The government of Afghanistan has fallen and the Taliban have captured the presidential palace in Kabul. Deseret News is following the latest reports as the United States’ decadeslong war in Afghanistan appears to come to an end.
Former President George W. Bush deeply saddened events in Afghanistan
Tuesday, Aug. 17
Former President George W. Bush said that he and former First Lady Laura have watched the most recent tragedies in Afghanistan unfold with “deep sadness.”
- “Our hearts are heavy for both the Afghan people who have suffered so much and for the Americans and NATO allies who have sacrificed so much,” Bush, the former commander in chief who first deployed U.S. troops to Afghanistan in fall of 2001 to rout out those who planned the 9/11 attacks, said in a statement Monday
The former president said the U.S. government has the legal ability “to cut the red tape for refugees during urgent humanitarian crises.”
- “And we have the responsibility and the resources to secure safe passage for them now, without bureaucratic delay,” Bush added.
The two-term commander in chief — who started both the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq — addressed U.S. service members, veterans, diplomats and the intelligence community the statement.
- “Many of you deal with wounds of war, both visible and invisible. And some of your brothers and sisters in arms made the ultimate sacrifice in the war on terror,” Bush said. “Each day, we have been humbled by your commitment and your courage. You took out a brutal enemy and denied Al Qaeda a safe haven while building schools, sending supplies, and providing medical care. You kept America safe from further terror attacks, provided two decades of security and opportunity for millions, and made America proud. We thank you from the bottom of our hearts and will always honor your contributions.”
Bush said that he, Laura and the George W. Bush Presidential Center were prepared to provide assistance to the ongoing crisis in Afghanistan.
- “Let us all resolve to be united in saving lives and praying for the people of Afghanistan,” he concluded.
Pentagon hopes to evacuate 22,000 Afghan allies this month
Monday, Aug. 16
A Pentagon official said Monday that the U.S. military was trying to evacuate around 22,000 Afghan allies by Aug. 31, Military Times reported.
- “Over the next two weeks, we’re going to be as aggressive as we can in moving as many people as we can,” Defense Department spokesperson John Kirby told Military Times.
- “That’s seats on airplanes, not just military airplanes, but commercial and charter airplanes as well,” Kirby added, noting that flights out of Kabul had resumed after being shut down on Monday.
- During America’s global war on terror, the military has used an array of military and chartered flights to move soldiers in and out of theater.
Canada to settle 20,000 Afghans
The news from the Pentagon on Monday comes a few days after Canada pledged to resettle 20,000 Afghans who were more likely to suffer Taliban violence. America’s northern neighbor supported the U.S.-led coalition in the war in Afghanistan.
- The Canadian government said in a statement that it would seek to help Afghans who had aided Canada during the war, and especially vulnerable groups like “women leaders, human rights defenders, journalists, persecuted religious minorities, LGBTI individuals and family members of previously resettled interpreters.”
- “The situation in Afghanistan is continuing to deteriorate, and Afghans’ lives are under threat. To help them, we’re expanding our resettlement program — we’re going to resettle 20,000 vulnerable Afghans and expedite processing timelines, Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Twitter Friday.
Biden said he stands ‘squarely behind’ decision to withdraw U.S. military
Monday, Aug. 16
President Joe Biden, the fourth American commander in chief to lead the decadeslong war in Afghanistan, said he stands “squarely behind” his decision to pull American forces out of Afghanistan this year.
- “After 20 years, I’ve learned the hard way that there was never a good time to withdraw U.S. forces,” Biden said, speaking from the White House on Monday. It was the first formal statement the president has made since Kabul fell this weekend.
The commander in chief said the fall of Afghanistan did happen faster than his administration had predicted.
He blamed the success of the Taliban’s blitzkrieg across the country on Afghan politicians who “gave up and fled the country,” and because of the rapid collapse of the Afghan military, which in some cases refused to fight the Taliban.
- “American troops cannot, and should not, be fighting in a war and dying in a war that Afghan forces are not willing to fight for themselves,” Biden said.
President said U.S. armed forces have already been successful
Biden said the U.S. military had already completed its mission in Afghanistan, which was to go after the 9/11 attackers and to destabilize al-Qaida in Afghanistan. He added that the mission in Afghanistan was never nation building or creating centralized democratic government.
- “We never gave up the hunt for Osama bin Laden, and we got him. That was a decade ago.”
The president said America’s military mission is to conduct counterterrorism and that the military has done that effectively without having a permanent presence of U.S. forces in countries where those operations are ongoing.
- He also opened the door for “over the horizon” counterterrorism operations in the region, and warned the Taliban not to attack U.S. forces or American personnel during the evacuations.
- The military response would be “swift and forceful,” and U.S. forces would “defend our people with devastating force,” he said.
Why didn’t the U.S. evacuate its Afghan allies sooner?
The Biden administration has been criticized for the hasty exit, and some have asked why the White House did not start evacuating Afghan allies out of harm’s way sooner.
In his address Monday, Biden said there were two reasons for the delayed withdraw. Both reasons blamed Afghans.
- “Some of the Afghans did not want to leave earlier, still hopeful for their country,” he said.
- The other reason, according to the president, was that Afghan officials had discouraged the U.S. from a mass exit that could have “triggered a crisis of confidence” in the Afghan government.
Biden asked God to protect Americans in harm’s way
In closing, Biden said the buck on decision making stops with him and that he had made the right decision to end America’s longest war.
- “I know my decision will be criticized, but I would rather take all that criticism than to pass this decision to another president of the United States,” Biden said, stating that it was the right decision for America.
- “May God protect our troops, our diplomats and all the great Americans serving in harm’s way.”
