The latest developments on Afghanistan, where a Taliban blitz has taken large swathes of territory just weeks before the final pullout of American and NATO troops:
The United States is sending another 1,000 troops to Afghanistan, raising the US deployment to roughly 6,000.
A defense official tells The Associated Press on Sunday that 1,000 troops from the 82nd Airborne are going directly to Kabul instead of going to Kuwait as a standby force.
The defense official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss a deployment decision not yet announced by the Pentagon.
On Saturday, President Joe Biden authorised the US troop deployment to rise to roughly 5,000 by adding about 1,000.
A Taliban spokesman and negotiator said told The Associated Press on Sunday that the militant group is holding talks aimed at forming an “open, inclusive Islamic government” in Afghanistan.
Suhail Shaheen spoke to the AP after the Taliban overran most of the country in a matter of days and pushed into the capital, Kabul, as the United States scrambled to withdraw diplomats and other civilians.
Earlier, a Taliban official said the group would announce a new government from the presidential palace, but those plans appear to be on hold.
Britain's Defence Ministry says UK troops have arrived in Kabul to help evacuate remaining Britons there.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said after chairing a Cabinet emergency committee meeting Sunday that the priority is to get out British nationals, as well as Afghans who helped UK forces in Afghanistan over the past 20 years, “as fast as we can.” “The ambassador is working round the clock, has been there in the airport to help process the applications,” he told Sky News.
“We certainly have the means at the moment to get them out ... It's just a question of making sure that they're able to do it over the next few days.” The “vast bulk” of embassy staff and officials have already left Afghanistan, Mr Johnson added.
The UN Security Council will hold an emergency meeting on Afghanistan on Monday morning at the request of Estonia and Norway.
Council diplomats said Sunday that UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres will brief council members on the latest situation following the Taliban takeover of the capital, Kabul.
The UN chief on Friday had urged the Taliban to immediately halt their offensive in Afghanistan and negotiate “in good faith” to avert a prolonged civil war.
He also said he is “deeply disturbed by early indications that the Taliban are imposing severe restrictions in the areas under their control, particularly targeting women and journalists.
The Al-Jazeera news network is airing footage of a large group of Taliban militants inside the presidential palace in the Afghan capital.
The Taliban are expected to announce their takeover from the palace, renaming the country as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.
The militants have taken over most of Afghanistan in a matter of days as the US scrambles to withdraw after 20 years of war.
Senior U.S. military officials say Kabul’s international airport has been closed to commercial flights as military evacuations continue.
The suspension of commercial flights cuts off one of the last avenues to escape the country for Afghans fearful of Taliban rule. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss ongoing operations.
The Taliban have said that their militants have entered multiple districts in the Afghan capital Kabul, while sources said they had also taken over the presidential palace, hours after leader Ashraf Ghani fled the country.
"Military units of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan have entered Kabul city to ensure security," Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid tweeted, adding that "their advance is continuing normally".
Three senior Taliban sources also told AFP that the insurgents had taken control of the presidential palace.
"Taliban (fighters) have entered the presidential palace," one senior Taliban commander told AFP.
"The mujahideen have entered the presidential palace and have taken control of it," a second commander said, adding that a meeting on security in the capital was taking place there.
A Taliban official says the group will soon declare the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan from the presidential palace in the capital, Kabul.
That was the name of the country under the Taliban government ousted by U.S.-led forces after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief media.
The U.S. Embassy in Kabul has suspended all operations and told Americans to shelter in place, saying it has received reports of gunfire at the international airport.
The U.S. is racing to airlift diplomats and citizens out of Afghanistan after the Taliban overran most of the country and entered the capital.
“The security situation in Kabul is changing quickly and the situation at the airport is deteriorating rapidly," the embassy said in a statement.
"There are reports of the airport taking fire and we are instructing U.S. citizens to shelter in place. The U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan has suspended consular operations effective immediately. Do not come to the Embassy or airport at this time.”
France relocating embassy
France is relocating its embassy in Kabul to the airport to evacuate all citizens still in Afghanistan, initially transferring them to Abu Dhabi.
Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drain said in a statement that military reinforcements and aircraft would deploy in the hours ahead to the United Arab Emirates, “so that the first evacuations toward Abu Dhabi can start.”
Evacuations have been in progress for weeks and a charter flight put in place by France in mid-July. Since May, France has taken in Afghan employees at French structures under potential threat, with 600 people relocated to France.
