/AP Photo/picture alliance

The Taliban released photos of Karzai meeting with Taliban negotiator Anas Haqqani. The group has previously said that Afghan government officials will be granted amnesty.

Taliban leader Haibatullah Akhundzada has called for the release of "political detainees."

"From tomorrow, all provincial governors must release all political detainees, major and minor, without any restrictions or conditions, and deliver them to their families," the Taliban tweeted.

Boris Johnson: Taliban will judged by their actions

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Wednesday that the Taliban will be judged by actions, rather than words. 

"We will judge this regime based on the choices it makes and by its actions rather than by its words, on its attitudes to terrorism, to crime and narcotics, as well as humanitarian access and the rights of girls to receive an education," Johnson said in the House of Commons.

Johnson was hit with criticism from both members of his Conservative Party and the opposition Labour Party for his government's response to the situation. 

Labour leader Keir Starmer slammed Johnson for not ending his vacation sooner to deal with the crisis.

Taliban spokesperson: Afghanistan will not be a democracy

A Taliban spokesperson told Reuters news agency that Afghanistan will not be a democracy and Islamic sharia law will be applied.

"There will be no democratic system at all because it does not have any base in our country," Waheedullah Hashimi told the news agency. "We will not discuss what type of political system we should apply in Afghanistan because it is clear. It is sharia law and that is it."

Hashimi said the country may be governed by a ruling council, with Taliban leader Haibatullah Akhundzada being in charge.

Hashimi said a group of Islamic scholars will determine whether women will have a right to work or pursue an education. They will also rule what women should wear while in public. 

"Our ulema (scholars) will decide whether girls are allowed to go to school or not," he said. "They will decide whether they should wear a hijab, burqa or only a veil plus abaya or something, or not. That is up to them."

The Afghan government's ambassador to Tajikistan told Reuters on Wednesday that the Panjshir province north of Kabul will be a stronghold of resistance against the Taliban. The province has still managed to resist Taliban control.

WHO says aid must continue

The World Health Organization said Wednesday that the Afghan people must continue to have access to humanitarian aid. 

"Sustained access to humanitarian assistance, including essential health services and medical supplies, is a critical lifeline for millions of Afghans, and must not be interrupted," the WHO said in a statement.

The international organization urged "all parties to respect and protect civilians, health workers, patients and health facilities."

German army coordinator was lobbying for Afghan evacuations for months

Speaking on evacuation efforts in Kabul, Lucas Wehner, said, "everything is definitely too late." 

Wehner heads an organization of volunteers within the German army devoted to helping Afghans who assisted the mission.

On Wednesday he told DW: "We had three local safe houses in Kabul. We had to dissolve them due to the fact that that Taliban captured Kabul." When asked where those people are now, Wehner said, "they're pretty much scattered all over Kabul, in the streets, and it's hard to reach them."

He says his organization, "talked to the German government for the last two years but especially for the last two months."

Ousted President Ghani arrives in the UAE

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has posted a statement, "The UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation can confirm that the UAE has welcomed ousted President Ashraf Ghani and his family into the country on humanitarian grounds." 

Ghani fled Kabul unannounced Sunday as the city fell to the Taliban. His exit was only made public after he had left the country, reportedly entering Tajikistan. 

At least one casualty reported at Jalalabad protest 

A protest against Taliban rule in the Afghan city of Jalalabad 150 kilometers (90 miles) east of Kabul resulted in at least one casualty Wednesday as Taliban militants fired into the crowd to disperse protesters.

Witnesses and video footage show dozens of protesters installing the Afghan national flag in a square in the city, supplanting the white Taliban flag with Islamic messages.

The protests come on the eve of Afghanistan's Independence Day, which commemorates the end of British rule in 1919.

A Taliban militant in Jalalabad at the time of the incident told Reuters: "There were some troublemakers who wanted to create issues for us," adding, "These people are exploiting our relaxed policies."

The US and the EU are 'deeply worried' for Afghan women and girls

The US and the EU have issued a joint statement saying they are "deeply worried" for the safety of Afghanistan's women and girls following the US and NATO withdrawal and Taliban takeover.

