President Ashraf Ghani leaves Afghanistan as Taliban take over Kabul
Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani left the war-torn country on Sunday as the Taliban entered the capital Kabul and said they were seeking complete power. Earlier, the insurgents had ordered their troops to remain outside the Afghan capital ahead of talks on a peaceful transition of power. The Western-backed Ghani is said to have left after resigning as the President.
Ghani's destination was uncertain. While a senior interior ministry official said he had left for Tajikistan, a foreign ministry official said his location was unknown and the Taliban said it was checking his whereabouts. Some local social media users branded him a "coward" for leaving them in chaos.
Two officials from the militant Islamist group told Reuters there would be no transitional government following their lightning sweep across Afghanistan, two decades after they were overthrown by US-led forces.
There were reports of sporadic gunfire around the city, but there was no significant fighting and the Taliban said they were waiting for the Western-backed government to surrender peacefully.
According to the Reuters report, Taliban commanders said they have taken control of Afghan presidential palace, but the Afghan government was yet to confirm this.
The United States is evacuating its embassy in Kabul, said secretary of state Antony Blinken, while maintaining the “Afghan mission” has been successful. Television images showed a stream of helicopter flights, ferrying passengers from the US embassy to the airport as local Afghan forces, trained for years and equipped by the United States and others for billions of dollars, melted away.
“We’re relocating the men and women of our embassy to a location at the airport,” Blinken said on ABC’s “This Week.” “That’s why the president sent in a number of forces to make sure that, as we continue to draw down our diplomatic presence, we do it in a safe and orderly fashion and at the same time maintain a core diplomatic presence in Kabul.”
The US will completely pull out all embassy personnel within three days, CNN reported earlier, citing people familiar with the situation, leaving a small core of staff to operate at the airport.
Taliban fighters reached the outskirts of Kabul earlier on Sunday in culmination of a three-week offensive in which the Islamic militant group seized large portions of the country with very little resistance. Taliban forces now hold all of Afghanistan’s border crossings, the Associated Press said.
“The Islamic Emirate instructs all its forces to stand at the gates of Kabul, not to try to enter the city,” the Taliban said in a statement on Sunday, using the group’s formal name. “Negotiations are under way to ensure that the transition process is completed safely and securely, without putting the lives, property and honor of anyone in danger.”
It was unclear exactly how the talks would take place, or where. The AP reported that Taliban negotiators were heading to the presidential palace in Kabul to prepare for a transfer of power. Yet Bismillah Mohammadi, Afghanistan’s acting defense minister, said Ghani had extended authority to a delegation headed to Doha for talks with the Taliban on Monday.
The militant group has sought to reassure the country and the world that it will act responsibly as it prepares to resume power, following the swift collapse of a US-trained Afghan army after President Joe Biden ordered American troops to withdraw by August 31.
On Sunday, Ghani’s office said on social media that national forces have Kabul “under control and there’s no need for the people to worry”. However, some key Afghan officials had suggested it was just a matter of time before the Taliban took power.
“Until the transfer of power, the security of Kabul is our responsibility,” Abdul Sattar Mirzakwal, Afghanistan’s acting interior minister, said in a video message posted on the ministry’s Facebook page.
On Saturday, Biden boosted the US troop deployment in an attempt to ensure an “orderly and safe drawdown.” The authorisation adds about 1,000 US personnel to the deployment of 3,000 Marines and soldiers announced this week and 1,000 troops already at the airport and the embassy, according to a defence official.
Defending his decision to withdraw the troops from Afghanistan after 20 years -- America’s longest war, Biden said, “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.”
Meanwhile, thousands of Afghans fled to Kabul in the face of the Taliban advance as the crisis threatened to spill outside the country’s borders and send waves of refugees as far as Europe. People also flocked to Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport hoping to catch a flight out. “We’re expecting to be evacuated -- I hope we’ll be out in a few days,” Emir Sayit, a Turkish civil engineer, said by phone on Sunday.
(With agency inputs)