Afghanistan news: Kabul attack Taliban takeover, refugees and US updates – CNN

4 hr 16 min ago

Group in Washington racing to coordinate Afghan evacuations

From CNN’s Hadas Gold

In a conference room at the luxury downtown Washington, DC hotel The Willard, a group of volunteers is trying desperately to get people into the Kabul airport and onto specially chartered planes.

Among those working on Friday evening are military veterans, the deputy ambassador of the Afghan Embassy, former military contractors and more. 

Posters and whiteboards taped to the walls listed the closed airport gates, contact information, and priorities. A screen showed a chart of flights that had been chartered, and their status. 

The volunteers are led by Zach Van Meter, president of private equity firm New Standard Holdings. Van Meter said he was approached for help getting 3,500 orphans out of Kabul. With his connections in the UAE, Van Meter said they were able to be flown out. The command center they set up for that operation at the Willard quickly morphed into getting as many people as they could out on chartered flights. 

The group estimates it has helped about 5,000 individuals leave — but time is running out.

“We’ve been here for a week, but we’ll officially ‘close’ at midnight,” said Van Meter. “As far as we know it, we’ve been told we probably won’t be able to move people through the gates but we’ll hold out hope.” 

If an airport gate would suddenly open, Van Meter said the room would quickly fill with dozens more volunteers. 

Now, though, the group is focusing on keeping people safe on the ground, while helping resettle those who managed to get out.

“If we can’t get people through the gates, it’s hard for us as our entire premise was chartering aircraft, putting them on the ground in Kabul, having them filled and moving them out,” Van Meter said. “If we can’t push flights in and push people to the gates, we have to focus on resettlement.”

Even as we spoke, other volunteers were fielding phone calls, messages, arranging transport, safe houses and more — some for US citizens they said were still trying to leave Afghanistan.  

“There are a whole lot of heroes out there and we’re trying to get them out,” Van Meter said.

5 hr 31 min ago

Officials warn of possible threats to US in wake of Afghanistan attack and mass evacuation

From CNNs Geneva Sands

Federal officials are on high alert for threats to the United States following the mass evacuation from Afghanistan and devastating attack in Kabul this week.

The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is tracking three primary threats — including whether individuals abroad in Afghanistan, who are associated with ISIS or al Qaeda, could use the relocation process as a way to enter the US, according to a federal government call with law enforcement partners obtained by CNN.

“To counteract that, there’s an extensive screening and vetting process that is in place for those who are being relocated to the United States,” DHS intelligence chief John Cohen said on the call Friday.

An official with the FBI said on the call that though there is no specific intelligence on terrorist organizations using relocation as an opportunity, “we cannot discount that it is a possibility.”

There is “a very small number of individuals who’ve been flagged for concern,” said an official with the National Targeting Center on the call, who appeared to be referring to people at so-called “lily pad” transfer point locations like Doha and Qatar.

CNN reached out to the DHS for comment on the call, including for details on the individuals flagged for concern. 

The relocation process: Upon departing Kabul, Afghans are sent to several overseas locations, where they provide biographic and biometric information and are checked against US databases. 

Once these subjects are determined to be “green,” meaning there is no derogatory information, they are placed on US-bound flights.

They go through additional screening once arriving in the US. If they fail primary screening, they undergo a secondary screening, which includes FBI support, US Customs and Border Protection official James McCament said on the call.  

“Now, those who do pass secondary screening will then of course be pulled into the US. Those who do not, however, we will evaluate this further option,” he added. 

It’s unclear what would happen if someone does not pass secondary screening after landing in the US.  

Homegrown threat: The second significant security threat is whether people already in the US, who may be inspired by narratives associated with al Qaeda, ISIS or other foreign terrorist groups, “will view the events in Afghanistan as an opportunity to engage in violence here at home,” Cohen said.

The ability to detect threats from homegrown violent extremists represents a challenge for officials because there may not be direct intelligence prior to an act of violence being committed.

White supremacists: The third threat concern is individuals who are inspired or motivated to violence based on their connection with a domestic violent extremist narrative.  

Some antigovernment and white supremacist groups have expressed concern on online platforms that the arriving Afghans would degrade the control and authority of the white race, Cohen said — which “may incite violent activities directed at immigrant communities, certain faith communities, or even those who are relocated to the United States.”

Additionally, there are narratives framing the activities of the Taliban as a success with commentary focusing on potential acts of violence directed at US government, law enforcement, and others who are symbols of the current government structure.

6 hr 21 min ago

President Biden approved the strike against ISIS-K planner

From CNN’s Kaitlan Collins

President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the terror attack at the Kabul International Airport, on Thursday, August 26.
President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the terror attack at the Kabul International Airport, on Thursday, August 26. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

President Biden approved the strike against the ISIS-K planner, an official said. 

According to a statement from Central Command spokesperson Capt. Bill Urban, “the unmanned airstrike occurred in the Nangarhar Province of Afghanistan. Initial indications are that we killed the target.”

“We know of no civilian casualties,” the statement said.

Reporting from CNN’s Jamie Crawford and Oren Liebermann contributed to this post.

UPDATE: This story has been updated with US Central Command’s corrected spelling of the Nangarhar Province.