The statement said that "all Afghan people, deserve to live in safety, security and dignity."

Despite the lack of a troop presence and the closing of numerous foreign embassies, including the American, German and French embassies, the statement vowed to monitor closely so that "any future government ensures rights and freedoms that have become an integral part of the life of women and girls in Afghanistan during the last twenty years."

Other signatories included Albania, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, North Macedonia, New Zealand, Norway, Paraguay, Senegal and Switzerland.

Afghan women fear dark days ahead as Taliban return to power

Merkel speaks with Qatar, Pakistan, UNHCR; Cabinet approves mission

German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, the Emir of Qatar and the head of the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) regarding the situation in Afghanistan, German government spokesperson Steffen Seibert said on Wednesday.

Also on Wednesday, the German cabinet approved the mission to airlift Germans and Afghans who assisted German forces during the twenty-year mission out of Kabul. That mission began on Monday.

Germany's parliament, the Bundestag, will have to vote on the military mission as well, likely to happen next week.

Germany's parliament must approve all foreign deployments beforehand but given the danger posed by the Taliban takeover to German citizens, the parliament is permitted to retroactively approve the mission, according to German news agency DPA.

Statue of Shiite militia leader in Bamyan destroyed

A statue of Shiite militia leader Abdul Ali Mazari in Bamyan province was destroyed, raising doubts about the Taliban's claims to be newly moderate.

The statue of Abdul Ali Mazari in Bamiyan with two Afghan national flags behiind it
The destruction of a statue of a Shiite miliitia leader executed by the Taliban in the mid-1990s has cast doubts on the group's claims to be newly moderateImage: picture-alliance/dpa

Abdul Ali Mazari fought against the Taliban during Afghanistan's civil war before he was killed by the militants in the mid-1990s.

He was viewed as a champion of Afghanistan's ethnic Hazara Muslims, Shiites who were persecuted under the Sunni Taliban when they were last in power in Afghanistan from 1996 until their overthrow in 2001 following the September 11 attacks.

The Taliban blew up two massive 1,500-year-old statues of Buddha carved into a mountainside in 2001, just before the US-led invasion that drove them from power. They did so alleging the Buddhas violated Islamic law.

A resident of Bamiyan city told AFP, "We are not sure who has blown up the statue, but there are different groups of Taliban present here."

EU chief diplomat: 'A failure of the West'

The EU's chief diplomat Josep Borrell told Spanish National Radio, "What has occurred in Afghanistan is a failure of the West."

"The geopolitical consequences of this will be very significant," Borrell added.

He noted, "What we are witnessing is the most serious and important global event since Russia first left and this will have consequences for the balance of power in the world."

NATO leaders react to US withdrawal from Afghanistan

European NATO member states' leaders are reacting sharply to the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, arguing that the way it has been carried out does damage to the NATO alliance.

European defense and security officials argue the manner in which the withdrawal has been carried out brings into question the continent's US-provided security blanket.

Latvian Defense Minister Artis Pabriks told a local radio station, "Unfortunately, the West, and Europe in particular, are showing they are weaker globally."

US soldiers stand guard as Afghan people wait at the Kabul airport
US soldiers stand guard as Afghan people wait at the Kabul airportImage: Wakil Kohsar/AFP

British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace was sanguine. "Twenty years of sacrifice is what it is," he said after acknowledging "some would not get back" from Afghanistan.

Lord George Robertson, the former NATO Secretary-General at the time of the September 11 attacks, told The Financial Times, "It weakens NATO because the principle of 'in together, out together,' seems to have been abandoned both by Donald Trump and by Joe Biden." 

Defiant Afghans rally around national, not Taliban, flag

Defiant Afghans in at least two cities have come out to protest the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, raising the black, red and green Afghan national flag and rallying around it.

Salim Ahmad, a local resident of Jalalabad, told AP dozens gathered and raised the Afghan national flag in an anti-Taliban protest. To disperse the crowd, the Taliban fired shots in the air.

