Afghanistan’s president Ashraf Ghani has left the country, joining his fellow citizens and foreigners in a stampede fleeing the advancing Taliban and signaling the end of a 20-year invasion by foreign troops.
Abdullah Abdullah, the head of the Afghan National Reconciliation Council, confirmed in an online video that President Ghani had left on Sunday.
“The former president of Afghanistan left Afghanistan, leaving the country in this difficult situation,” Abdullah said. “God should hold him accountable.”
Ghani flew out of the country, two officials told The Associated Press news agency, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief journalists. Local media reported that Ghani left for Tajikistan.
Abdullah said he wants security forces to continue providing security for Kabul and asked the Taliban to wait for talks before entering the city.
But the Taliban, which for hours had been on the outskirts of Kabul, announced this evening that its fighters had begun entering the city to maintain law and order and prevent ‘looting’. Reports claim the Taliban have taken control of the Presidential Palace.
During all of Sunday helicopters raced overhead to evacuate personnel from the US embassy. Smoke rose near the compound as staff destroyed important documents. Several other Western missions also prepared to pull their people out.
Civilians fearing that the Taliban could reimpose the kind of brutal rule that all but eliminated women’s rights rushed to leave the country as well, lining up at cash machines to withdraw their life savings
In a stunning rout, the Taliban has captured 26 of Afghanistan’s 34 provincial capitals since August 6, despite the billions of dollars spent by the US and NATO over nearly 20 years to build up Afghan security forces.
Just days earlier, an American military assessment estimated it would be a month before the capital would come under the Taliban pressure.
Instead, the Taliban swiftly defeated, co-opted or sent Afghan security forces fleeing from wide swaths of the country, even though they had some air support from the US military.
TRANSFER OF POWER
Taliban negotiators were in Kabul on Sunday to discuss the transfer of power, an Afghan official told the AP. It remained unclear when that transfer would take place and who among the Taliban was negotiating.
The negotiators on the government side included former President Hamid Karzai and Abdullah. Abdullah has been a vocal critic of Ghani, who had served as Afghanistan’s president since 2014 and long refused to give up power to get a deal with the Taliban.
Ghani appeared increasingly isolated before fleeing the country. The strongmen he negotiated with just days earlier have surrendered to the Taliban or fled, leaving him without a military option. Negotiations in Doha, the capital of Qatar have failed to stop the group’s advance.
Acting Defence Minister Bismillah Khan sought to reassure the public that Kabul would remain “secure”.
The Taliban also tried to calm residents of the capital. “No one’s life, property and dignity will be harmed and the lives of the citizens of Kabul will not be at risk,” the group said in a statement.
They also said they would offer an “amnesty” to those who worked with the Afghan government or foreign forces.
But there have been reports of revenge killings and other brutal tactics in areas of the country the Taliban has seized in recent days.
Afghan officials said the Taliban also took the capitals of Maidan Wardak, Khost, Kapisa and Parwan provinces on Sunday. Taliban fighters also seized the land border with Pakistan at Torkham, the last not in their control, on Sunday.
Later, Afghan forces at Bagram airbase, home to a prison housing 5,000 inmates, surrendered to the Taliban, according to Bagram district chief Darwaish Raufi. The prison at the former US base held Taliban and ISIL (ISIS) group fighters.