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President Ashraf Ghani leaves Afghanistan as Taliban enter Kabul

His aides have also left along with him

SAMAA | , and - Posted: Aug 15, 2021 | Last Updated: 4 months ago
SAMAA | , and
Posted: Aug 15, 2021 | Last Updated: 4 months ago

Taliban fighters sit on a vehicle along the street in Jalalabad province on August 15, 2021. (Photo by - / AFP)

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani left the country on Sunday, hours after the Taliban ordered its fighters to wait on the outskirts of the capital following an astonishing rout of government forces.

“The former Afghan president has left the nation,” Abdullah Abdullah, who heads the peace process, said in a video on his Facebook page.

Twenty years after they were driven from Kabul, the Taliban have returned to the Afghan capital. Within hours of capturing Jalalabad city near the border with Pakistan, the Taliban entered Kabul.

A Taliban spokesman announced they will not take Kabul by force and that the fate of the city would be determined through negotiation. However, there were conflicting reports on Taliban fighters’ presence in different parts of the city.

There are also talks of a peaceful transfer of power to a transitional government and the possibility that the said government will be headed by Ali Ahmad Jalali.

The Taliban fighters were in the districts of Kalakan, Qarabagh and Paghman in the capital, the ABC News reported citing the Associated Press which quoted three Afghan officials.

The Taliban fighters have been instructed to stay at the gates of Kabul, not enter the city, their spokesmen have said.

“The Islamic Emirate instructs all its forces to stand at the gates of Kabul, not to try to enter the city,” one of the spokesmen for the Taliban tweeted.

“Until the completion of the transition process, the responsibility for the security of Kabul is with the other side (the Afghan government),” the spokesman said, according to AFP.

The amnesty

The Talian have also announced an amnesty for people working at government offices, Samaa TV reported. The life and property of citizens would be protected and the fate of the city will be decided through negotiations, the TV said quoting a Taliban spokesman.

Suhail Shaheen, the international media spokesperson for the Taliban, told Al Jazeera that there would be a general amnesty for Afghan government members, and girls would be allowed to go to school. He said it was propaganda that women would be married off in twos and threes to Taliban fighters.

He described the developments as a “people’s takeover.”

Earlier on Sunday, the militants took Jalalabad, near a major border crossing with Pakistan. Jalalabad is the fifth largest city in Afghanistan and the capital of Nangarhar province.

On Saturday, they had captured Mazar-i-Sharif where two warlords Abdu Rasheed Dostum and Ata Muhammad Noor held sway until a few weeks ago, but both of them fled to Uzbekistan.

Negotiations

Afghan President Ghani has reportedly contacted Zalmay Khalilzad, the chief US enjoy on Afghanistan, and Nato officials to seek support.

Afghan Interior Minister Abdul Sattar Mirzakwal said Sunday there would be a “peaceful transfer of power” to a transitional government.

“The Afghan people should not worry… There will be no attack on the city and there will be a peaceful transfer of power to the transitional government,” he said in a recorded speech.

According to Tolo News, the minister assured Kabul residents that security forces will ensure the security of the city. 

Samaa TV reported that Ali Ahmed Jalali could be asked to head the transitional government, though he might turn down the proposal due to old age.

Jalali, 81, was Afhgniastan’s interior minister from January 2003 to September 2005 and since October 2005 also serves as a Distinguished Professor at the Near East South Asia Center for Strategic Studies (NESA) at the National Defense University in Washington, D.C, his Wikipedia profile reads.

He is known for supporting talks with the Taliban.

‘Kabul is Safe’

Pro-Taliban social media accounts, meanwhile, boasted that its fighters were moving rapidly through the outlying districts of Kabul province, with the outskirts of the city in close proximity.

“Don’t panic! Kabul is safe!” tweeted Matin Bek, President Ashraf Ghani’s chief of staff.

Ghani’s government appeared to be left with few options – either prepare for a bloody fight for the capital or capitulate.