France gradually pulled out troops from Afghanistan between 2013 and 2015, and since then former personnel who worked for the French Army and their families, some 1,350 Afghans, were brought to France, the statement said.
The Taliban has ordered its fighters to enter the Afghan capital Kabul to prevent looting after local police deserted their posts, a spokesman for the militant group said on Sunday.
The statement by Zabihullah Mujahid came shortly after a leading Afghan peace envoy said President Ashraf Ghani had left the country
US embassy staff in Kabul were being moved Sunday to the airport as Taliban forces advance on the Afghan capital, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said.
"It's why we had forces on hand to make sure we could do this in a safe and orderly fashion. The compound itself, folks are leaving there and going to the airport," Mr. Blinken told ABC.
The United States says levels of violence in Afghanistan are unacceptably high and not consistent with the U.S.-Taliban peace agreement, U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price said.
"Certainly the levels of violence, do not appear consistent with what the Taliban pledged in that agreement," Price told reporters in reference to the Agreement for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan signed in 2020.
NATO said on Sunday that finding a political solution to Afghanistan conflict was more pressing "than ever" as the Taliban stood poised to take power on the outskirts of Kabul.
"We support Afghan efforts to find a political solution to the conflict, which is now more urgent than ever," an official at the 30-nation alliance told AFP.
The official said "NATO is constantly assessing developments in Afghanistan" following a lightning sweep by the insurgents to the edge of the capital.
"We are helping to maintain operations at Kabul airport to keep Afghanistan connected with the world," the official said.
"We also maintain our diplomatic presence in Kabul. The security of our personnel is paramount, and we continue to adjust as necessary."
An Afghanistan government delegation, including senior official Abdullah Abdullah, will travel to Qatar on Sunday to meet with representatives of the Taliban, an Afghanistan negotiator said.
Fawzi Koofi, a member of the Kabul negotiating team, confirmed to Reuters the delegation would meet with the Taliban in the Gulf state after the militant group earlier entered Kabul.
A source familiar with the matter told Reuters the Afghan delegation and Taliban representatives would discuss a transition of power, adding that U.S. officials would also be involved.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani urged government forces on Sunday to maintain security in Kabul, after the Taliban paused their sweeping advance on the outskirts of the capital, causing widespread panic.
“It is our responsibility and we will do it in the best possible manner. Anyone who thinks about chaos, plunder or looting will be tackled with force,” he said in a video released to media. - AFP
India has put in place contingency plans to evacuate hundreds of its officials and citizens from Kabul that has been gripped by fear and panic following reports of Taliban fighters entering the outskirts of the Afghan capital city on Sunday.
People familiar with the development said the government will not put the lives of its staffers at the Indian embassy and Indian citizens in Kabul at any risk and plans have already been finalised in case they require emergency evacuation.
"The government is closely monitoring the fast-paced developments in Afghanistan. We will not put the lives of our staff at the Indian embassy in Kabul at any risk," said one of the persons cited above. - PTI
Pope Francis said Sunday that he shares “the unanimous concern for the situation in Afghanistan" as Taliban fighters sweep across the war-torn country.
He spoke as the Taliban entered the outskirts of Kabul, the Afghan capital, and said they were awaiting a “peaceful transfer” of the city.
From a window overlooking St. Peter's Square, the pope asked for prayers “so that the clamor of weapons may cease and solutions may be found at the negotiating table.” He added that “only in this way, may the battered population of the country — men and women, elderly and children — return to their homes and live in peace and safety, with full mutual respect.”
The British parliament will be recalled from its summer recess next week to discuss the situation in Afghanistan, a source at Prime Minister Boris Johnson's Downing Street office said on Sunday, as Taliban insurgents entered Kabul.
The entry into the capital caps a lightning advance by the Islamist militants, who were ousted 20 years ago by the United States after the Sept. 11 attacks.
Britain's interior ministry said earlier that it was working to protect its citizens and help other eligible former UK staff to leave Afghanistan. - Reuters
An Afghan official says forces at Bagram air base, home to a prison housing 5,000 inmates, have surrendered to the Taliban.
Bagram district chief Darwaish Raufi said Sunday that the surrender handed the one-time American base over to the insurgents.
The prison housed both Taliban and Islamic State group fighters.
