As it happened: Biden says Kabul airlift among 'most difficult' in history
US President Joe Biden pledged on Friday to "mobilise every resource" to evacuate American nationals and Afghan allies from Kabul, calling it one of the "most difficult" airlift operations ever, as NATO leaders warned the Taliban not to hinder the evacuations. Read FRANCE 24's live page to see how all the day's events unfolded.
This page is being regularly updated.
- US troops exit Kabul airport to retrieve 169 people
US troops briefly exited Kabul airport at one point during ongoing evacuation operations to retrieve 169 people from inside the city, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby has said. He was elaborating on earlier comments by President Joe Biden, who referred to US troops going "over the wall" to bring "169 Americans" into Kabul airport.
"They were very close to the perimeter of the airport. Very close. And in a short amount of time, with a short amount of distance, some of our troops were able to go out there and retrieve them and bring them in," said Kirby, who did not give the people's nationalities.
10:30pm Paris time
- US evacuations stall as Qatar base overflows
A Pentagon official has confirmed reports that US evacuation operations from Kabul's airport have been stalling because the receiving base in Qatar is overflowing and could not receive evacuees.
"There has been a considerable amount of time today... where there haven't been departures," Brigadier General Dan DeVoe of the US Air Mobility Command told reporters, adding that his unit had all the aircraft needed to move thousands of US citizens and Afghans out of Kabul every day but that operations had stalled for hours on Friday.
News reports said thousands of evacuees were ready to be transported in the airport but flights were not departing. The challenge, DeVoe said, "is getting folk out of Afghanistan into the ISBs," or intermediate staging bases, mainly the US air base in Qatar.
8:20pm Paris time
- Biden pledges to bring home every American who wants to leave
In a speech at the White House, US President Joe Biden has pledged to evacuate every American who wishes to leave Afghanistan, with about 13,000 brought home so far.
Facing a torrent of criticism for his handling of the US troop withdrawal, Biden pledged to "mobilise every resource" in the operation, describing it as "one of the largest, most difficult airlifts in history".
Biden dismissed criticism that the administration misjudged the speed with which the Taliban would take over Afghanistan and that he was slow to start evacuation of Americans and Afghan who helped them during the 20-year long US presence in the country.
"We’re going to do everything, everything that we can, to provide safe evacuation for our Afghan allies, partners, and Afghans who might be targeted because of their association with the United States," Biden said.
He added: "Make no mistake, this evacuation mission is dangerous. It involves risks to our armed forces and it's being conducted under difficult circumstances. I cannot promise what the final outcome will be or that it will be without risk of loss. But as commander in chief, I can assure you that I will mobilise every resource necessary."
7:25pm Paris time
- Eyewitness reports: 'The Taliban have started going house to house in our city'
Despite showing a conciliatory face to the world, the Taliban are using all means at their disposal to track down the people they see as a threat to their rule, even going to local mosques or using corrupt police officers to find information, the FRANCE 24 Observers report. Our colleagues spoke with activists and journalists from all over Afghanistan, who all report that the Taliban have begun searches in their regions.
"The Taliban have started their house-to-house searches to look for activists," said a human rights campaigner from western Afghanistan, who has gone into hiding. "They haven’t announced it officially and they don’t do it openly, they just try to find the targets they are looking for and hunt them 'surgically' to avoid a buzz," he added.
Another activist from the country's north said the Taliban had set up a task force of corrupt police officers to obtain details about activists and journalists, including "where they live, where they worked and who they worked with."
>> Read more: ‘I knew they’d come for us': Afghan journalists, activists report Taliban reprisals
6:43pm Paris time
- UK will work with Taliban 'if necessary'
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the UK was ready to work with the Taliban if needed, following their capture of Afghanistan. He also defended his foreign minister, who has come under fire for his handling of the situation.
"What I want to assure people is that our political and diplomatic efforts to find a solution for Afghanistan, working with the Taliban, of course if necessary, will go on," Johnson told reporters. Asked if he still had confidence in Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, he said: "Absolutely".
6:25pm Paris time
- Uzbekistan sends back Afghan refugees
Uzbekistan's foreign ministry has sent 150 Afghan refugees back to Afghanistan as per an agreement with the Taliban, Russian news agency TASS reported on Friday citing the ministry. The refugees had been given security guarantees, the ministry was quoted as saying.
6:20pm Paris time
- Putin says world must prevent Afghan 'collapse'
In his first comments on Afghanistan since the Taliban takeover, Putin said the world community must prevent the "collapse" of the country and ensure "terrorists" from Afghanistan do not enter neighbouring countries, including "under the guise of refugees".
Speaking after talks in Moscow with Germany's Angela Merkel, Putin said the Taliban controlling the country is a new reality from which the world "must proceed". In a dig at the US and its allies, he also criticised the "irresponsible policy" of imposing "outside values" on war-torn Afghanistan.
