For the U.S., the priority now is to persuade the Taliban to hold off until the evacuation of Americans and other foreigners from Kabul is complete.
Update (1005ET): “Run Away!”
Reuters is reporting that Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has fled the country as the Taliban enter the capital Kabul. Ghani is reportedly in Tajikistan.
A SENIOR INTERIOR MINISTRY OFFICIAL SAYS AFGHANISTAN’S ASHRAF GHANI HAS LEFT FOR TAJIKISTAN
— Guy Faulconbridge (@GuyReuters) August 15, 2021
The president left the country accompanied by his “close aides,” TOLO, an Afghan news channel, reported, citing two sources familiar with the matter.
A source told Russia’s RIA-Novosti news agency that Ghani had fled to Tajikistan and would soon travel from there to a third country.
The Taliban is claiming it has engaged in talks with the government about a “peaceful surrender” of the city to the group.
“Until the completion of the transition process, the responsibility for the security of Kabul is with the other side [the Afghan government],” the Taliban wrote in a statement posted online.
Afghanistan’s acting interior minister, Abdul Sattar Mirzakwal, said that a transfer of power will happen peacefully, while security forces will remain in the streets to “ensure Kabul’s security.”
“A transitional administration” will be formed in Afghanistan, the minister said, as quoted by Reuters.
The Taliban is expecting a “peaceful transfer of power” from the Afghan government “in the next few days,” the radical group’s spokesman, Suhail Shaheen, told the BBC.
“We assure the people, particularly in the city of Kabul, that their properties, their lives are safe,” Shaheen said, adding that the Taliban also intends to protect the rights of women and media freedom in the country.
The group noted that Kabul is a large and densely populated city, and it won’t enter “by force or war,” suggesting that fighting to capture the capital would result in heavy losses and damage.
* * *
US intelligence services – by now fully woke and focused on the existential threat to the country’s future that are white, middle-class American males – had predicted just 4 days ago that Kabul could fall in 90 days. It turned out to be less than 90 hours.
In a grotesque repeat of the Fall of Saigon, on Sunday, the Taliban – having reclaimed the country at an unprecedented pace – entered Kabul, freeing inmates at the city’s main prison and triggering a massive effort to airlift Western diplomats and civilians as the country’s demoralized security forces offered no resistance. Meanwhile, the US – cementing its humiliation on the international arena – was busy evacuating diplomats from the embassy in Kabul to the airport.
Cementing its renewed grip on the country two decades after the U.S. ousted it from power, the Taliban in a statement said that they wouldn’t take Kabul by force. The insurgent group added that it had ordered its fighters to wait and not penetrate the Afghan capital, home to six million people, and that it was in talks with “the other side” to discuss entering the city without harming its residents, the WSJ reported.
“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, referring to 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.”
Until the transition of power is done, the current Afghan government would remain responsible for the security of the capital, it said, while adding that a general amnesty was announced for all government officials and soldiers.
A senior Afghan official said President Ashraf Ghani was at the U.S. Embassy to consult with the U.S. envoy. Both the U.S. and Afghan government have asked the Taliban to hold off for two weeks until a transitional government could be agreed to, he said. “I do not think the Taliban will accept the offer,” he said.
Despite the Taliban’s promises of a peaceful transition, sporadic gunfire erupted in central Kabul in the late morning as the administration of Ghani told all employees to go home.
— Amichai Stein (@AmichaiStein1) August 14, 2021
Soon after, checkpoints were abandoned as panicked residents clogged the streets. By early afternoon, the Taliban took over Kabul’s main Pul-e-Charkhi prison, freeing thousands of inmates, videos on social media showed.
— FJ (@Natsecjeff) August 15, 2021
Having spent trillions of dollars over two decades to “modernize” the Afghan army so it can stand up against the Taliban, it took just hours to see that this money has been completely wasted as the terrified army scattered and handed over its weapons to the advancing Taliban. As a result, over at the US embassy on Sunday afternoon helicopters ferried American and Western diplomats and civilians to the military side of Kabul airport. One after another, Chinooks and Black Hawks took off from the landing zone, spraying dust.
The U.S. will completely pull out all embassy personnel within three days, CNN reported. It added that a core of U.S. officials would remain at Kabul airport, currently the only route out of the country rushed to withdraw their cash before the Taliban takeover.
