US

State tells Americans NOT to go to the Kabul airport as US works to ‘regain positive control’

The State Department told Americans still stranded in Afghanistan on Monday to shelter in place rather than head to the Kabul airport for evacuation as the U.S. works to ‘regain positive control’ of the airport.

‘The situation is evolving quickly and we will communicate information to U.S. citizens as rapidly as possible,’ State spokesman Ned Price said during a press conference on Monday afternoon.

‘In the meantime,’ he continued, ‘we are asking U.S. citizens to shelter and not to travel to the airport until they hear otherwise from the Department of State.’

His remarks came moments after President Joe Biden made remarks doubling-down on his decision to withdraw entirely from Afghanistan, which has thrown the country into chaos and allowed the swift takeover by the Taliban.

‘We are working around the clock, in the first instance, to maintain, to regain positive control over the airport compound,’ Price said. ‘This is something that our colleagues at the Department of Defense have been working urgently to reestablish for a couple reasons. One, to be able to resume U.S. Military flights… but importantly, this is also a civilian airport.’

‘We are seeking to reestablish positive control in order – so that commercial travel can also resume, so that many of these Afghans…will be able to reach safety,’ Price said.

The Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul came under fire by the Taliban on Sunday as the Islamic militant forces took the city after Afghani President Ashraf Ghani fled the country.

State Department spokesman Ned Price told Americans stranded in Afghanistan to shelter in place and not head to the Kabul airport for evacuation. ‘We are working around the clock… to regain positive control over the airport compound,’ he said during a press conference Monday

Chaos ensued at the Hamid Karzai International Airport on Monday as Afghan people try to get on evacuation flights. Afghan people climb atop a KamAir plane grounded as they waited at the Kabul airport in Kabul

Chaos ensued at the Hamid Karzai International Airport on Monday as Afghan people try to get on evacuation flights. Afghan people climb atop a KamAir plane grounded as they waited at the Kabul airport in Kabul

A C-17 jet carrying 640 Afghan refugees that left Kabul on Sunday night as the Taliban claimed the city. The flight landed in Qatar. The refugees ran up the half-open ramp while US forces were preparing for take-off, according to an unnamed defense official cited by Defense One on Monday. At least one other C-17 has departed the area

A C-17 jet carrying 640 Afghan refugees that left Kabul on Sunday night as the Taliban claimed the city. The flight landed in Qatar. The refugees ran up the half-open ramp while US forces were preparing for take-off, according to an unnamed defense official cited by Defense One on Monday. At least one other C-17 has departed the area 

Flights were stalled on Monday amid chaotic scenes that saw several deaths as desperate people tried to get onto the planes as the took off.

The airport returned to leading evacuation flights after at least eight people were killed on Monday, including two shot dead by U.S. troops, three run over by taxiing jets and three stowaways who plummeted from the engines of an airborne plane.

Images also emerged of tightly packed cargo planes with Afghani citizens fleeing the country amid the Taliban takeover.

Three stowaways fell hundreds of feet to their deaths after climbing onto the fuselage of a departing US Air Force C-17 plane as it took off from the Kabul Airport, while hundreds of other desperate people tried to cling onto planes as they taxied down the runway.

Senior military officials said troops shot and killed two armed Afghans among those trying to get onto the jet while U.S. citizens were evacuated in two separate incidents. Three others were caught under plane wheels amid scenes of anarchy as the country succumbs to Taliban control.

A Pentagon official said that U.S. troops had come under fire at the airfield and grounded all flights while soldiers cleared the airfield with Apache helicopters and fired ‘warning shots’ to disperse the crowds.

Flights resumed after 90 minutes but were suspended again after a security breach on the civilian side of the airport, a Pentagon spokesperson said.

Thousands of terrified people descended on Hamid Karzai International Airport as the U.S., Britain and other Western countries evacuated their citizens and diplomats on military aircraft following the Taliban’s seizure of the capital city Kabul and the majority of Afghanistan this week.

Video posted on Twitter shows hundreds of people running alongside a C-17 crammed with 800 people – eight times its usual capacity – with many clambering on to the front and rear wheels, while others climbed airbridges hoping to force their way on to planes waiting at the departure gates. 

The clip then shows three people falling to their deaths from hundreds of feet in the air, with images posted online later appearing to show residents collecting bodies from a rooftop in Kabul.  

The C-17 can carry 171,000 pounds of cargo but its interior is designed to carry fewer than 150 soldiers. It is unclear who exactly was on board and how many Americans remain on the ground. However, a flight-tracker showed the jet was flown to the Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar.

The first of three German evacuation planes en route to Afghanistan diverted to the Uzbek capital Tashkent after it could not land at Kabul airport, a German general said on Monday.

