Afghanistan Live Updates: Biden Defends Troop Withdrawal, Taliban Tries to Win Approval From Hostile Countries

Live Updates

President Biden remains defiant against critics of the decision to swiftly withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan, blaming the country's political and military leaders for allowing the Taliban to take control. Airlift evacuations continue at a calmer Kabul airport.

The U.S. will increase the number of troops in Kubal and is aiming to carry 5,000 to 9,000 people out of Afghanistan a day, the Pentagon said in a press briefing Tuesday. Countries around the world continue to remove their citizens, diplomats and Afghan staff from Kabul and open their doors to accept Afghan refugees.

Meanwhile, Taliban leaders have granted an "amnesty" to former government workers and are inviting women to join a new administration, which is being negotiated round the clock. The Taliban held its first press conference, promising to pardon Afghans who worked for foreign governments and soldiers who fought for the former Afghan government.

The updates for this liveblog have ended.

KEY DEVELOPMENTS

Taliban in Market
Taliban fighters on a pick-up truck move around a market area, flocked with local Afghan people at the Kote Sangi area of Kabul on August 17, 2021, after Taliban seized control of the capital following the collapse of the Afghan government. HOSHANG HASHIMI/AFP via Getty Images

U.S. will send former Ambassador to Afghanistan John Bass to Kabul

The U.S. State Department will send former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan John Bass to Kabul "to lead logistics coordination and consular efforts," State Department spokesman Ned Price said during a press briefing Tuesday.

Chargé d'Affaires Ross Wilson will remain in Afghanistan and "will continue to lead our diplomatic engagement."

"The Department of State is working around the clock to facilitate the swift, safe evacuation of American citizens, special immigrant visa holders and other vulnerable Afghans," Price said. "We remain committed to accelerating flights for SIVs and other vulnerable Afghans as quickly as possible."

Price reiterated the State Department's message for Americans in Afghanistan to shelter in place until they receive communication from the U.S. Embassy about when to arrive at the Kabul airport. He told Americans not to travel if they feel unsafe.

U.S. General says Kabul airport is "secure and open"

U.S. General Frank McKenzie, head of the U.S. military operations in the Middle East, visited the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul Tuesday.

"I saw firsthand our defensive lay down and the work our forces are doing to efficiently operate the airfield while ensuring the safe movement of civilians and diplomats who are leaving Kabul," he said in the statement.

He added that the airfield is "secure and now open to civilian air traffic."

McKenzie met with Taliban leaders over the weekend, where he said he "cautioned them against interference in our evacuation and made it clear to them that any attack would be met with overwhelming force in the defense of our forces."

Uganda agrees to host 2,000 Afghan refugees at the request of the U.S.

Uganda has agreed to a request from the United States to temporarily host 2,000 refugees fleeing Afghanistan, Uganda's Minister of State for Relief, Disaster Preparedness and Refugees Esther Anyakun Davina told Reuters.

According to ABC News, the State Department said those discussions are still ongoing.

"We deeply appreciate Uganda's generous offer of assistance to host Afghanistan evacuees on a temporary basis," the State Department spokesperson said. "We have not yet made a final determination of assistance requirements in Uganda." They said that includes securing key legal protections for these Afghans in a final agreement.

Several other countries, including Qatar, Kuwait, Indonesia, Albania, Kosovo and Afghanistan's Central Asian neighbors, have also offered to host refugees, according to the spokesperson.

"We have heard generous offers of support from a number of countries for assisting vulnerable Afghans," the spokesperson said. "We deeply appreciate countries who have offered support with departures for Afghan and U.S. citizens."

UN Human Rights Council to hold special session on Afghanistan

The United Nations Human Rights Council will hold a special session on Afghanistan on August 24.

🔴 BREAKING

The United Nations Human Rights Council is holding a special session on #Afghanistan on 24 August 2021.#SS31 ▶️ https://t.co/mO7Mv7tnu8 pic.twitter.com/LDptIxfqex

— UN Human Rights Council (@UN_HRC) August 17, 2021

International Criminal Court is concerns about reports of violence in Afghanistan

The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court said he closely monitoring the situation in Afghanistan and is "concerned by recent reports of escalating violence."

