Tuesday briefing: Defiant Biden defends Afghan withdrawal

Top story: ‘Thrown back into oppression’

Hello, Warren Murray with Tuesday’s headlines.

Joe Biden has said US troops in Kabul will stay long enough to evacuate American citizens and eligible Afghan allies, and warned the Taliban of a “devastating” response to any attempt to attack or disrupt the operation. The president made a televised address following the fall of the Afghan capital – admitting his administration was caught out by the speed of the Taliban victory, which he attributed to lack of leadership from Ashraf Ghani’s ousted government and a lack of will to fight in the Afghan armed forces. “We gave them every chance to determine their own future. What we could not provide them was the will to fight for that future,” he said.

Play Video 3:24 ‘I stand squarely behind my decision’: defiant Biden defends withdrawal from Afghanistan – video

More details have emerged of the desperate and chaotic scenes at Kabul airport. One photo shows a reported 640 Afghans packed into a US C-17 Globemaster III. US defence officials reportedly said the passengers – among them women and children – were safely evacuated to Qatar. Some panicked Afghans had pulled themselves on to the C-17’s half-open ramp, Defense One reported.

Facebook Twitter Afghans inside a C-17 Globemaster III, flown from Afghanistan to Qatar. Photograph: Courtesy of Defense One

Other planes may have carried even more passengers. Video footage showed hundreds of people running alongside a military carrier as it travelled down the runway. At least two apparently fell to their deaths from the undercarriage soon after takeoff.

In Kabul and cities across the country, Taliban forces have asserted control ahead of an expected announcement of an “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan” in the coming days. Who will be its ruler? The most likely candidate is the current supreme leader of the Taliban, Haibatullah Akhundzada, a 60-year-old Islamic legal scholar who took over when his predecessor, Akhtar Mansour, was killed in a US drone strike near the Afghan-Pakistan border in 2016. He sits at the top of a roster of seasoned militants who might play key roles in the regime in Kabul, whatever form it takes.

Veterans of the 20-year conflict have been left asking whether it was all worth it. Andrew Fox, a former major in the Parachute Regiment who did three tours of Afghanistan, said: “It’s like the defining feature of our adult lives has turned out to be pointless … On patrols we’d see the little girls and boys running around playing with their kites and they would talk to us and take a few sweets. The thought of those lovely little kids growing up to be adults who only knew a degree of freedom and suddenly being thrown back into oppression is heartbreaking.”

‘He’d be gone’ – Family of a mother and son who were shot through their front door by the Plymouth attacker have voiced anger at police for reinstating his gun licence weeks before the mass shooting. The son suffered stomach wounds and his mother was injured in the hand. “If he [the son] hadn’t slammed the door, he’d be gone,” a relative told the Guardian. Devon and Cornwall police returned a gun licence to the attacker, Jake Davison, 22, last month after revoking it in December after he got into a fight. The Independent Office of Police Conduct has begun an investigation of the reinstatement. The government has announced all applicants for permission to own a firearm will be subject to social media checks.

Hydrogen economy – About 3 million households in the UK could begin using low-carbon hydrogen to heat their homes and cook rather than fossil fuel gas under government proposals to attract at least £4bn of investment and create 5 gigawatts of hydrogen production. The plan for a UK-wide hydrogen economy suggests it could cover 20-35% of Britain’s energy consumption by 2050. Separately, three-quarters of people in G20 nations believe humanity is pushing the planet towards a dangerous tipping point and support a shift of priorities away from economic profit, according to a global survey.

Dylan faces grooming lawsuit – A lawsuit alleges that Bob Dylan, the Nobel-winning folk singer-songwriter, gave a 12-year-old girl drugs and alcohol before sexually abusing her in 1965. The plaintiff is identified in Manhattan supreme court papers, obtained by the Guardian, only as “JC” and it is alleged Dylan groomed her over the course of six weeks. A spokesman for Dylan, now 80, told the Guardian on Monday that “the 56-year-old claim is untrue and will be vigorously defended”.