A Person familiar tells @NBCNews the US Embassy in Kabul will be closing once all personnel are transferred out and here have been intense negotiations with the Taliban for safe passage.
— Richard Engel (@RichardEngel) August 15, 2021
An official said military helicopters were shuttling between the embassy compound and the airport, where a core presence will remain for as long as possible given security conditions.
Below them was a city of traffic jams and roundabouts choked by cars—many of them filled with Afghans trying to reach the airport’s relative safety.
Panic and desperate in kabul City Traffic-jam .. Kabulis terrified about what will happened tonight .. probably last say before fall of kabul .
I wish I couldn’t see 4 fall of kabul 1992-1996-2001 and 2021 pic.twitter.com/b69CrqiHiw
— Sami Yousafzai (@Samiyousafzai) August 15, 2021
Dark smoke, presumably from burning documents, rose from the presidential palace.
In the airport, dozens of gray U.S. Air Force and British transport planes awaited their passengers, the landing strip secured by some of the newly arrived American troops, who will also be evacuated shortly.
Some of the evacuating Westerners relaxed on cardboard boxes marked with the words “non-Pork MRE,” or meal-ready-to-eat. Others—including Afghan dual citizens—nervously waited their turn for the shuttle bus that would take them to their planes, away from the city they would be unlikely to see again anytime soon.
In Kabul, long lines formed outside banks and at the city’s few functioning ATMs as residents rushed to withdraw their cash before the Taliban takeover.
In addition to seizing Kabul, Taliban forces now hold all of Afghanistan’s border crossings, the Associated Press said. The news agency added that Afghan forces had surrendered Bagram Air Base, north of Kabul, which the U.S. handed over to Afghanistan last month after nearly 20 years.
Seeking to avoid a mass exodus, late on Saturday the Taliban released a lengthy statement seeking to reassure Afghans and the international community. It denied reports that it had killed prisoners and forced villagers to hand over their daughters to marry Taliban soldiers, while adding that the group would respect public property, redeploy bureaucrats and military officers, and provide amnesty for anyone who “helped the invaders.”
The Taliban also said it would avoid seizing private property and create “a safe and conducive environment” for business. It also said neighboring countries should have confidence: “We assure all our neighbors that we will not create any problems for them.”
“No one should leave their area and country,” the Taliban statement said, referring to those areas it had seized. “They shall live a normal life; our nation and country need services, and Afghanistan is our joint home that we will build and serve together.”
We doubt anyone actually believes this.
* * *
The stunning meltdown of the Afghan state “left the city in shock”, the WSJ reports as the Taliban, who controlled none of Afghanistan’s 34 provincial capitals just over a week ago, have seized the bulk of the country and are now readying to assume power, either directly or by controlling a new transitional administration.
In a message to followers Sunday, the Taliban’s leader, Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, urged his fighters to treat conquered cities with a benevolent hand. “The victories are coming, do not be arrogant and conceited, do not betray the spoils of war, and treat well those who surrender to you,” he said. “Do your best to avoid civilian casualties.”
On Saturday, Biden rushed 5,000 troops to Kabul in an attempt to ensure an “orderly and safe drawdown”, to secure the airport and help evacuate American diplomatic personnel. The authorization added about 1,000 U.S. 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 defense official. Helicopters landed at the American embassy compound in Kabul early Sunday, the AP reported.
On Sunday, the Green Zone that contained much of the foreign presence emptied out as embassies closed or relocated to the military base in the airport. The U.S., which is in constant contact with the Taliban’s political leadership in Doha, Qatar, has urged the insurgents to hold off on taking Kabul until after the evacuation is complete and all Americans have left the city, according to people familiar with the talks.
Also on Sunday, there was no sign of the U.S. military in the city itself. Residents rushed to put their affairs in order and people from areas that have fallen to the insurgents sought refuge in the capital. “We have no idea what will happen from one moment to the next in this situation,” said Mohammad Nasim, a worker at a nongovernment organization. “But what can we do? There is nowhere for us to go. There is no chance to leave the city anymore.”
Afghans also mobbed Kabul’s passport offices, seeking to secure valuable travel documents while an internationally recognized Afghan government still exists—and while the airport continues operations. Not many were lucky. According to the Journal, Milad Anwari, a 38-year-old businessman at the passport line, said he had already managed to move part of his family to Turkey, but several others were stuck in Kabul. “I never expected that Taliban will come again. Now everything is going to collapse,” he said. “In the presence of Taliban I don’t have any hope for the future of my country.”