In a statement, Karim Khan said he echoes the views of the United Nationals Security Council over reports of humanitarian law violations by the Taliban, including revenge killings and the persecution of women and girls.

"I call on all parties to the hostilities to fully respect their obligations under international humanitarian law, including by ensuring the protection of civilians," Khan said.

The Biden administration is in contact with the Taliban, National Security Adviser says

White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said that the Biden administration is in contact with the Taliban.

"We are engaging diplomatically at the same time with allies in regional countries and the United Nations to address the situation in Afghanistan," he said during a press briefing Tuesday. "We're in contact with the Taliban to ensure the safe passage of people to the airport."

He added that the U.S. intends to continue its airlift operations "over the coming days before completing our draw down."

Sullivan also said that President Joe Biden "is taking responsibility for every decision the United States government took with respect to Afghanistan because as [Biden] said, the buck stops with him."

He added that the whole national security team, including himself, the secretary of state, the secretary of defense, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the directors of intelligence agencies, "collectively take responsibility for every decision," even those that don't "produce perfect outcomes."

European Union is prioritizing the evacuation of EU nationals and Afghan staff

Evacuating European Union nationals and Afghan citizens working with the EU is the top priority for the bloc, EU Foreign Affairs Chief Josep Borrell said in a press conference Tuesday.

"The priority is to ensure the evacuation — in the best conditions of security — of the European nationals still present in the country, and also of the Afghan citizens who worked with us for more than 20 years, if they want to leave the country," Borrell said.

Borrell said the EU will make "every possible effort" to ensure the safety of those who have worked with the EU.

"The situation on the ground is very fluid and is becoming certainly more dangerous for the people who have been working and supporting our work," he said.

"We cannot abandon them," Borrell added. "We will do – we are doing – everything we can in order to bring them to and offer them shelter in the European Union's member states."

Twitter says it will continue to monitor the accounts of Taliban members on its platform

Twitter has faced backlash for allowing Taliban members to actively use its platform. The social media giant said it will continue to monitor member's accounts.

A Twitter spokesperson told Newsweek the company will "continue to proactively enforce our rules and review content that may violate Twitter rules, specifically policies against glorification of violence, platform manipulation and spam."

Twitter has banned former President Trump from using its platform following the Capitol riot on January 8 and has suspended several other conservative leaders, including Representative Majorie Taylor Greene and Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk.

Representative Doug Lamborn sent a letter to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey expressing concern that Taliban members like Zabihullah Mujahid are allowed on the platform, but not Trump.

He called it "clear" that the Taliban falls under the violent organization category and noted that spokespeople have been promoting messages of a peaceful takeover that runs contrary to media reports of violence against civilians.

READ MORE: "Twitter to Review Taliban Tweets for Violations Amid Backlash Over Trump Ban"

Canada has no plans to recognize Taliban rule in Afghanistan

Canada will not recognize the Taliban's authority in Afghanistan, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Tuesday.

"Canada has no plans to recognize the Taliban as the Government of Afghanistan," Trudeau told reporters. "They have taken over and replaced a duly elected democratic government by force."

Pakistan will only recognize Taliban authority as part of a "regional decision"

Pakistan's recognition of the Taliban authority in Afghanistan will come as part of a "regional decision," Pakistan's minister of information Fawad Chaudhry said Tuesday.

During a press briefing following a cabinet meeting with Prime Minister Imran Khan, Chaudhry stressed that Pakistan will not make any decision on recognizing the Taliban regime "in isolation" and that the decision will be a "multilateral one" made "in consultation" with regional and international powers.

Taliban says it has pardoned Afghans who worked with foreign governments

The Taliban said it will assure the safety of those who worked as contractors and translators for foreign governments will be pardoned and will no revenge enacted gainst them.

"The youth who have grown up here, we do not want them to leave," Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said. "They are our assets."

