Taliban to retake power in Afghanistan 20 years after being ousted by US-led forces and the country’s president has fled

Ashraf Ghani
Ashraf Ghani has left Afghanistan for Tajikistan, according to Reuters. Wikimedia Commons

The Taliban is set to retake power in Afghanistan 20 years after being ousted by US-led forces, with the president fleeing the country by plane and the militant group taking control of the presidential palace in Kabul after a rapid offensive.

The Taliban will declare the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan from the palace, a Taliban official announced on Sunday.

The official spoke under the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press, according to the Associated Press.

Earlier in the day, in a video message broadcast on local news outlet Tolo TV, Afghan Interior Minister Abdul Sattar Mirzakwal tried to reassure the country’s residents. “The Afghan people should not worry… There will be no attack on the city and there will be a peaceful transfer of power,” he said.

President Ashraf Ghani boarded a plane and left Afghanistan for Tajikistan on Sunday, a senior interior ministry official told Reuters. The president’s office told the news agency it “cannot say anything about Ashraf Ghani’s movement for security reasons.”

Tolo TV also confirmed that Ghani has gone into exile.

The Taliban has advanced rapidly through Afghanistan over the past few weeks as NATO troops and American forces left the South Asian country two decades after the US invaded to hunt down Osama bin Laden following the 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington D.C. A series of smaller towns and cities systematically fell to the militant group as it overran US-trained forces. As Afghan troops have surrendered, the Taliban has seized weapons provided by the US, forcing the US to carry out strikes on captured military equipment to stop the Taliban from turning it on the Afghan forces.

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US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Sunday that US embassy staff in Kabul are leaving the facility and moving to the airport.

But a security alert released Sunday by the US Embassy in Kabul said the situation in the capital city is “changing quickly including at the airport. There are reports of the airport taking fire; therefore we are instructing U.S. citizens to shelter in place.”

President Joe Biden was slammed by GOP leaders for his silence during early Sunday developments emerging from Afghanistan. The White House eventually said in an afternoon statement that Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris had met with national security officials in the morning “to hear updates on the draw down of our civilian personnel in Afghanistan, evacuations of SIV (Special Immigrant Visa) applicants and other Afghan allies, and the ongoing security situation in Kabul.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, members of Congress, and top officials in Biden’s administration — Blinken, General Austin Miller, America’s top general in Afghanistan, and General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff — held a briefing on the situation in Afghanistan Sunday morning, Insider had learned.

Photos and videos on social media show Kabul in gridlock as thousands of people try to get out of the city, fearing a return to the Taliban’s extremist rule.

During the five-year reign of the previous Emirate of Afghanistan, which was only recognized by a handful of countries, the Taliban imposed a strict interpretation of Sharia law nationwide. These included significant restrictions on women, who were not allowed to leave their homes without a male companion and were required to be fully covered from head to feet when in public.

The Taliban’s international media spokesperson, Suhail Shaheen, told the BBC that Afghans who are not Taliban would be included in the Islamic government and that claimed that the militants will respect the rights of women.

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Shaheen had also said to Al Jazeera that the group would remain on standby on the outskirts of Kabul while transition talks take place. The group then said it was moving in to prevent looting.

Shaheen also told The Wall Street Journal’s Sune Engel Rasmussen that journalists will be safe under the Taliban.

International reactions

Pope Francis called for dialogue in Afghanistan to avoid bloodshed, Reuters reported. “I join in the unanimous worry about the situation in Afghanistan. I ask you to pray along with me to the God of peace so that the din of weapons ends and that solutions can be found around a table of dialogue,” he said to pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square.

NATO has said that a political solution in Afghanistan is “more urgent than ever,” according to AFP. It is maintaining its diplomatic presence in Kabul and is helping to keep the city’s airport open, a NATO official told Reuters.

Nobel Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai has urged “global, regional, and local powers” to advocate for a ceasefire, humanitarian aid, and the protection of refugees and civilians in a tweet to her 1.9 million followers.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has agreed to recall parliament to debate the Taliban’s seizure of Afghanistan, according to local media. Downing Street has said that he has convened an emergency COBRA meeting for this afternoon, Sky News reported.

This story is developing. Please check back for updates.