Taliban take control of Kabul and presidential palace, Ashraf Ghani flees

August 15, 2021 - 23:9

Taliban forces are assuming control of the Afghan capital Kabul and have taken control of the presidential palace, after the country's president Ashraf Ghani fled to Tashkent, Uzbekistan. 

One of the Taliban’s units shared pictures of the Palace interior – seemingly intact, but empty and abandoned by Afghan officials – on an official Telegram account. A video posted on social media a few hours before showed fighters arriving at the Presidential Palace in Kabul. 

The group’s spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said earlier that its forces would begin entering areas of the city where the government officials and security forces had abandoned their posts, according to the CNN. 

“This morning the Islamic Emirate released a statement that our forces were outside Kabul city and we did not want to enter Kabul through military ways,” he said. “However, now we are getting reports that the district police offices are evacuated, police have left their job of ensuring the security, also the ministries are emptied and the security personnel of the Kabul administration has fled.”

“Therefore, in order to avoid any looting and burglary in Kabul and stop opportunists from harming the people, the Islamic Emirate has advised its forces to enter those areas of the city where the enemy has left and the areas are at risk of looting and burglary,” he added.

Social media posts and witness accounts suggest Taliban presence within the city is growing. 

“Our forces are quietly entering the city, they won’t bother anyone, government employees both civilian and military should be assured that no one will harm them, no Mujahid is allowed to enter people’s houses, or hurt or bother anyone,” the groups spokesperson added.

The Taliban takeover happens amid a massive evacuation effort by the U.S. and NATO allies of their citizens and support staff within the country. 

Earlier reports suggested a transitional government would be formed but the departure of President Ghani seems to have scuppered those efforts. 

A meeting, which was expected to happen between a high-level Afghan government delegation and Taliban in Doha, now “may not happen,” a source with knowledge of the intra-Afghan talks told CNN on Sunday.

Regardless, the Chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation, Abdullah Abdullah, politician Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and former President Hamid Karzai have established a Coordinating Council to “better manage the affairs related to peace and peaceful transfer,” Karzai said in a statement. 

Afghan defense minister curses fleeing president

The acting Afghan Minister of National Defense Gen. Bismillah Mohammadi issued a brief tweet after President Ghani and senior officials had left Afghanistan.

In a clear reference to the former President, he said, “They tied our hands behind our backs and sold the homeland, damn the rich man and his gang,” Bismillah wrote on his official Twitter account.

Earlier, Abdullah Abdullah, the Afghan Chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation, bitterly criticized Ghani for fleeing the country.

In a video statement recorded in Kabul, Abdullah said, "The fact that the former Afghan president left the country and put the people and country in such a bad situation, God will hold him accountable and the people of Afghanistan will also judge him [for doing so]."

American flag is down at U.S. embassy in Kabul

The American flag at the U.S. embassy in Kabul has been taken down, marking a final step in the evacuation of the embassy, according to a source familiar with the situation.

The withdrawal of U.S. embassy personnel from Afghanistan is happening incredibly rapidly today and the process is now expected to conclude by this evening, minus the small number of diplomats who will stay at the Kabul airport for now, the source said.

Right now there are still a few security contractors at the embassy but they will leave soon, explained a second source familiar with the situation.

In recent days the State Department was taking steps that looked like they were heading in the direction of a full withdrawal, but State Department spokesperson Ned Price claimed it was not true when asked. Price said on Thursday that the U.S. drawdown of diplomats was not an evacuation. Now, three days later, the evacuation is on the verge of being complete.

"This is not abandonment. This is not an evacuation. This is not the wholesale withdrawal. What this is (is) a reduction in the size of our civilian footprint," Price said during the department briefing. "The embassy remains open and we plan to continue our diplomatic work in Afghanistan."

Taliban entered ‘peacefully’ into Kabul

The Taliban entered Kabul, the capital city of Afghanistan, "peacefully," CNN's Nick Paton Walsh reported from the ground.

"We are hearing crackles of gunfire here and there, but there are not reports of... street-to-street fighting or Afghan security forces amassing in specific areas in order to prevent their entry. As far as we are aware, and it is dark here, so we are not able to go around and witness these events, they are moving gently across the city," Paton Walsh told CNN's Fareed Zakaria.

He added that it is unprecedented times, "Partly, because nobody imagined the Taliban would enter into the city of six million unimpeded," and because the Afghan president "said that he essentially wanted to stick around and has now disappeared without a transitional government in potentially to take over."

Karzai calls for a peaceful resolution

The former President of Afghanistan Hamid Karzai has said he intends to stay in Afghanistan, along with his family, and calls for a peaceful resolution of the conflict. 

“Dear residents of Kabul; my intention is to remain with you here, along with my family, my daughters, my children,” he wrote in a Facebook post on Sunday. “And I hope that the issues of our country and our capital city shall be resolved peacefully and through negotiations.”

“I request the security forces and forces of the Taliban Islamic movement, wherever they are, to protect people’s lives and property, and pay attention to protecting people’s lives and property,” he also said. 

Karzai went on to ask people to stay at home, adding that negotiations were ongoing. 

“We are making efforts to have the Afghan problem resolved, [through talks] with Taliban leaders, peacefully and based on brotherhood and patriotism,” he added.

Moscow working to call emergency UN Security Council meeting on Afghanistan

Russia is working together with other countries to call an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council on Afghanistan, an official told state media on Sunday.

"We are working on this. Our colleagues are closely working on this," Zamir Kabulov, who is the head of the second department of Asia at the Russian Foreign Ministry said, according to RIA Novosti.

Kabulov added that while they will convene the meeting, it will not change the situation at this stage, and it should have been called for sooner to tackle the ongoing crisis in Afghanistan.

Biden administration struggles to project order

President Biden and his administration struggled Sunday to project order amid a race by American and other foreign personnel to evacuate Afghanistan.

The rapid fall of Afghanistan's national forces and government has come as a shock to Biden and senior members of his administration, who only last month believed it could take months before the civilian government in Kabul fell – allowing a period of time after American troops left before the full consequences of the withdrawal were laid bare.

Now, officials are frankly admitting they miscalculated.

"The fact of the matter is we've seen that that force has been unable to defend the country," Secretary of State Antony Blinken told Jake Tapper on "State of the Union," referring to Afghanistan's national security forces. "And that has happened more quickly than we anticipated,” he said.

The risks for Biden politically are uncertain; a majority of Americans say in polls they support withdrawing troops from Afghanistan, and Biden’s aides have calculated the country shares his weariness at prolonging a 20-year conflict.

Yet the chaotic scenes playing out as that war ends — evoking the fall of Saigon in 1975, an image that haunted Biden as he weighed a withdrawal earlier this year — are certain to trail Biden as the Taliban asserts control over large swaths of the country.

Already, some members of Congress are demanding more information from the administration on how its intelligence could have so badly misjudged the situation on the ground, or why more robust contingency plans for evacuating Americans and their allies weren’t in place. 

The notion the civilian government led by President Ghani would be unable to withstand the Taliban’s advances is not a surprise. Intelligence assessments over the past year have offered differing timetables for what was viewed by many national security officials as an inevitability.

Ghani says he left country in order to avoid bloodshed

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said he left the country in order to avoid bloodshed, according to Reuters.

“Ghani left in order to avoid clashes with the Taliban that would endanger millions of Kabul residents,” he said in a Facebook post - his first comments since leaving the country.

He did not disclose details on his current location.

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