Shortly thereafter, an announcement rang out that the passport office was closing because the Taliban had entered Kabul.
In the line that snaked past blast barriers outside Afghanistan’s central bank, opinions were divided over who was to blame. Poet Samdel Banwa, originally from the eastern Kunar province, said President Biden’s April decision to withdraw all American forces was the reason for the country’s unfolding tragedy.
He wasn’t alone: according to multiple reports on the ground, “people not just sad, but angry, blaming the US for abandoning the country to war, chaos, and the Taliban.”
Walking around kabul. Hard stares. Mood changing. People not just sad, but angry, blaming the US for abandoning the country to war, chaos, and the Taliban
— Richard Engel (@RichardEngel) August 15, 2021
A Kabul schoolteacher who stood in the same line, Mirwais, vented his anger at the infighting and incompetence within the Afghan government. “The government has betrayed the people,” he said. “This is why I am standing here today.”
Meanwhile, in a sign of the total chaos facing the city – and nation – NBC reported Richard Engel said that according to witnesses people, not Taliban, were rushing police in two Kabul districts and stealing their weapons. “a sign of how completely the security forces have collapsed.”
Witnesses say people, not Taliban, rushing police in two Kabul districts and stealing their weapons. A sign of how completely the security forces have collapsed
— Richard Engel (@RichardEngel) August 15, 2021
For the U.S., the priority now is to persuade the Taliban to hold off until the evacuation of Americans and other foreigners from Kabul is complete. Mr. Biden on Saturday said the U.S. has told Taliban representatives in Doha that any action on the ground in Afghanistan against U.S. personnel “will be met with a swift and strong U.S. military response.”
The Afghan military began to unravel soon after Biden’s April decision to pull out U.S. troops, taking away the logistical and air support on which Afghan soldiers depended. Biden said that the withdrawal, which was required under the February 2020 Doha agreement between the Taliban and the Trump administration, was the right decision.
“One more year, or five more years, of U.S. military presence would not have made a difference if the Afghan military cannot or will not hold its own country,” he said.
Biden, who’s spending the weekend at Camp David, again defended his decision to withdraw troops from Afghanistan after 20 years — America’s longest war.
“I was the fourth president to preside over an American troop presence in Afghanistan — two Republicans, two Democrats,” Biden said. “I would not, and will not, pass this war onto a fifth.”
Just last month, Biden – who is now busy blaming Trump for the biggest US foreign policy disaster since Vietnam – assured the world that the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan is not inevitable. Reading teleprompted notes prepared by the Deep State, he said that
“you have 300,000 well-equipped Afghan troops and an air force against something like 75,000 Taliban.” Little did either Biden, or the Deep State know just how much those 75,000 Taliban can achieve.
This may become the most infamous — and devastating — press conference ever held by an American President. pic.twitter.com/j4kKwyPDVm
— BDW (@BryanDeanWright) August 15, 2021
Biden has faced mounting criticism from human rights groups and some members of his own party, as reports emerge the Taliban is already bringing a return to attacks on women and other abuses reminiscent of its earlier rule. His administration has argued the Afghan army must take the reins while the U.S. provides military and financial support.
“They’ve got to fight for themselves, fight for their nation,” Biden told reporters last week.
Lots of blame to go around for Afghanistan on the US side. Trump made a terrible deal with the Taliban, effectively promising them the country and empowering them. But Biden then implemented the deal, so the buck stops with him.
— Richard Engel (@RichardEngel) August 15, 2021
… as well as Financial Times it’s over:
Sensing that the fall of Kabul under Joe Biden also marks a tipping point of US standing on the international arena, China has pushed the propaganda engine into overdrive with the editor in chief of the state-owned nationalist tabloid Global Times writing that “the Afghan government does not have the ability to resist and was completely defeated so quickly. This is the failure of the US and the West. A big, direct slap on the face of the Biden administration.”
The Afghan government does not have the ability to resist and was completely defeated so quicky. This is the failure of the US and the West. A big, direct slap on the face of the Biden administration. pic.twitter.com/XwZQ6S5rEH
— Hu Xijin 胡锡进 (@HuXijin_GT) August 15, 2021
Expect many more such mocking statements from America’s global foes in the coming days. After today, it certainly has many.