"We want them to serve the homeland," he added.

#Taliban says all translators or contractors who worked for foreign powers are pardoned and there will be no revenge against them #Breaking #BreakingNews #Afghanistan #Kabul

— Reema Abuhamdieh (@ReemaAH_RT) August 17, 2021

He also said there will be amnesty for former Afghan government soldiers who fought against the Taliban.

"We have pardoned everybody for the benefit of stability or peace in Afghanistan," Mujahid says.

Mujahid said that the Taliban will not knock on doors asking Afghans "who they have been working for."

"They are going to be safe," he said. "Nobody is going to be interrogated or chased."

Taliban will guarantee women's rights "within the limits of Islam," spokesman says

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said women's rights will be honored within the limits of Islamic Shaira laws.

"We will guarantee all their [women] rights within the limits of Islam," he said in response to a question from an Al Jazeera correspondent.

"We are going to allow women to work and study within our frameworks," Mujahid said. "Women are going to be very active within our society, within our framework."

#Taliban says it will respect women and they enjoy the rights and obligations as states in Islamic Sharia #Breaking #BreakingNews #Afghanistan #Kabul

— Reema Abuhamdieh (@ReemaAH_RT) August 17, 2021

During an interview with Britain's Sky News, Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen said the Taliban plans to uphold the Doha peace deal and are "committed to women's rights to education and work."

He said girls "can get education from primary to higher education."

"That means university," he said. "This is our policy and we are really working on this in all those areas falling to us in Afghanistan."

Taliban hold first press conference

The Taliban is currently holding its first press conference since taking over control in Afghanistan.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said no will be allowed to use Afghan territory for attacks against any nation.

"I would like to ensure I would like to assure the international community, including the United States, that nobody will be harmed," he said.

"In Afghanistan, I would like to assure our neighbors, our original countries we are not going to allow our territory to be used against anybody or any country in the world," Mujahid continued. "So the whole global community should be assured that we are committed to these pleasures that you will not be harmed."

The Taliban also said it will ensure the safety of embassies, consulates and green zones in Kabul.

Former Afghanistan vice president calls on others to "join the resistance"

The former vice president of Afghanistan called on countrymen to "join the resistance."

"We Afghans must prove that Afghanistan isn't Vietnam and the Taliban aren't even remotely like Vietcong," Amrullah Saleh wrote on Twitter. "Unlike US/NATO we haven't lost spirit and see enormous opportunities ahead."

"Join the resistance," he concluded.

In a tweet Sunday, Saleh said he "will never, ever and under no circumstances bow to Talib terrorists."

It is futile to argue with @POTUS on Afg now. Let him digest it. We d Afgs must prove tht Afgh isn't Vietnam & the Talibs aren't even remotely like Vietcong. Unlike US/NATO we hvn't lost spirit & see enormous oprtnities ahead. Useless caveats are finished. JOIN THE RESISTANCE.

— Amrullah Saleh (@AmrullahSaleh2) August 17, 2021

U.S. military has communicated with the Taliban, Kirby says

Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said during a press briefing that the U.S. military has had communication with the Taliban.

"Our commanders in the operation have had communication with Taliban leaders," Kirby said.

While Kirby would not provide further details of "how those discussions are progressing," but said US military leaders are interacting with the Taliban "multiple times a day," at the airport.

Kirby added that he will "let the results speak for themselves," referring to the relative stability at the airport and the successful flights in and out of Kabul.

The U.S. has had "no hostile interactions" with the Taliban, U.S. General says

During a Pentagon press briefing Tuesday, U.S. Major General Hank Taylor said there were no "hostile interactions" with the Taliban during evacuation efforts in Kabul.

"We have had no hostile interactions, no attack and no threat by the Taliban," he said. "We remain vigilant. We also have not experienced any additional security incidents at [Hamid Karzai International Airport airport]. We retain the security at HKIA that enables the safe, orderly evacuation of Americans and Afghans."

Taylor added that the focus of the mission has not changed.