Afghan journalist Bilal Sarwary shared a video on Twitter of Afghans replacing the white Taliban flag with Islamic inscriptions with the Afghan flag. 

Pajhwok Afghan News reported, "Protests in support of the national flag also took place in Khost." 

Franz Marty, a journalist in Kabul, told DW, "As far as I can tell, it does not reach the threshold that it threatens the Taliban takeover so it won't reverse what happened in the last days, but it shows that people might not easily accept everything that the Taliban wants to change in the country."

German spy agency saw fall of Kabul as 'rather unlikely'

Germany's Bild newspaper reported Wednesday that Germany's foreign intelligence service believed that an immediate takeover of Afghanistan's capital, Kabul, was "rather unlikely."

The tabloid cited leaked minutes from a meeting of the German government's crisis response team that took place on Friday.

Prior to the US withdrawal, Germany's Federal Intelligence Service, also known by its German acronym BND, said the Taliban "currently have no interest" in seizing Kabul.

Kabul fell to the Taliban just two days later, on Sunday.

German public conflicted on potential for refugee arrivals

A Civey polling institute representative survey for the daily Augsburger Allgemeine indicated 62.9% of Germans are concerned about a new migration wave into Germany triggered by the fall of Afghanistan. Thirty percent of those polled disagree with these concerns.

Weeks before Germany's general election, politicians have expressed similar concerns about a large number of Afghan refugees arriving in Europe. 

The last large wave occurred in 2015 of mostly Syrians and Iraqis following the rise of the so-called Islamic State, an event that continues to haunt national politics in Germany.

What do the candidates for chancellor say about refugee arrivals?

Armin Laschet, the chancellor candidate for the center-right CDU/CSU in September's general elections, tweeted as Kabul fell, "The mistakes regarding the Syrian civil war must not be made again," adding, "2015 will not be repeated."

The parliamentary leader of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), Alice Weidel, tweeted Monday a similar refrain, "2015 must not be allowed to repeat itself."

Olaf Scholz, who is running as the chancellor candidate for the Social Democrats (SPD), told a campaign event Monday that Turkey, Pakistan, Iran and Iraq could serve as places for refugee settlement.

Annalena Baerbock, the chancellor candidate for the more pro-refugee Greens, appealed to Western nations. She told public broadcaster DLF it would be "enough to work with the European countries that want to, and especially the Americans and Canadians."

Evacuees from Afghanistan land in Germany

The first plane carrying evacuees from Afghanistan landed in Frankfurt early Wednesday.

A Lufthansa flight carried 131 passengers who had been airlifted by German military aircraft from Kabul to the Uzbek capital of Tashkent. From there, they continued on the rest of their journey to Germany on commercial aircraft specially chartered by the German government.

Lufthansa said it will be sending more planes to ferry evacuees from Tashkent "in the framework of an air bridge and in agreement with the German government."

Flights carrying evacuees are also expected to depart from the Qatari capital of Doha and other countries.

More than 260 people have been evacuated from Afghanistan by the German Bundeswehr so far.

Tuesday's developments: Taliban leader returns, military restarts airlift

Top Taliban leader and co-founder Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar arrived in the city of Kandahar, the group's spiritual home in the south of Afghanistan, on Tuesday evening for the first time after nearly 20 years in exile. 

He is the highest-ranking official of the Islamist group who is known to have returned to Afghanistan.

The Taliban held its first press conference on Tuesday where Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the insurgents "will not seek revenge" and that "everyone is forgiven." He said women would be allowed to work and study and "will be very active in society but within the framework of Islam."

Airlifts from Kabul resumed Tuesday after chaos forced the US military to halt flights to clear the tarmac of desperate Afghans seeking a way out. On Tuesday, the US Air Force said it had found human remains in the wheel of one of its C-17s that flew out of Kabul Monday.

US national security adviser Jake Sullivan acknowledged reports that some civilians were "being turned away or pushed back or even beaten," as they tried to reach the Kabul international airport. He said "very large numbers" were reaching the airport and the problem of others was being taken up with the Taliban.

ar,wd/sms,msh,rc (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)