7 hr 31 min ago

US Embassy in Kabul again warns US citizens to leave airport gates “immediately”

From CNN’s Jennifer Hansler

 The US Embassy in Kabul again warned US citizens at a number of gates at the airport to “leave immediately,” citing security threats.

The alert advised US citizens “to avoid traveling to the airport and to avoid airport gates.”

Some context: Following a deadly terrorist attack at one of the gates of the Hamid Karzai International Airport on Thursday, President Biden’s national security team told him Friday that “another terror attack in Kabul is likely, but that they are taking maximum force protection measures at the Kabul Airport,” according to White House press secretary Jen Psaki.

6 hr 20 min ago

US military conducts airstrike against ISIS-K planner

From CNN’s Jamie Crawford and Oren Liebermann

President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the terror attack outside Kabul International Airport, on Thursday, August 26.
President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the terror attack outside Kabul International Airport, on Thursday, August 26. (Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)

The US has conducted an airstrike against an ISIS-K planner, Central Command spokesperson Capt. Bill Urban said in a statement.

“US military forces conducted an over-the-horizon counterterrorism operation today against an ISIS-K planner. The unmanned airstrike occurred in the Nangarhar Province of Afghanistan. Initial indications are that we killed the target. We know of no civilian casualties,” the statement said.

UPDATE: This story has been updated with US Central Command’s corrected spelling of the Nangarhar Province.

7 hr 58 min ago

Parents of US Navy corpsman killed in Kabul share their son’s last words

From CNN’s Catherine Carter and Paul P. Murphy

US Navy corpsman Maxton Soviak died in Thursday’s bombing outside Kabul International Airport, the family told CNN in a statement. 

“He was most proud to be a Navy corpsman and a ‘Devil Doc’ for the Marines,” his parents, Kip and Rachel Soviak, told CNN in a statement. “His final words to [Rachel] over FaceTime, when he was telling her goodbye was after she told him to be safe and he said ‘Don’t worry mom, my guys got me they won’t let anything happen to me.'” 

“Today she realized that they all just went together,” the statement says.   

“Maxton was [an] awesome young man that was well-liked in the community as evidenced by the outpouring of condolences from teachers, coaches, employers, family, and friends,” the statement said. “Maxton was always proud of being part of a state champion wrestling team and state playoff final four football team two years in a row.” 

8 hr 10 min ago

Family of US Marine killed in Kabul says he had a “tough outer shell and giant heart”

From CNN’s Monica Serrano, Andy Rose and Paul P. Murphy 

A US Marine from Nebraska was among the service members killed in the bombing in Kabul, Afghanistan, Thursday. 

Cpl. Daegan Page was 23 years old, his family said in a statement provided to CNN. 

“Daegan will always be remembered for his tough outer shell and giant heart,” the family statement said. “Our hearts are broken, but we are thankful for the friends and family who are surrounding us during this time.” They said he planned to possibly become a lineman once his Marine enlistment was finished. 

Page was raised partly in Iowa and near Omaha, Nebraska, and served at Camp Pendleton in California.  

“He loved hunting and spending time outdoors with his dad, as well as being out on the water,” said the family. “He was also an animal lover with a soft spot in his heart for dogs.” 

The statement said that Page joined the US Marine Corps after graduating from Millard South High School. He was a longtime Boy Scout and “enjoyed playing hockey for Omaha Westside in the Omaha Hockey Club and was a diehard Chicago Blackhawks fan.” 

10 hr 14 min ago

Sister of US Marine killed in Kabul attack says he made the “ultimate sacrifice”

From CNN’s Gloria De Leon

US Marine Rylee McCollum.
US Marine Rylee McCollum. (Courtesy The McCollum Family)

The family of US Marine Rylee McCollum confirmed to CNN that he died in Thursday’s suicide bombing outside Kabul’s international airport.

Roice McCollum, Rylee’s older sister, said her brother was “an amazing man with a passion for the Marines.”

He was a son, a brother, a husband and a father with a baby due in just three weeks,” she told CNN in a statement, saying that Rylee had wanted to be a Marine his whole life, so much so that even as a toddler he carried around a toy rifle in his diapers and cowboy boots.

Roice said that her brother, a native of Wyoming, was on his first deployment and had been determined to be in the infantry. He was sent to Afghanistan when the evacuation began and had been manning the checkpoint when the explosion occurred, she said.

“Rylee wanted to be a history teacher and a wrestling coach when he finished serving his country,” she said. “Rylee will always be a hero not just for the ultimate sacrifice he made for our country but for the way he impacted every life around him for the better. Making us stronger, kinder, teaching us to love deeper. We love you Rylee.”

Rylee, she said, was tough but kind and loving and “made an impact on everyone he met.”

10 hr 26 min ago

About 4,200 people evacuated from Kabul over a 12-hour stretch Friday

From CNN’s Jason Hoffman

About 4,200 people were evacuated from Kabul on Friday, according to the White House.

The evacuations were carried out from 3 a.m. ET to 3 p.m. ET by 12 US military flights that evacuated about 2,100 evacuees and 29 coalition flights that also evacuated approximately 2,100 people.

Approximately 7,500 people were evacuated from Kabul over the same 12-hour stretch of time on Thursday.

Since Aug. 14, the US has evacuated and facilitated the evacuation of about 109,200 people, according to the White House.