Taliban fighters and local people sit on an Afghan National Army (ANA) humvee vehicle on a street in Jalalabad province on August 15, 2021. Photo: AFP

The loss of Mazar-i-Sharif and Jalalabad were huge back-to-back blows for Ghani and his government.

It left the Taliban – who have a large number of fighters less than an hour’s drive from Kabul – holding all the cards in any negotiated surrender of the capital.

Videos posted on pro-Taliban social media accounts showed the group’s heavily armed fighters in cities across the country, waving white flags and greeting locals.

Most of the fighters appeared young, suggesting they were most likely infants or unborn when the Taliban was toppled from power in 2001 by the US and their warlord allies.

On Saturday Ghani sought to project authority with a national address in which he spoke of “re-mobilising” the military while seeking a “political solution” to the crisis.

The scale and speed of their advance have shocked Afghans and the US-led alliance that poured billions into the country after toppling the insurgents in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks.

More US troops for evacuation

President Joe Biden ordered the deployment of an additional 1,000 US troops to help secure the emergency evacuation from Kabul of embassy employees and thousands of Afghans who worked for American forces and now fear Taliban reprisals.

That was on top of the 3,000 American soldiers deployed in recent days, and 1,000 left in-country after Biden announced in May that the final withdrawal of the 20-year military presence in Afghanistan would be completed by September 11.

A US military helicopter is pictured flying above the US embassy in Kabul on August 15, 2021. Photo: AFP

That decision has come under increased scrutiny given the collapse of the Afghan armed forces, but he insisted Saturday there was no choice.

“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,” Biden said.

What fighting means for Kabul

“Any prospect of fighting within Kabul city itself would precipitate a major humanitarian catastrophe,” said Ibraheem Bahiss, consultant with the Crisis Group, adding that pressure is liking mounting on the leader to resign.

For the tens of thousands who have sought refuge in Kabul in recent weeks, the overwhelming mood was one of apprehension and fear.

One doctor who arrived in the capital with his 35-strong family from Kunduz said he planned to return today.

Taliban fighters patrol the streets in Herat on August 14, 2021. Photo: AFP

“I am worried there will be a lot of fighting here. I would rather return home, where I know it has stopped,” he told AFP, asking not to be named.

Eyewitness accounts from Kabul

The Taliban are not focusing on local businesses and are securing police stations, government installations and military check posts, SAMAA Digital has learnt from two people in Kabul.

A man who wanted to be identified as Arian is in the fruit business. He said he was from the Kolala Pushta area. “I went to the fruit mandi, at Shehr-e-Nau, to see how business was going,” he told SAMAA Digital. “I heard there was a lot of looting and robberies. We saw the Taliban were taking over. The Taliban were not interested in the business centres. They were not interested in local properties, they were interested in the police stations and military check posts and government installations on both sides of the main canal.”

He said that he and a few other men ran towards the Taliban. “We said we wanted to congratulate them. This is great, we said. Kindly control our businesses,” he said, describing what they did. “But they said they are focusing on the government [properties] and we cannot control your property. We are keeping an eye on the looters.”

The Taliban told Arian that they would be able to report looting the next morning. They then left the area as there was fighting going on. “People had left their cars and ran,” Arian went on to say. “They were told not to come out of their houses in the night. The Taliban said come out in the morning for they would not be held responsible if people got killed in the cross-fighting.”

A businessman and educationist Imam from Wazir Akbar Khan area spoke to SAMAA Digital about his ordeal trying to leave. He feared that because of his profile as a businessman involved in Nato and US projects, he would be targeted for certain. “I have an Indian visa, but when I went to the airport I waited there for six hours,” he said. “At that point we were told that the runway and the airport security and the planes were being controlled by the Americans. They said there are no flights for India so I had to come back.”

He tried to get a visa for Dubai or Pakistan or any country. “We heard that the Taliban are coming to Wazir Akbar Khan under commander ‘Moosa’,” he said. “The Taliban are entering. I didn’t go to my own house. My family is still there. I came to Kolala Pushta to my brother’s. There is a gunfight here too. All the hospitals, business centres are closed. Everything is closed. There is a blackout.”

This is a developing story and will be updated accordingly.

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