Bigger slice of pi – Swiss researchers have used a supercomputer to calculate the mathematical constant pi to a new world-record level of exactitude, hitting 62.8 trillion figures. It took 108 days and nine hours, said the Graubuenden University of Applied Sciences – “almost twice as fast as the record Google set using its cloud in 2019, and 3.5 times as fast as the previous world record in 2020”. The previous world-record pi calculation achieved 50 trillion figures. World’s most precisely drawn circle coming up next?

Today in Focus podcast: Taliban back in control

The departure of US forces was followed by a rout of Afghan government forces. Now, after 20 years of western intervention, Afghanistan is back under the control of the Taliban.

Today in Focus Taliban back in control Sorry your browser does not support audio – but you can download here and listen https://audio.guim.co.uk/2021/08/16-71730-20210817TIFafghanistan.mp3 00:00:00 00:31:22

Lunchtime read: Obama – the style and the substance

A look back at the official photographs of Barack Obama’s presidency shows his skill at conjuring a sense of pride and possibility – but today his victories seem narrow indeed, writes Blair McClendon.

Facebook Twitter Barack Obama inside the White House on his inauguration day in January 2009. Photograph: Pete Souza/White House Photo/EPA


The fifth day of the second Test must surely go down as one of the most intense in the 207-year history of Lord’s, England arriving with thoughts of victory only to suffer a harrowing, heavy defeat to this remarkable India side. Afghanistan will not compete at this month’s Paralympics in Tokyo, after the team were unable to leave Kabul as a result of the Taliban’s conquest of the country. Zakia Khudadadi had been set to become the country’s first female Paralympian when the taekwondo fighter was named alongside the discus thrower Hossain Rasouli in a two-person team. On Monday, however, it was confirmed that neither athlete had been able to take their scheduled flight out of the country.

Naomi Osaka broke down in tears in her first press conference since withdrawing from the French Open for mental health reasons. The tennis star has also announced that she will donate prize earnings from her next tournament to support relief efforts in Haiti, where a 7.2 magnitude earthquake killed at least 1,297 people over the weekend and injured more than 5,700. Any notion that the most extraordinary grudge match in snooker history would fail to live up to the pre-game billing was dispelled before a ball had even been potted, when Reanne Evans refused Mark Allen’s offer of a handshake in their first-round match at the British Open in Leicester. Nine of the 12 founding European Super League clubs have further distanced themselves from the project by agreeing to rejoin the European Club Association, a body they quit en masse during the aborted breakaway.


Asia-Pacific shares continued the worldwide trend downwards overnight amid concerns about the slowdown in the Chinese economy and fresh outbreaks of Covid-19. Anxiety about events in Afghanistan bringing instability to western Asia also added to the mix although the FTSE100 is expected to open flat this morning. The pound is down slightly at $1.382 and €1.174.

The papers

Given the magnitude of events we have a separate round-up of today’s front pages, including selected international mastheads – a summary of the UK editions follows. Our Guardian print edition says “Chaos in Kabul as thousands struggle to flee the Taliban”. The Mirror has that incredible picture of Afghans crammed into a US Globemaster with the headline “Desperate”.

Facebook Twitter Guardian front page, Tuesday 17 August 2021.

Metro calls it “Escape from hell”, the Times has “Race to escape Kabul carnage” while the Telegraph says “Biden defends America’s flight”. The Sun calls the US president “Joke Biden” while the Mail has “Biden: it’s Afghans’ own fault” saying that as people scramble in fear for their lives, “president washes hands over abandoning nation”.

The Express says “PM sends 200 extra paras in race against time” and the i uses a full-page picture of people climbing over barricades to reach Kabul airport, with the headline “No way out”. And business news gets a distant second billing in the Financial Times, which leads on “Chaos engulfs Kabul airport amid panic to flee Taliban rule”.

Sign up

The Guardian Morning Briefing is delivered to thousands of inboxes bright and early every weekday. If you are not already receiving it by email, you can sign up here.

For more news: www.theguardian.com

Get in Touch

If you have any questions or comments about any of our newsletters please email [email protected]