The A400M transport plane circled for more than an hour over Kabul before changing its destination, Lieutenant General Markus Laubenthal told public broadcaster ZDF. A foreign ministry spokesperson said earlier in Berlin that no evacuation flights were leaving Kabul because people were blocking the runway.

A Pentagon spokesperson said 3,000 soldiers would be on the ground at the airport by Tuesday to help with the evacuation efforts, with a further 3,000 troops arriving later this week. However, the shambolic scenes further humiliated the US and its NATO powers, with much of the Anglo-US media and political class branding the withdrawal the ‘biggest foreign policy disaster’ since Suez. 

In an extraordinary address to the American nation on Monday, President Joe Biden defended the U.S. withdrawal and instead blamed the chaos predecessor Donald Trump’s agreement with the Taliban, Afghanistan’s political leaders for refusing to negotiate and Afghan military forces for refusing to fight. 

Thousands of Afghans are trying to get on to flights out of the capital following the Taliban's seizure of the city. A US soldier is pictured aiming his weapon at a passenger at Kabul airport

Thousands of Afghans are trying to get on to flights out of the capital following the Taliban’s seizure of the city. A US soldier is pictured aiming his weapon at a passenger at Kabul airport

Footage from Hamad Karzai International Airport showed hundreds of people running along a US Air Force plane preparing to take off

Footage from Hamad Karzai International Airport showed hundreds of people running along a US Air Force plane preparing to take off

Afghans desperately tried to climb onto the rear right wheel of the US Air Force C-17 in a last ditch attempt to flee the country after the Taliban swept to power

Afghans desperately tried to climb onto the rear right wheel of the US Air Force C-17 in a last ditch attempt to flee the country after the Taliban swept to power

Footage published by Afghan outlet Aśvaka showed three stowaways falling to the deaths after clinging on to the wheels of a military plane as it took off from Kabul airport

Footage published by Afghan outlet Aśvaka showed three stowaways falling to the deaths after clinging on to the wheels of a military plane as it took off from Kabul airport

Announcing an end to the War in Afghanistan, Biden – who had returned to the White House from a ‘vacation’ in Camp David – said: ‘I stand squarely behind my decision. After 20 years I’ve learned the hard way. That there was never a good time to withdraw U.S. forces.’   

In a statement on Saturday, he blamed his predecessor Trump for creating the conditions of the Taliban takeover. However, President Biden has faced intense domestic and global criticism of his handling of the Afghanistan crisis from both the Left and Right of politics across the West.  

Media has slammed the scenes, claiming the ‘debacle of the U.S. defeat and chaotic retreat in Afghanistan’ was a ‘political disaster’. Some classified it as Biden’s ‘failure to orchestrate an urgent and orderly exit’. 

New York Post editorial even said his claims that he ‘inherited’ Trump’s withdrawal plans were a ‘lie’ and branded the crisis situation ‘as humiliating an end as the rooftop scramble in Saigon in 1975’.  

The head of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party, Armin Laschet, called it the ‘biggest NATO debacle’ since the founding of the alliance, while MPs accused Prime Minister Boris Johnson of a ‘shameful’ silence and questioned if he did enough to discourage President Biden from withdrawing US troops. 

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he was ‘concerned’ by accounts of human rights violations against the women and girls of Afghanistan who fear a return to the darkest days’ of the 1990s when the Taliban came to power after the Civil War and imposed a brutal theocracy. 

Afghanistan’s representative to the UN Security Ghulam Isaczai told a meeting of the five powers – the US, Britain, China, Russia and France – on Monday that ‘there are already reports of target killings and looting in the city’. 

‘Kabul residents are reported that the Taliban have already started house-to-house searches in some neighborhoods, registering names and looking for people in their target list,’ he added.    

Senior US military officials said troops shot and killed two armed Afghans among those trying to get onto the jet while US citizens were evacuated in two separate incidents

Senior US military officials said troops shot and killed two armed Afghans among those trying to get onto the jet while US citizens were evacuated in two separate incidents

Video posted later on Monday appeared to show residents collecting the bodies of three stowaways from a roof in Kabul  after they reportedly fell from an airborne plane

Video posted later on Monday appeared to show residents collecting the bodies of three stowaways from a roof in Kabul  after they reportedly fell from an airborne plane

The US Embassy has been evacuated and the American flag lowered, with diplomats relocating to the airport in scenes reminiscent of the evacuation of the embassy of Saigon in 1975. Other Western countries have also closed their missions and are flying out staff and civilians after the Taliban walked into Kabul's presidential palace

The US Embassy has been evacuated and the American flag lowered, with diplomats relocating to the airport in scenes reminiscent of the evacuation of the embassy of Saigon in 1975. Other Western countries have also closed their missions and are flying out staff and civilians after the Taliban walked into Kabul’s presidential palace

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has also come under fire from critics and political rivals for hightailing out of the country as the Taliban stormed the Presidential Palace last night. The Russian Embassy claimed that he had fled in a helicopter full of cash. His whereabouts remain unknown. 

