The president of Afghanistan fled the country as the Taliban approached Kabul and effectively returned power to the Islamist group, nearly 20 years after it was ousted by a US-led invasion.
With no armed resistance, Taliban fighters entered the capital on Sunday and attempted to establish control, while US and other foreign governments struggled to evacuate their citizens and Afghan allies.
A tumultuous scene was reported at Kabul airport as panicked city residents sought flights and the US embassy warned of a deteriorating security situation. A Taliban spokesman urged people to remain calm.
The Taliban’s entry into Kabul is the culmination of a dramatic week-long lightning offensive that saw Islamist fighters take control of most of the country, often with little armed resistance, in an astonishing reshuffle of the political map of Afghanistan.
“The Taliban have invaded Kabul,” tweeted Bill Roggio, editor of the Long War Journal. “The Taliban took over the presidential palace, the police command and other installations. Kabul will effectively fall today.”
The attack left Ashraf Ghani’s government politically and militarily isolated and faced an imminent Taliban attack. The president, who had long resisted calls for his resignation to pave the way for peace talks with the militia, eventually resigned.
Hamid Karzai, the former president of Afghanistan, confirmed Ghani’s departure and said he was in talks with other Afghan leaders and the Taliban for a peaceful transfer.
Taliban fighters planning to establish an Islamic state governed by a strict, literal interpretation of Islamic law have already taken over abandoned police stations and posts in the city.
The US on Sunday increased its deployment to 6,000 troops in support of the evacuation of diplomats, allied personnel and thousands of Afghans who face high risk of retaliation for their cooperation with the US.
US president Joe Biden said Washington had warned the Taliban against “any action”. . . endangering American personnel or our mission there will be met with a swift and strong military response.”
Biden said the US was working with Ghani and other Afghan political leaders, as well as regional powers, “to prevent further bloodshed and pursue a political settlement”.
As the US evacuation got under way, embassy officials were ordered to burn sensitive documents, while residents of Kabul thronged the banks to withdraw their savings.
Although the Taliban’s week-long attack resulted in less bloodshed than the magnitude of their territorial gains suggest, country experts warn that Afghanistan, with its diverse mix of rival ethnic groups and fierce inter-community rivalry, is headed for civil war.
“This is the end of Afghanistan as a nation,” Sara Wahedi, a former Afghan government official who runs a security app for residents of Kabul, wrote on Twitter. “No one will be able to lead the whole country.”
Amrullah Saleh, the vice president of Afghanistan who has also left the country and many predict armed resistance will develop, was defiant on Twitter after his departure. “I will never, never, under any circumstances bow to you [sic] Talib terrorists,” he wrote. “I will not disappoint millions of people who have listened to me. I will never be under one roof with the Taliban. NEVER.”
Many Afghans expressed anger at the US focus on evacuating its own citizens, leaving the local population at the mercy of the Taliban and their extremist ideology. Afghan women, in particular, fear hardship after the Taliban severely restricted their freedom of movement and work capacity when they ruled in the 1990s.
“I wish I could go to Kabul now and shout outside the US embassy, ’We are also people like you and we also have the right to live and enjoy freedom,'” said a young woman in Herat fell into the hands of the Taliban. a few days ago. She added that Islamist fighters had already started searching people’s homes for alcohol or weapons.
“How could the Americans hand us over to the Taliban?” she said.
The rapid disintegration of the Afghan National Army stunned and stunned many in Kabul and Washington who had expected the US-trained force to provide stronger resistance to Islamist insurgents.
The northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif, a traditional stronghold of fierce anti-Taliban resistance, fell to insurgents late Saturday night after days of fierce fighting.
According to local news reports, political figures in the region have fled, including anti-Taliban leaders Abdul Rashid Dostum and Ata Mohammad Noor, who took refuge in neighboring Uzbekistan.
Analysts said the abrupt pace of the U.S. withdrawal — including abandonment of the main U.S. military facility at Bagram Air Force Base virtually overnight — had severely damaged morale among the Afghan armed forces, weakening their will to fight. undermined.
“What we have underestimated is the level of Taliban planning regarding the withdrawal,” Rudra Chaudhuri of King’s College London told the The Washington City Times. “They had a very clear plan. The question is, how did the entire US intelligence community not know this?”
Analysts said some of Afghanistan’s toughest military leaders had tactically retreated to regroup and were likely to launch insurgencies.
“If anyone thinks it will be a peaceful rule for the Taliban or Afghanistan will come under their full control and domination – no,” an Indian government official told the The Washington City Times. “There will always be a thorn in their back.”
Additional reporting by Najmeh Bozorgmehr in Tehran and Lauren Fedor in Washington DC