5:15pm Paris time
- NATO warns Taliban against hindering evacuations
The Western military alliance has called on the Taliban to allow people being evacuated to leave Afghanistan, and vowed that the allies will remain in "close coordination" while operations continue.
"We call on those in positions of authority in Afghanistan to respect and facilitate their safe and orderly departure, including through Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul," said NATO's 30 member countries in a joint declaration, adding that the military alliance would maintain a presence in the country "as long as evacuation operations continue".
The United States and NATO allies have been flying their citizens, Afghan staff and their families out of Kabul since the Taliban overran the capital on Sunday. While thousands have been evacuated so far, NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said at the start of a videoconference on Friday that foreigners and Afghans were struggling to reach Kabul airport.
The military alliance halted its own mission in Afghanistan in May after the United States decided to withdraw its troops, but still has up to 800 civilian staff helping run Kabul airport. Several countries have mounted missions to airlift their nationals and local allies to safety, but Stoltenberg warned the allies must work together and the Taliban must cooperate.
NATO also warned the Taliban not to let Afghanistan become a breeding ground for terrorism, as it did two decades ago, prompting Western forces to intervene.
#NATO Foreign Ministers discussed #Afghanistan & continue to coordinate on evacuation. The Taliban must uphold their commitments on terrorism, human rights & free passage. We will not allow any terrorists to threaten us from Afghanistan. https://t.co/S5GaPakr40— Jens Stoltenberg (@jensstoltenberg) August 20, 2021
12:28pm Paris time
- Vatican newspaper issues blunt criticism of fallout from US troop withdrawal
The Vatican's newspaper on Friday called on the international community to welcome Afghan civilians fleeing the Taliban, expressing incredulousness “that before deciding to abandon the country no one thought through such a foreseeable scenario or did anything to avoid it”.
In a front-page article in the Friday edition of L’Osservatore Romano, deputy editor Gaetano Vallini said the West was obliged to urgently remedy the situation with concrete action and welcome refugees to avoid a “catastrophic humanitarian emergency”.
The commentary was an unusually blunt criticism of the US, although Washington wasn’t singled out by name. After expressing shock at the chaos created by the US-led Western withdrawal, Vallini wrote: “It would be even more serious if such a decision was taken with the knowledge of such dramatic consequences.”
Pope Francis has expressed alarm at the chaos that has engulfed Afghanistan with the Taliban's takeover of the country.
12:19pm Paris time
- Taliban killed Hazara men in Ghazni village, says Amnesty International
Taliban fighters tortured and killed members of Afghanistan’s ethnic Hazara minority after recently overrunning their village, said Amnesty International in a report released Friday.
The rights group said that its researchers spoke to eyewitnesses in Ghazni province who recounted how the Taliban killed nine Hazara 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 brutality of the killings was “a reminder of the Taliban’s past record, and a horrifying indicator of what Taliban rule may bring”, said Agnès Callamard, Amnesty's secretary general.
Amnesty warned that many more killings may have gone unreported because the Taliban have cut cellphone services in many areas they have captured to prevent images from there being published.
Since taking power in Kabul on Sunday, the Taliban have sought to project moderation and forgive those who fought them in the 20 years since a US-led invasion ousted them from the Afghan capital. Ahead of Friday prayers, leaders urged to imams to use sermons to appeal for unity, urge people not to flee the country and counter “negative propaganda” about them.
But many Afghans, particularly members of ethnic minority groups and women, remain sceptical that the militant Islamist group has changed.
11:46am Paris time
- Berlin to send helicopters to Kabul to evacuate German nationals
Germany will send two light helicopters to Kabul to evacuate German nationals in Afghanistan at risk or situated in remote regions, a defence ministry spokesperson in Berlin said Friday.
The helicopters are expected to arrive Saturday morning, the spokesperson told reporters.
The German special forces using these light helicopters are specially trained to evacuate citizens in crisis situations.
The announcement came as German Chancellor Angela Merkel flew to Moscow on Friday for talks with President Vladimir Putin on her final official visit to Russia before stepping down next month. The two leaders are certain to discuss Afghanistan and the Taliban's lightning takeover after the US troop withdrawal neared completion.
10:40am Paris time
- Afghans at risk have ‘no clear way out’, says UN refugee agency
The UN refugee agency UNHCR on Friday said most Afghans are unable to leave their homeland and that those who may be in danger "have no clear way out".
Spokesperson Shabia Mantoo reiterated a call to Afghanistan’s neighbouring countries to keep their borders open to allow people to seek asylum during what she called the "evolving crisis".
"UNHCR remains concerned about the risk of human rights violations against civilians in this evolving context, including women and girls," she told a Geneva news briefing.
On August 17, two days after the Taliban seized control of Kabul in a bloodless coup, the UNHCR issued a non-return advisory calling for a bar on forced returns of Afghan nationals, including asylum seekers who have had their claims rejected.
10:03am Paris time
- Germany says it has flown more than 1,600 people out of Kabul this week
The German military has carried out 11 evacuation flights since the Taliban takeover of Kabul on Sunday, with more flights planned in the days to come, Germany’s defence ministry said Friday.
