Afghan President Ashraf Ghani flees country as Taliban encircle Kabul and U.S. evacuates civilians

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled the country on Sunday after the Taliban encircled Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan.

TOLO news agency was first to report the news of Ghani’s departure.

His departure means the government of Afghanistan has collapsed and the Taliban were certain to take over power.

EARLIER WE REPORTED:

The United States is completely pulling out all personnel from its embassy in Kabul over the next 72 hours, American sources told reporters on Sunday, after Taliban militants encircled the Afghan capital, and President Joseph R. Biden Jr. insisted that he will not pass the Afghan war to a fifth U.S. president and he is ending it now after 20 years and trillions of dollars spent.

Sources said most of the diplomats at the embassy will be moved to the airport in Kabul where they will fly back to the United States.

Evacuations are already well underway with a goal to get US embassy personnel out by Tuesday morning or before.

The U.S. embassy in Kabul is expected to be shuttered by Tuesday with all sensitive documents destroyed or flown back to the United States.

The top U.S. diplomat in the country along with a small number of core personnel will remain at kabul’s airport for now. It was not clear how long they would remain there.

According to the current plan, the U.S. will evacuate all embassy personnel first, followed by American citizens, and then special immigrant visa (SIV) holders.

The U.S. government is also looking into expediting people who are in the process of getting their SIV while looking to get Afghan nationals who work at the U.S. embassy out.

CNN quoted U.S. officials as saying that the United States does not also have great intelligence on the ground in Afghanistan, a key reason fueling the decision to get the diplomats back to the United States.

The Taliban gains have accelerated in recent days, and after seizing much of the country in the past several weeks, the militants surrounded Kabul on Sunday.

Reports claimed some Taliban militants have started entering the Afghan capital although the government said that was not the case.

At least 25 of Afghanistan’s 34 provincial capitals have fallen to Taliban control with the capital kabul, the only city with a population of more than 100,000 people still held by the government.

The city of Qalat, the capital of Zabul province in southeastern Afghanistan, had reportedly also fallen to the Taliban with the militants’ white flag flying in several locations.

Reports said the embattled Afghan government was in talks with the Taliban over a possible transfer of power.

Acting Afghan Interior Minister Abdul Sattar Mirzakwal said on Sunday that the capital will not be attacked and they will hand over power peacefully to a transitional administration.

Mirzakwal told Afghan news agency TOLO that security forces would secure the city while the Taliban also issued a statement around the same time that it was in talks with “the opposition side” for a peaceful surrender of the capital.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah said that all fighters had been instructed to be on standby at all entrances to Kabul until a peaceful and satisfactory transfer of power was agreed.

Zabihullah said the security of the capital was the responsibility of the government and they should guarantee it.

The border crossing between Afghanistan and Pakistan have been “completely sealed” by Pakistani authorities, a report quoted a senior border official at the Torkham border crossing in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province as confirming, after all border transit and administrative offices on the Afghanistan side were taken over by the Taliban.

A US military helicopter is pictured flying above the US embassy in Kabul on Sunday. Wakil Kohsar/AFP/Getty Images 
A US military helicopter is pictured flying above the US embassy in Kabul on August 15, 2021. (Photo by Wakil KOHSAR / AFP) (Photo by WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP via Getty Images)

In the United States, President Joseph R. Biden released his first statement on Afghanistan, saying he had authorized the deployment of approximately 5,000 US troops for an orderly and safe drawdown of US personnel.

“Over the past several days I have been in close contact with my national security team to give them direction on how to protect our interests and values as we end our military mission in Afghanistan,” President Biden wrote.

Biden added, “First, based on the recommendations of our diplomatic, military, and intelligence teams, I have authorized the deployment of approximately 5,000 US troops to make sure we can have an orderly and safe drawdown of US personnel and other allied personnel and an orderly and safe evacuation of Afghans who helped our troops during our mission and those at special risk from the Taliban advance.

“Second, I have ordered our armed forces and our intelligence community to ensure that we will maintain the capability and the vigilance to address future terrorist threats from Afghanistan.

“Third, I have directed the Secretary of State to support President Ghani and other Afghan leaders as they seek to prevent further bloodshed and pursue a political settlement. Secretary Blinken will also engage with key regional stakeholders.

“Fourth, we have conveyed to the Taliban representatives in Doha, via our Combatant Commander, that any action on their part on the ground in Afghanistan, that puts US personnel or our mission at risk there, will be met with a swift and strong US military response.

“Fifth, I have placed Ambassador Tracey Jacobson in charge of a whole of government effort to process, transport, and relocate Afghan special immigrant visa applicants and other Afghan allies. Our hearts go out to the brave Afghan men and women who are now at risk. We are working to evacuate thousands of those who helped our cause and their families. That is what we are going to do.”

In his statement, Mr. Biden insisted that remaining in Afghanistan 20 years and four presidents after America first went there to defend itself was not in the interest of the United States, insisting that “I would not, and will not, pass this war onto a fifth” president.

He wrote, “America went to Afghanistan 20 years ago to defeat the forces that attacked this country on September 11th. That mission resulted in the death of Osama Bin Laden over a decade ago and the degradation of al Qaeda. And yet, 10 years later, when I became President, a small number of US troops still remained on the ground, in harm’s way, with a looming deadline to withdraw them or go back to open combat.

“Over our country’s 20 years at war in Afghanistan, America has sent its finest young men and women, invested nearly $1 trillion dollars, trained over 300,000 Afghan soldiers and police, equipped them with state-of-the-art military equipment, and maintained their air force as part of the longest war in US history. One more year, or five more years, of US military presence would not have made a difference if the Afghan military cannot or will not hold its own country. And an endless American presence in the middle of another country’s civil conflict was not acceptable to me.

“When I came to office, I inherited a deal cut by my predecessor—which he invited the Taliban to discuss at Camp David on the eve of 9/11 of 2019—that left the Taliban in the strongest position militarily since 2001 and imposed a May 1, 2021 deadline on US forces. Shortly before he left office, he also drew US forces down to a bare minimum of 2,500. Therefore, when I became President, I faced a choice—follow through on the deal, with a brief extension to get our forces and our allies’ forces out safely, or ramp up our presence and send more American troops to fight once again in another country’s civil conflict. 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.”

Chief White House Correspondent for

Simon Ateba is Chief White House Correspondent for Today News Africa. Simon covers President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, the U.S. government, the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and other financial and international institutions in Washington D.C. and New York City.

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