"I want to reinforce that we are focused on the present mission," he said. "To facilitate the safe evacuation of US citizens, SIV's [Special Immigrant Visa] and Afghans at risk, to get them out of Afghanistan as quickly and as safely as possible."

U.S. military flight operations continue in Kabul

US Maj. Gen. Hank Taylor, vice director for logistics of the Joint Staffs provided an update on U.S. military operations in Afghanistan.

Taylor said there were 2,500 troops on the ground yesterday and by the end of today, there will be more than 4,000 troops on the ground in Kabul.

He said Kabul's Hamid Karzai International Airport airport (HKIA) is secure and is open for military and limited commercial flight operations.

Taylor said that throughout the night nine C-17 aircraft arrived in Kabul delivering equipment and approximately 1,000 troops. He said that flights out of Kabul "lifted approximately 700 to 800 passengers and we can confirm 165 of these passengers are American citizens, the rest are a mix of SIV [Special Immigrant Visa] applicants and third-country nationals."

He added that the U.S. is "looking at one aircraft per hour in and out of HKIA. It looks like 5,000 to 9,000 passengers departing per day."

NATO official says Kabul airport is "open" following chaos Monday

After a chaotic scene at the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul Monday, evacuation flights continue Tuesday morning.

According to NATO's senior civilian representative to Afghanistan Stefano Pontecorvo, the runway of the Kabul airport was "open" Tuesday.

"I see airplanes landing and taking off," Pontecorvo tweeted.

In the video and photo he shared on Twitter, it seems that the tarmac is no longer overrun with crowds of civilians trying to rush onto planes.

"Situation under control," he tweeted.

Another day in #Kabul HKIA airport. Situation under control #Afghanistan pic.twitter.com/PewkXN5F16

— Stefano Pontecorvo (@pontecorvoste) August 17, 2021

NATO Secretary-General blames Afghan government for collapse of country

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg blames Afghan leadership for the quick collapse of the country into Taliban rule.

Stoltenberg said "the Afghan political leadership failed to stand up" and that "this failure of Afghan leadership led to the tragedy we are witnessing today."

He also said he was surprised at how quickly Taliban forces took over.

"It was a surprise, the speed of the collapse and how quickly that happened," he said.

Russia "in no rush" to recognize Taliban authority in Afghanistan

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Russia is "in no rush" to recognize the new Taliban government in Afghanistan, according to the Associated Press.

Lavrov also noted "encouraging signals from the Taliban, who are declaring their desire to have a government with the participation of other political forces."

He added that Russia supports "the beginning of an inclusive national dialogue with the involvement of all political and confessional forces in Afghanistan."

U.S. military is focused on the Kabul airport, Kirby says

Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said the U.S. military is focused on the Kabul airport.

"Our focus militarily is very squarely on the airport, making sure that we can keep it up and running, that we can maintain security and stability there," Kirby told ABC's "Good Morning America" Tueday.

He said that the U.S. military has moved more than 700 people out of Afghanistan in the last 24 hours.

"We plan on being on the ground there in Afghanistan for the next couple of weeks," he said. "It's not just about moving out Americans, it is very much about meeting our moral and sacred obligations to those Afghans who helped us over the last 20 years, getting as many out as we can."

Kirby said the U.S. will continue its efforts to evacuate and rehouse some 30,000 individuals from Afghanistan in the coming weeks.

Photo shows crowded plane of over 600 Afghans leaving Kabul

A photo obtained by Defense One shows a U.S. Air Force C-17 cargo plane packed with over 600 Afghans leaving Kabul Sunday.

Instead of trying to force people off the aircraft, "the crew made the decision to go," a defense official told Defense One.

"Approximately 640 Afghan civilians disembarked the aircraft when it arrived at its destination," the defense official said.

JUST IN: "The Crew made the decision to go" — Inside RCH 871, which saved 640 from the Taliban ... from @TaraCopp and me https://t.co/r4YvGqJZ4b pic.twitter.com/CI1mAmqjHT

— Marcus Weisgerber (@MarcusReports) August 16, 2021

Facebook reiterated its ban on Taliban content on its platforms

Facebook reiterated its ban on Taliban content on its platforms.