7 dead at Kabul airport amid chaos
Monday, Aug. 16
- At least seven people have died during chaos at the Kabul International Airport, as frightened Afghans flocked to the airfield in a desperate attempt to escape the Taliban, The Associated Press reported.
- Several of those deaths included people who clung to the outside of a massive military aircraft and then fell back to the ground after the jet took flight, the AP confirmed.
- It was reported earlier Monday that two armed men had been killed by U.S. forces defending the airport.
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a statement Monday the world was watching the events in Afghanistan “with a heavy heart and deep disquiet about what lies ahead,” and that what happened in the next several days were pivotal to Afghanistan’s future.
- “Much lies in the balance. The progress. The hope. The dreams of a generation of young Afghan women and girls, boys and men,” Guterres said.
- “At this grave hour, I urge all parties, especially the Taliban, to exercise utmost restraint to protect lives and to ensure that humanitarian needs can be met.”
The secretary-general asked for an immediate end to fighting.
Crowds overrun Kabul International Airport runway, delaying evacuations
Monday, Aug. 16
The day after the Taliban captured the capital city of Kabul, thousands of Afghans fled to the Kabul International Airport, desperate to leave the country.
On Monday, those crowds flooded the airfield and some tried to cling to a U.S. Air Force C-17 aircraft as it taxied to leave, Reuters reported, causing the U.S. military to temporarily suspend evacuation flights to clear the runway.
- A video posted online by several sources shows an Apache attack helicopter flying low over the runway to clear a path for a C-17 to take off.
- Other videos appear to show several people falling from the military aircraft once it was airborne. According to The Washington Post, there have been reports that some people who clung to the aircraft fell to their deaths.
Crowds of people desperate to escape Afghanistan stormed Kabul’s international airport, rushing onto the tarmac.
— The New York Times (@nytimes) August 16, 2021
The New York Times, citing a U.S. military official, reported that troops sent to defend the airport had shot and killed “two armed men who approached the Americans at the airport security perimeter and brandished their weapons.”
- Crowds on the runway also delayed U.S. Marine Corp and U.S. Army reinforcements from flying into the capital airport, according to the Times.
In a joint statement Sunday, the U.S. Department of State and Department of Defense said it would be increasing the military presence at the airport to around 6,000 troops and that U.S. military would be “taking over air traffic control.” The State Department and Defense Departments said the plan was to defend the airfield while accelerating the evacuation of American citizens and allies.
- The U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan has been completely evacuated, reported The Associated Press.
- According to a security alert posted on the U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan’s website, it was recommended that Americans continue to “shelter in place” and fill out a “Repatriation Assistance Request” if they needed help evacuating the country.
As of Monday morning, President Joe Biden had not made a public statement on the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban. He is expected to address the situation at 1:45 p.m. MDT, according to the New York Times.
Taliban capture Afghanistan’s presidential palace
Sunday, Aug. 15
Taliban fighters in Kabul have entered Afghanistan’s presidential palace, according to Al Jazeera, capturing the seat of the Afghan government.
- “The group’s leadership, surrounded by dozens of armed fighters, addressed the media from the country’s seat of power,” reported Al Jazeera.
- President Ashraf Ghani — without making a peace deal with the Taliban — fled the country before the palace was captured.
Former President Hamid Karzai — the first elected president of Afghanistan after coalition forces initially toppled the Taliban early in the war — said he was organizing a council of senior Afghan leaders to negotiate a peaceful transfer of power, The New York Times reported.
The Associated Press reported that commercial flights out of Kabul International Airport had been suspended amid gunfire near the capital airport, but military evacuation flights continued.
President Ashraf Ghani flees as Taliban begin to move into capital city
Sunday, Aug. 15
President Ashraf Ghani has fled Afghanistan as Taliban fighters begin moving into the capital city of Kabul, The Associated Press reported Sunday.
The U.S.-led war in Afghanistan has lasted nearly 20 years and appeared to be coming to an end on Sunday.
Smoke and American military helicopters were seen hovering over the U.S. Embassy in Kabul as diplomats destroyed sensitive documents and were ferried to Kabul International Airport, according to AP.
- U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Ross Wilson had also left the embassy and was setting up a diplomatic post at the airport, CBS News reported Sunday.
- “The security situation in Kabul is changing quickly including at the airport. There are reports of the airport taking fire; therefore we are instructing U.S. citizens to shelter in place,” the U.S. Embassy wrote in a security alert Sunday.
A Taliban blitzkrieg has taken Afghanistan
In only a week, the Taliban has captured the major provincial capital of Afghanistan — to include the second-largest city of Kandahar — and appeared ready to take Kabul without much of a fight.
- Both President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump had set 2021 as the deadline for the U.S. involvement in the decadeslong war.
- American troops — which had all but left the country — have been redeployed to Afghanistan to secure the airport and the U.S. withdrawal from the country.
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said on Twitter that its forces were entering the capital to allegedly maintain security, The New York Times reported.
- “The Islamic Emirates ordered its forces to enter the areas of Kabul city from which the enemy has left because there is risk of theft and robbery,” the spokesman said in the statement, according to the Times. “Our forces are entering Kabul city with all caution.”
Biden sends more troops to secure retreat
President Joe Biden authorized the deployment of 5,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan to ensure an “orderly and safe drawdown” of American citizens and allies out of the country, according to a White House statement Saturday.
- “I was the fourth president to preside over an American troop presence in Afghanistan — two Republicans, two Democrats. I would not, and will not, pass this war onto a fifth,” Biden said in statement.
Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken have both balked at comparisons of the Afghanistan withdrawal to the 1975 airlift of United State’s military and diplomatic personnel from the rooftop of the American embassy at the end of the Vietnam War.