This story will be updated with breaking news on the fall of Afghanistan. All times given are in Eastern Standard Time.
4 p.m., Tuesday, Aug. 17
Following the video documentation, press reports, and social media posts about the loss of civilian life during a C-17 aircraft takeoff Monday, the Air Force Office of Special Investigations is reviewing information about the incident.
The announcement from the Air Force noted the discovery of human remains in the wheel well of the aircraft after it landed at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar.
“Our hearts go out to the families of the deceased,” an Air Force release reads. “Alongside our joint force, interagency, and international partners, the U.S. Air Force remains laser-focused on maintaining security at HKIA to prevent a situation like this from happening again as we safely process Afghan civilians seeking to depart the country.”
3:30 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 17
President Joe Biden’s administration has frozen Afghan funds, depriving the Taliban of billions in government funds.
3 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 17
The Washington Post tweeted now-public information about Maj. Gen. Chris Donahue deploying to Kabul, noting his crisis expertise and his long background in special operations from his time in Syria and on Gen. Scott Miller’s staff in Afghanistan from 2019-2020. Donahue is the current commander of the 82nd Airborne Division.
2:15 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 17
YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter all highlighted their policies against violent organizations and hateful conduct, noting messages and accounts put out by the Taliban are banned.
According to YouTube, the service bans accounts believed to be owned and operated by the Taliban, Reuters reported. Additionally, WhatsApp shut down a complaints helpline the Taliban set up after they took control of the Afghan capital, Kabul, according to the Reuters story.
A WhatsApp spokesperson said the service was obligated by US sanction laws to ban accounts representing themselves as official accounts of the Taliban.
“The Taliban is sanctioned as a terrorist organization under US law and we have banned them from our services under our Dangerous Organisation policies,” a Facebook spokesperson said. The ban includes any accounts maintained by or on behalf of the Taliban, and it prohibits praise, support, and representation of the organization, the spokesperson said.
Twitter, despite the Taliban’s frequent use of the platform, highlighted its own policies against “violent organizations and hateful conduct.”
1:45 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 17
If you’re a vet getting pinged by ANASOF/interpreters looking for help to get out and you need resources please DM me. Trying to help coordinate and flatten comms.— Drew Duggins (@ajduggins) August 17, 2021
1:30 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 17
A Department of Defense briefing announced that nine C-17s arrived in Afghanistan last night, bringing in equipment and about 1,000 US troops. Another seven C-17s departed Afghanistan, evacuating between 700 and 800 passengers, to include 165 US citizens.
1:20 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 17:
A Taliban spokesperson held a news conference today in Kabul to announce “amnesty” in the country and a greater role for women in future Afghan governments. Leaders also said they would not seek revenge on Afghan citizens who worked with former government and/or foreign powers.
“We don’t want any internal or external enemies,” Zabihullah Mujahid said.
They also stated that families who have fled to Kabul airport in an effort to leave the country would not be harmed if they chose to stay.
According to a translation by Al Jazeera, Mujahid said: “I would like to reassure all the compatriots, whether they were translators, whether they had military activities or whether they have been civilians, all of them have been pardoned. Nobody is going to be treated with revenge. The youths who have talents, who have grown up here – we do not want them to leave. These are our assets, we would like them to stay here to serve. We would like to assure you that no one is going to knock on their door to inspect them or to ask them or interrogate them as to who they have been working for or interpreting for. I would like to assure you that no harm is going to come, they are going to be safe.”
“There may be other sites identified if services are needed, additional capacity is needed,” said Department of Defense official Gary Reed during a press conference. “At this point we’re looking to establish 20,000 to 22,000 spaces. We can expand if we need to.”
Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said the facilities at Fort Lee, Virginia, will also continue to accept incoming refugees.
11:20 p.m. Monday, Aug. 16:
Reuters is reporting that the US military has resumed evacuation flights out of Kabul after temporarily suspending them due to the tarmac being overrun with thousands of people attempting to escape the Taliban-controlled nation.
In addition to widely viewed footage of humans falling to their death from US Air Force C-17 aircraft departing Kabul, disturbing videos have surfaced of humans stuck in the wheel well of US military aircraft in flight. According to the Washington Post, the aircraft diverted to a third country where the remains were discovered by crew members after landing. The extreme measures some Afghan citizens are taking to flee the country underscore the dire situation they face after the government collapsed over the weekend.
4:50 p.m. Monday, Aug. 16:
President Joe Biden announced he does not regret his decision to pull out of Afghanistan. The rapid deterioration of the military and political system only reinforced his belief that no amount of time in Afghanistan could have saved the country from the Taliban and collapse.
Biden reiterated his point that the mission was to degrade the operational capabilities of terrorist organizations and hold Usama Bin Laden responsible for the attacks on 9/11. It was never about nation building or conducting counterinsurgency operations, he announced during Monday’s presidential address.
Having inherited an agreement from his predecessor, Biden said he was forced to choose between adhering to the agreement to pull US forces out, or increase the military presence for a fight that is no longer our own.
“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.