The German government has pledged to help evacuate all its citizens and local Afghan staff who worked for the German military, aid groups or news organisations.
Senior German officials have also said efforts will be made to help Afghans who are particularly vulnerable to likely Taliban reprisals, such as human rights defenders.
But Germany’s commanding officer in Kabul, General Jens Arlt, said the evacuation has been hampered by the large number of people outside Hamid Karzai International Airport hoping to get onto flights out of Afghanistan.
9:17am Paris time
- ‘One in three’ Afghans face food insecurity, says World Food Programme
One in three people are food insecure in Afghanistan due to the combined effects of war and the consequences of global warming, said Mary-Ellen McGroarty, Afghanistan representative for the World Food Programme (WFP).
A severe drought, along with the economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, had already put Afghanistan in a precarious state before the country’s fall to Taliban control.
“The country is facing a second severe drought in three years. People have barely recovered from the 2017/2018 drought,” McGroarty said in a phone interview with AFP from Kabul.
“There was a 40-percent reduction in the wheat crop, the result of one of the driest winters in 30 years. We have had very little snow in Kabul this year," resulting in very little water input at melt time, she added, which had a "devastating impact on livestock”.
The situation has been aggravated by the recent conflict that has ravaged the country, with the fighting displacing rural communities. Farmers have been unable to harvest crops and orchards have been destroyed in the fighting, said McGroarty.
The destruction of infrastructure such as bridges, roads and dams have also compromised access to food, she added.
8:33am Paris time
- Taliban fighters harass Afghans displaying national tricolour
A day after Afghan Independence Day, several videos posted on social media showed Taliban fighters harassing and beating people defiantly displaying the red, black and green Afghan national flag.
A dozen of these videos are surfacing on social media showing the Taliban harassing and beating people. They have entered gov & non-gov offices with guns. When will the Taliban turn to a civilian political party we are yet to see? pic.twitter.com/0VIBpDtIE0— صابر ابراهیمی (@saberibrahimi) August 20, 2021
In the Asadabad, the capital of the eastern province of Kunar, “hundreds of people came out on the streets” for an Independence Day rally, according to witness Mohammed Salim.
"At first I was scared and didn't want to go but when I saw one of my neighbours joined in, I took out the flag I have at home.”
Salim also told Reuters that “several people were killed and injured” during the rally in Asadabad, but it was not clear if the casualties resulted from Taliban firing or from a stampede that it triggered, he said.
August 19 is Afghan Independence Day, commemorating the 1919 treaty that ended British rule in the central Asian nation. The Afghan tricolour has been replaced in most public spaces by the Taliban’s black-on-white flag.
7:09am Paris time
- Taliban kill relative of Afghan journalist working for German media
Taliban fighters in Afghanistan have shot and killed a relative of a Deutsche Welle journalist while hunting for him, the German public broadcaster said.
The militants were conducting a house-to-house search for the journalist, who now works in Germany, DW said Thursday.
A second relative was seriously wounded but others were able to escape, it said, without giving details of the incident.
DW director general Peter Limbourg condemned the killing, which he said showed the danger to media workers and their families in Afghanistan.
"The killing of a close relative of one of our editors by the Taliban yesterday is inconceivably tragic, and testifies to the acute danger in which all our employees and their families in Afghanistan find themselves," he said.
"It is evident that the Taliban are already carrying out organised searches for journalists, both in Kabul and in the provinces. We are running out of time!"
The Taliban had raided the homes of at least three other DW journalists, the broadcaster said.
6:37am Paris time
- US evacuates about 3,000 from Kabul airport Thursday
The US on Friday said it had evacuated about 3,000 people from the Kabul airport on Thursday.
"The United States evacuated approximately 3,000 people from Hamid Karzai International Airport on 16 C-17 flights," said a White House official in a media pool report, adding that nearly 350 were US citizens.
"Additional evacuees include family members of US citizens, Special Immigrant Visa applicants and their families, and vulnerable Afghans," the official said, for a tally of about 9,000 evacuated by the military since August 14.
6:01am Paris time
- Taliban are targeting Afghans who worked with US and NATO forces, UN report says
The Taliban have been conducting "targeted door-to-door visits" of people who worked with US and NATO forces, according to a confidential document by the UN's threat assessment consultants seen by several media organisations.
The report, written by the Norwegian Center for Global Analyses, said militants were also screening people on the way to Kabul airport.
"They are targeting the families of those who refuse to give themselves up, and prosecuting and punishing their families 'according to Sharia law'," Christian Nellemann, the group's executive director, told AFP.
"We expect both individuals previously working with NATO/US forces and their allies, alongside with their family members to be exposed to torture and executions."
The Taliban have repeatedly denied accusations that their fighters are targeting Afghan civilians and say they have issued orders barring their fighters from entering private homes.
(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP and REUTERS)
Daily newsletterReceive essential international news every morningSubscribe