"The Taliban is sanctioned as a terrorist organization under US law and we have banned them from our services under our Dangerous Organisation policies. This means we remove accounts maintained by or on behalf of the Taliban and prohibit praise, support, and representation of them," a Facebook spokesperson told the BBC.

Facebook said it has a "dedicated team of Afghanistan experts" who are native Dari and Pashto speakers and "have knowledge of local context" to help identify any emerging issues on Facebook, Instagram or WhatsApp.

Facebook said it does not make decisions about the recognition of national governments but instead follows the "authority of the international community".

"Regardless of who holds power, we will take the appropriate action against accounts and content that breaks our rules," Facebook stated.

U.S. Chargé d'Affaires to Afghanistan Ross Wilson remain in Kabul

The U.S. Chargé d'Affaires to Afghanistan Ross Wilson said that he and other members of the U.S. Embassy staff are still in Kabul "working hard to help 1000s of U.S. citizens and vulnerable Afghans & continuing engagement here."

The Embassy released a statement Monday urging Americans in Afghanistan to shelter in place. The embassy asked Americans and their families to fill out Repatriation Assistance Requests and wait to be directly notified by the Embassy when a flight out of the country is available.

Contrary to false reports, @USEmbassyKabul staff & I remain in #Kabul working hard to help 1000s of U.S. citizens and vulnerable Afghans & continuing engagement here. Our commitment to the Afghan people endures.

— Chargé d’Affaires Ross Wilson (@USAmbKabul) August 17, 2021

Graph shows Afghanistan's decline as terror incidents increase

Our latest graph - in partnership with Statista - shows how Afghanistan has struggled with increasing terror attacks over the years and ranked number one on the Global Terrorism Index in 2019.

Attacks in the early 2010s stayed below 1,000 each year but as political and military tensions grew that number ballooned, resulting in 5,725 deaths in 2019 alone - or 16 every single day.

Newsweek/Statista graph shows Afghanistan's deterioration
A Newsweek/Statista graph shows Afghanistan's increasing number of terror attacks and the population's decreasing feeling of safety Newsweek/Statista/Getty Images

Republican leadership struggles to respond to Afghanistan withdrawal

Reaction from top Republicans was mixed and largely muted after President Biden's statement yesterday, leading to a complex debate at the top of the GOP.

The botched nature of the withdrawal was able to unify Republicans against the policy, but now the party is stuck over whether it fundamentally supports the decision.

Opponents of a withdrawal have argued the president should have seen the disaster coming - but even those who celebrated the decision to pull out troops have slammed Biden for the way it was done.

Foreign policy has been such a contentious for the party's leadership that it currently has no single position on it. The debate continues today before a unified position is agreed - if that is possible.

Kabul markets reopen

Taliban fighters are patrolling Kabul's streets this morning but are allowing normal trading to resume at markets.

Pictures show an bustling atmosphere as traders and locals packed the city centre - but the situation remains far from normal.

Markets reopen in Kabul under Taliban watch
Markets reopen in Kabul under Taliban watch
Markets reopen in Kabul under Taliban watch

U.N. urges Taliban to stick to its word on women's rights

The United Nations is urging the Taliban to keep its pledge to grant an amnesty to former government workers in Afghanistan and promote inclusivity for women, which the group announced this morning.

U.N. human rights spokesperson Ruper Colville said:

The Taliban have made a number of statements that on the surface are reassuring, but their actions speak deeper than words, and it's very early now – it's very fluid. Understandably, given their past history, these declarations have been greeted with some skepticism. Nevertheless, the promises have been made, and whether or not they are honored or broken will be closely scrutinized.

Did you see the video of the Taliban at Kabul's palace gym?

It turns out the viral video was not in fact of the Taliban at the presidential palace gym in Kabul, according to the original poster.

It is unknown when and where the videos were taken.