The mission now, he explained, was to get Americans, our allies, and vulnerable parts of the population out of the country.
“Once we have completed this mission, we will conclude our military withdrawal. We will end America’s longest war after 20 long years of bloodshed,” Biden said. “The events we see now are sadly proof that no amount of military force would ever deliver a stable, united, secure Afghanistan.”
4:30 p.m. Monday, Aug. 16:
In a count, Coffee or Die Magazine estimated close to 400 people in the picture.
4:15 p.m. Monday, Aug. 16:
A photo posted to the Facebook group Air Force amn/nco/snco appears to show many hundreds of Afghan refugees being flown out of Kabul Monday night. No information was attached to the photo, but it is clearly the interior of a C-17. Unlike other photos circulating claiming to be from Kabul but more likely from a 2013 airlift in the Philippines, the passengers in this photo — particularly women — are wearing distinctive clothing common in Muslim culture.
Coffee or Die reported Monday that a flight may have left Kabul Monday with 800 passengers.
12:50 p.m. Monday, Aug. 16:
The Department of Defense has confirmed that two individuals, who have not been confirmed as Taliban fighters, opened fire at the Hamid Karzai International Airport Monday. Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said one US service member may have been wounded in the exchange, according to preliminary reports.
The situation in Afghanistan continues to evolve with acts of violence on the rise. Another battalion from the 82nd Airborne is gearing up for Kabul, which will place another 1,000 or so troops on the ground.
President Joe Biden announced he will address the nation about the chaos at 3:45 p.m. today.
9:30 a.m. Monday, Aug. 16:
Videos posted to social media from Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport appear to show terrible scenes of panic and death.
In one video, a crowd swarms a US Air Force C-17 as it taxis, with several people climbing onto the plane’s landing gear apron. In that video — and mirrored in a similar one that may be of the same incident — the C-17 takes off with some people still clinging to the outside of the plane, who then fall from almost certainly unsurvivable heights as the plane ascends.
The following videos depict likely death by falling.
— Aśvaka – آسواکا News Agency (@AsvakaNews) August 16, 2021
Exclusive- A clear video (from other angle) of men falling from C-17. They were Clinging to some parts of the plane that took off from Kabul airport today. #Talibans #Afghanistan #Afghanishtan pic.twitter.com/CMNW5ngqrK
— Aśvaka – آسواکا News Agency (@AsvakaNews) August 16, 2021
It is unlikely that the crew of the C-17 knew that people were clinging to the aircraft. But even if the crew knew, US Air Force pilots fly under strict rules of engagement that they are both required and expected to resist any effort to hijack their aircraft, which an attempt to prevent a takeoff would be.
Other videos show extraordinary flying by AH-64 Apache pilots literally clearing crowds off a runway as a C-17 taxis.
Unbelievable scenes on Kabul’s runway. A pair of US Army AH-64 Apache helicopters clearing Afghan panicked, desperate crowds from the tarmac so that giant C-17 can take off. pic.twitter.com/qpQOFAqEDZ
— Shiv Aroor (@ShivAroor) August 16, 2021
4:45 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 15: The Pentagon has upped the commitment of troops to the ground in Afghanistan to 6,000, up from 5,000 announced Saturday and 3,000 announced Thursday. The latest 1,000 will be paratroopers with the 82nd Airborne, bringing the total of 82nd troops headed into the country at 2,000. An additional 2,000 will be Marines.
#BREAKING: Pentagon is rushing additional 1000 US troops to Hamid Karzai Airport in Kabul. Overall number of US troops at the airport and the US embassy will go up to 6000 now. Rescue of US diplomats, staff and visa applicants underway on mission mode.
— Aditya Raj Kaul (@AdityaRajKaul) August 15, 2021
Elsewhere, sources on the ground for Coffee or Die Magazine have reported gunfire near Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport while many international media outlets have posted videos of huge crowds and chaos on the tarmac as thousands hope for a flight out.
Hamid Karzai international airport. 16 August, 2021. pic.twitter.com/LXsAQPpFXG
— BILAL SARWARY (@bsarwary) August 15, 2021
— Reuters (@Reuters) August 15, 2021
8:20 a.m. Sunday, Aug. 15: Diplomats at the US Embassy are evacuating to Kabul’s central airport, according to numerous media reports, while the Afghan government led by President Ashraf Ghani is reported to be in discussions to peacefully relinquish power to the Taliban in the nation’s capital city.
Interior Minister Abdul Sattar Mirzakwal told the Agence France-Presse that there would be a “peaceful transfer of power.”
“There will be no attack on the city and there will be a peaceful transfer of power to the transitional government,” Mirzakwal said, according to AFP. “The safety of the city is guaranteed, there will be no attack on the city, and the agreement is such that the transition of power will take place in a peaceful manner.”
Journalists and social media users are posting pictures of helicopters flying in and out of the US Embassy evacuating diplomats and personnel.
— Liz Sly (@LizSly) August 15, 2021
And so it goes. The end. pic.twitter.com/PaoTLei8S9
— Yaroslav Trofimov (@yarotrof) August 15, 2021
The Taliban is reported to have released prisoners from jails near the Kabul airport and Bagram Airfield.