It came as the Taliban entered the outskirts of Kabul. - AP
Russia is working with other countries to hold an emergency UN Security Council meeting on Afghanistan as the Taliban completes its military takeover of the country, foreign ministry official Zamir Kabulov told Russian news agencies.
"We are working on this," Kabulov said, adding that the meeting will take place.
Russia is one of five permanent members of the UN Security Council, along with the United States, Britain, France, and China.
Kabulov also said Moscow does not plan to evacuate its embassy in Kabul, saying the Taliban had offered Russia and other countries -- which he did not name -- security assurances for their missions in Afghanistan. - AFP
An Afghan official tells The Associated Press that Taliban negotiators are heading to the presidential palace to prepare for a "transfer" of power.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of fear of reprisals, said Sunday that the goal was a peaceful handing over of the government to the Taliban.
The Taliban fighters on Sunday, August 15, 2021, entered the outskirts of Kabul while panicked workers fled government offices and helicopters landed at the U.S. Embassy in the Afghan capital as the militants’ further tightened their grip on the country.
Meanwhile, Taliban fighters were ordered to wait at the gates of Kabul and not enter the city, an insurgent spokesman said, after the complete collapse of the country’s security forces.
“The Islamic Emirate instructs all its forces to stand at the gates of Kabul, not to try to enter the city,” a spokesman for the Taliban tweeted, although some residents reported insurgents had peacefully entered some outer suburbs.
Three Afghan officials told The Associated Press that the Taliban were in the districts of Kalakan, Qarabagh and Paghman in the capital. The militants later pledged not to take the capital “by force” as sporadic gunfire could be heard in the capital.
The Taliban seized the city of Jalalabad early August 15, cutting off Afghanistan's increasingly isolated capital Kabul to the east.
The collapse of Jalalabad, which had been the last major city standing besides Kabul, leaves Afghanistan's central government in control of just the capital and seven other provincial capitals. In a nationwide offensive that has taken just over a week, the Taliban has defeated, co-opted or sent Afghan security forces fleeing from wide swathes of the country, even with some air support by the U.S. military.
An Afghan official and the Taliban say the militants have seized the provincial capital of Khost.
That leaves Afghanistan’s central government in control of just Kabul and five other provincial capitals out of the country’s 34.
Albania's prime minister says his country will temporarily shelter hundreds of Afghans who worked with the Western peacekeeping military forces and are now threatened by the Taliban.
On his Facebook page, Edi Rama said the U.S. government had asked Albania to serve as a “transit place for a certain number of Afghan political emigrants who have the United States as their final destination.”
“No doubt we shall not say no,” he said.
He added that the Albanian government has also responded positively to requests from two U.S. NGOs to shelter hundreds of Afghan intellectuals and women activists who have been threatened with execution by the Taliban.
British media are reporting that the U.K.’s ambassador to Afghanistan is to be airlifted out of the country by Monday evening amid fears that the Taliban could seize the airport imminently.
The Foreign Office had intended for Laurie Bristow and a small team of officials to remain at the airport with other international diplomats. But the Sunday Telegraph reported that their departure had been brought forward. The Foreign Office declined comment.
Last week the defense ministry said 600 British troops were being deployed to Kabul to help evacuate some 3,000 British nationals and about 2,000 Afghans who worked with British forces.
On August 14, 2021, the Taliban captured a large, heavily defended city in northern Afghanistan in a major setback for the government.
The fall of Mazar-e-Sharif, the country's fourth largest city, which Afghan forces and two powerful former warlords had pledged to defend, handed the insurgents control over all of northern Afghanistan.
Afghanistan’s beleaguered President vowed on Saturday to prevent further bloodshed, as Taliban fighters closed in on Kabul after routing his armed forces over the past 10 days.
In a recorded address to the nation — his first since the Taliban launched their sweeping offensive — Ashraf Ghani said he wanted to stop the violence “as a historic mission”.
“I will not let the imposed war on people cause more deaths,” he said.
American troops have flown into Kabul to help evacuate embassy personnel and other civilians in the Afghan capital, a U.S. official said on Saturday, a day after Taliban insurgents seized the country's second- and third-biggest cities.
The Pentagon has said two battalions of Marines and one infantry battalion will arrive in Kabul by Sunday evening, involving about 3,000 troops.
"They have arrived, their arrival will continue 'till tomorrow," the U.S. official told Reuters on condition of anonymity.