Afghanistan Conflict: Taliban Push Into Kabul as President Flees the Country

The militants are on the brink of taking total control, after rapidly seizing territory as US-led forces withdrew after 20 years of operations.

0
62
Afghan security forces are still controlling central Kabul, but it is not clear for how long. BBC News.

Taliban fighters have entered Afghanistan’s capital Kabul, after President Ashraf Ghani fled the country.

The militants are on the brink of taking total control, after rapidly seizing territory as US-led forces withdrew after 20 years of operations.

Footage showed armed Taliban fighters inside the presidential palace.

Thousands of Afghans have sought refuge in Kabul in recent weeks and there were scenes of panic in the city on Sunday.

A Taliban spokesman told the BBC there would be “no revenge” on Afghans.

Western countries have been scrambling to evacuate their citizens. The US sent military helicopters to transport staff from its heavily fortified embassy compound to the airport.

Afghan security forces patrol in the Afghan capital of Kabul city, Afghanistan, on Sunday August 15, 2021. Haroon Sabawoon Anadolu Agency Via Getty.

However, the US Embassy later said there were reports of gunfire at Kabul’s airport. It warned US citizens in the area to take shelter as “the security situation… is changing quickly”.

It is almost 20 years since the Islamist group was ousted by a US-led military coalition. Their advance across the country began months ago but has accelerated in the space of days.

US President Joe Biden has defended the withdrawal of American troops, saying he could not justify an “endless American presence in the middle of another country’s civil conflict”.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said militants had been ordered to enter parts of Kabul on Sunday, after previously holding back at the outskirts of the city.

He said Taliban fighters were going in to prevent chaos and looting after security forces left parts of the city.

The Taliban later said they were in control of around half of the city’s districts.

Their advance into Kabul came after President Ghani fled. Details of his whereabouts remain unknown.

In a Facebook post addressed to Afghan citizens, Mr Ghani said he made the difficult decision to leave to avoid bloodshed in the capital city of six million people.

But other Afghan officials criticised the move.

“God will hold him accountable and the nation will also judge,” said Abdullah Abdullah, chairman of Afghanistan’s High Council for National Reconciliation.

Afghan people line up outside AZIZI Bank to take out cash as the Bank suffers amid money crises in Kabul, Afghanistan, on August 15, 2021.IMAGE: ANADOLU AGENCY VIA GETTY IMAGES

There was panic in Kabul as the Taliban drew closer to victory. Residents headed for the airport, abandoning cars and making their way on foot in a desperate bid to get out of the country.

One 22-year-old student told the BBC that he had walked for more than five hours.

“My feet hurt, they have blisters and I’m finding it difficult to stand,” he said.

“Now that I’m leaving, I think about my family – they don’t have any way to escape. I don’t see a future.”

An eyewitness at the airport told the BBC the departure hall had “turned into chaos”, and described people running across the tarmac to planes and staff abandoning their desks.

A Nato official later said that all commercial flights out of Kabul had been suspended.

In the city centre, large queues formed at ATMs throughout the day as people sought to withdraw cash.

Local MP Farzana Kocha told the BBC that people did not know what to do, with some running or hiding in houses.

There were reports of fighting and casualties in the city’s Qarabagh district.

Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen told the BBC that people in Kabul had no need to worry and that their properties and lives were safe.

“We are the servants of the people and of this country,” he said.

Control map of Afghanistan - 15 August 2021 - third version

A rush to evacuate civilians

The US has deployed 5,000 troops to help remove its staff and the Afghans who assisted with its mission. Helicopters transporting embassy personnel could be heard over the city on Sunday, and there were reports of smoke rising near the embassy compound as important documents were destroyed.

About 600 British troops have been deployed to assist with their own withdrawal mission.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said his priority was getting UK nationals and “all those who have helped the UK effort over 20 years” out of Afghanistan “as fast as we can”.

He called on “like-minded” powers to work together and not recognise any new government without agreement.

Map of Kabul

Other countries are also evacuating their nationals, scaling back their presence in Afghanistan and in some cases closing their embassies altogether.

Russia is planning to convene an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council to discuss the situation in Afghanistan.

It said it would not be closing its embassy because it has been provided with security assurances by the Taliban.

Afghan security forces are still controlling central Kabul, but it is not clear for how long. BBC News.