BREAKING: Afghan official says troops surrender Bagram air base to Taliban; base is home to prison housing 5,000 inmates. https://t.co/cnHkuln4wJ
— The Associated Press (@AP) August 15, 2021
Prisoners leaving Kabul jail after being broken out by Taliban. pic.twitter.com/B84F2UrtEA
— Richard Engel (@RichardEngel) August 15, 2021
9 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 14: As dawn nears in Afghanistan, events continue to unspool rapidly.
Fighting has been reported in Kabul throughout the night, though it is unclear if it marks the beginning of an offensive by the Taliban to take the capital, and there are no reports as of yet of US engagement in fighting. Several outlets reported shooting and violence near Pule Charkhi prison in the city.
#AFG Constant gunfire reported by residents in Kabul’s PD12. Some residents tells me, “ Some prisoners out of the Pule Charkhi prison.”Trying to find out more from Kabul police and government officials.
— BILAL SARWARY (@bsarwary) August 14, 2021
However, there were no credible reports of the prison being broken, and the nation’s first vice president tweeted that the prison had been secured.
I am awake. It is 0210 Kabul time. The riot in Poli Charkhi prison was managed. Inmates were led back to their cells. They should sleep and not listen to zombies.
— Amrullah Saleh (@AmrullahSaleh2) August 14, 2021
The final independent city in the nation other than Kabul is Jalalabad near the Pakistan border. Its status is unclear and reports from the ground on social media do not paint a coherent picture of which forces, if any, control the city. But multiple reports say a US-trained special operations unit known as the National Directorate of Security Unit 2, or NDS 2, staged a street-by-street fight against advancing Taliban forces that attempted to enter the city. The NDS unit may now have withdrawn, clearing the way to an otherwise peaceful handover of the city.
Jalalabad, the last major city standing other than Kabul will be handed over to Taliban tomorrow without a shot being fired.
The governor & tribal leaders negotiated an agreement after NDS 02 Brigade refused to surrender. The brigade has agreed to leave for Kabul. #Afghanistan
— Bashir Ahmad Gwakh (@bashirgwakh) August 14, 2021
A tweet from an account that appears to be associated with the unit appeared to confirm that the unit was out of the city, and moving between Kabul and Jalalabad.
(From Google translate: Zero Two units of National Security Special Forces patrol for security on Kabul-Jalalabad highway! Meanwhile, special security forces are conducting patrols and searches in different parts of Jalalabad to control the Taliban.)
د ملي امنیت ځانګړو ځواکونو صفر دوه قطعې سرتېري د کابل جلال اباد لویې لارې امنیت لپاره په ګزمه ووتل!
— NDS 02 Unit (ملی امنیت ۰۲ قطعه) (@02_nds) August 14, 2021
5 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 14: The city of Mazar-i-Sharif, the last holdout city in the anti-Taliban north of Afghanistan, fell in overnight fighting, and reports of fighting in Jalalabad are trickling out.
Together, the two cities were the last holdouts in Afghanistan besides the nation’s capital, Kabul.
In Washington, President Joe Biden has upped the American commitment of combat troops to Afghanistan from the 3,000 announced Thursday to 5,000. The 5,000 troops will include 1,000 troops assigned to the US Embassy, the 3,000 troops Biden ordered to the region Thursday, and an additional 1,000 troops from the 82nd Airborne called up Saturday, according to a Defense Department official.
Some media are reporting that Jalalabad may have already been handed over by local security forces, but other accounts on social media, including those of Jalalabad officials, claim the city near the border with Pakistan in Afghanistan’s eastern mountains remains in government control.
A tweet from the governor of Jalalabad’s province, Nangarhar, reads, according to Google Translate: “Dear Nangarharians! I and the provincial leadership are in Nangarhar. You don’t have to worry! The various rumors on social media are baseless. We work together to protect your head and property. Yours sincerely.”
زه او د ولايت رهبري په ننګرهار کې يو.
تاسې هېڅ تشويش مه کوئ!
په ټولنيزو رسنيو کې بېلابېلې اوازې او غوغا بې ځايه ده.
موږ په ګډه ستاسې د سر او مال د ساتنې هڅه کوو.
— Ziaulhaq Amarkhil (@ZiaulhaqAmarkhi) August 14, 2021
But the fall of Mazar has been widely confirmed by media and officials.
Mazar-i-Sharif has long been the home of anti-Taliban forces and warlords, including warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum, who has led anti-Taliban militias for more than two decades. Dostum’s forces were said to have fled to Termez in Uzbekistan. Independent journalist Bilal Sarway published video on his Twitter account of what he said was Dostum’s forces on a bridge that appears to be the Afghanistan-Uzbekistan Friendship Bridge in Termez that marks the border between the countries. The same account tweeted video of what it described as Taliban soldiers in an opulent home it said belonged to Dostum.
Taliban inside General Dostum’s house. pic.twitter.com/yVj1hu3gUd
— BILAL SARWARY (@bsarwary) August 14, 2021