I deleted two videos of Taliban fighters as someone smarter than me helpfully pointed out that one of the videos was not from the presidential palace as initially thought. I took both videos down to avoid confusion. Apologies.

— Sune Engel Rasmussen (@SuneEngel) August 17, 2021

Prince Harry: Military veterans should "reach out to each other" following Afghanistan conflict

Prince Harry encouraged military veterans to "reach out to each other and offer support for one another" follow the Taliban takeover.

The situation has been difficult for many veterans who served in Afghanistan, many of whose criticisms of the withdrawal have gone viral online.

The Duke of Sussex, who served in the British Army for 10 years - including two tours in Afghanistan - posted a message through the Invictus Games Foundation, alongside Chair Lord Allen of Kensington and CEO Dominic Reid.

What's happening in Afghanistan resonates across the international Invictus community. Many of the participating nations and competitors in the Invictus Games family are bound by a shared experience of serving in Afghanistan over the past two decades, and for several years, we have competed alongside Invictus Games Team Afghanistan. We encourage everybody across the Invictus network – and the wider military community – to reach out to each other and offer support for one another

Negotiations underway for joint government

Taliban leaders held talks with other Afghan and international parties overnight, including former president Hamid Karzai, reports the Associated Press.

Discussions appeared to focus on how a new government would respond to rights gained over the last 20 years, as well as bringing non-Taliban leaders into senior positions.

Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen earlier said the new government would be "inclusive" - including women and possibly other parties.

Surge in Afghans displaced by conflict - United Nations

New figures from UNHCR - the U.N. Refugee Agency - show at least 550,000 Afghans have been displaced since the beginning of 2021.

Previous figures, published just days ago, showed the number to be around 350,000, indicating the huge numbers who fled as the Taliban took control of capital city Kabul.

The agency yesterday called on countries to halt the forced return of Afghans to their home nation "in the wake of the rapid deterioration in the security and human rights situation in large parts of the country".

UNHCR remains concerned about the risk of human rights violations against civilians in this evolving context, including women and girls, those perceived to have a current or past association with the Afghan government, international organizations or with the international military forces.

UK to boost aid funding to Afghans

British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab suggested this morning that the UK will boost humanitarian aid directly to the Afghan people "probably by 10%".

He said the Taliban will not get any of the money previously earmarked for security.

"I don't think we will condition the humanitarian relief we provide to ordinary Afghans on what the Taliban does," he said in an interview.

Raab added that the British government is planning an "open-hearted" and "bespoke" asylum policy for Afghan citizens.

The UK was the third-largest financial supporter of the country for several years until 2021, when it was slashed by almost half following budget cuts, meaning that in reality a boost would only reverse some of the money reduced.

Taliban declares "amnesty" and urges women to join government

In an ongoing attempt to transform the group's image, Taliban leaders have this morning declared an "amnesty" across Afghanistan and even urged women to help form a new government.

Enamullah Samangani, a member of the Taliban's cultural commission, tried to play down the possibility of a return to ultraconservative Islamic rules, which included stonings, amputations, and public executions during their rule before the U.S-led invasion that followed the September 11 terror attacks.

"The Islamic Emirate doesn't want women to be victims," Samangani said, "they should be in government structure according to Shariah law."

He added: "The structure of government is not fully clear, but based on experience, there should be a fully Islamic leadership and all sides should join."

Turkey in talks with all sides

Turkish President Recep Erdoğan has confirmed his team is talking to all parties in Afghanistan, including ousted Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and the Taliban.

The country's decision over recognition of a new government could have major implications for relations in the Middle East.

Good morning and welcome to Newsweek's liveblog

Thousands of Afghans are still waiting in Kabul for their flight out of the country as the Taliban seeks recognition from other countries as the official government of Afghanistan.

Many countries, which are wholly opposed to the terrorist group's takeover, are holding crisis meetings to decide what to do next. Others, including China, are moving to forge closer ties.

Follow Newsweek's liveblog throughout Tuesday for all the latest.