The Taliban swept into the capital on Sunday after the Western-backed government collapsed and Ghani fled the country ‘to avoid bloodshed’, bringing a stunning end to a two-decade campaign in which the US and its allies had tried to transform the country. 

The US Embassy has been evacuated and the American flag lowered, with diplomats relocating to the airport in scenes reminiscent of the evacuation of the embassy of Saigon in 1975. Other Western countries have also closed their missions and are flying out staff and civilians.  

US military Apache helicopters flew low over crowds of desperate people at Kabul airport

US military Apache helicopters flew low over crowds of desperate people at Kabul airport in an attempt to clear them out of the way for a USAF plane taxiing behind 

A satellite image shows crowds of Afghans gathered on the tarmac at Hamid Karzai airport on Monday as they desperately try to board the last flights out of Kabul

A satellite image shows crowds of Afghans gathered on the tarmac at Hamid Karzai airport on Monday as they desperately try to board the last flights out of Kabul

At least five people have been killed at Kabul airport as thousands of people desperately try to flee the country

Witnesses said it was not clear whether the victims were killed by gunshots or in a stampede

At least five people have been killed at Kabul airport as thousands of people tried desperately to get on flights out of Afghanistan amid increasingly chaotic scenes. Witnesses said it was not clear whether the victims were killed by gunshots or in a stampede

Thousands of Afghans scaled the walls of Hamid Karzai International Airport desperate to get on the last flights out of the country before the Taliban impose their rule. The group have been shooting at people trying to clamber their way into the airport

Thousands of Afghans scaled the walls of Hamid Karzai International Airport desperate to get on the last flights out of the country before the Taliban impose their rule. The group have been shooting at people trying to clamber their way into the airport

Almost all major checkpoints in Kabul were under Taliban control by Monday morning and Afghanistan’s Civil Aviation Authority issued an advisory saying the ‘civilian side’ of the airport had been ‘closed until further notice’ and that the military controlled the airspace. 

Early Monday morning, flight-tracking data showed no immediate commercial flights over the country.

Video from Afghanistan’s parliament building showed Taliban fighters entering the main chamber. The grainy footage showed fighters carrying weapons sitting at a table at the head of the chamber under the government’s seal, with some smiling and posing for photographs.  

It comes after officials  promised civilians would not be harmed and announced everyone would be allowed to return home from Kabul airport if they decided to stay in the country. The Taliban previously said westerners would be allowed to leave the country but that Afghans would be barred from departing.   

In a stunning rout, the Taliban seized nearly all of Afghanistan in just over a week, despite the billions of dollars spent by the US and NATO over nearly two decades to build up Afghan security forces

In a stunning rout, the Taliban seized nearly all of Afghanistan in just over a week, despite the billions of dollars spent by the US and NATO over nearly two decades to build up Afghan security forces

President Joe Biden spoke on Monday about Afghanistan from the East Room of the White House where he doubled-down on his decision to withdrawal from the Middle Eastern nation

President Joe Biden spoke on Monday about Afghanistan from the East Room of the White House where he doubled-down on his decision to withdrawal from the Middle Eastern nation

The UN is calling for an immediate end to violence in Afghanistan and urging the international community to unite to ensure that the human rights of all people, especially women and girls, are respected.

Guterres said ‘the world is following events in Afghanistan with a heavy heart and deep disquiet about what lies ahead’ and with the country’s future and the hopes and dreams of a generation of young Afghans in the balance, the coming days ‘will be pivotal.’ 

At this ‘grave hour,’ the secretary-general urged all parties, especially the Taliban, ‘to exercise utmost restraint to protect lives and to ensure that humanitarian needs can be met.’

He said the UN continues to have staff and offices in areas now under Taliban control, and which so far have been respected. ‘Above all, we will stay and deliver in support of the Afghan people in their hour of need.’

‘We cannot and must not abandon the people of Afghanistan,’ Guterres added.

Afghanistan’s representative Ghulam M Isaczai said officials were ‘extremely concerned about the Taliban not honouring their promises and commitments made in their statements at Doha and other international forums.

‘We’ve witnessed time and again how Taliban have broken their promises and commitments in the past. We’ve seen gruesome pictures of Taliban’s mass executions, of military personnel and target killing of civilians in Kandahar and other big cities.

”We cannot allow this to happen in Kabul, which has been the last refuge for many people escaping violence and Taliban’s revenge attacks. 

‘Kabul residents are reported that the Taliban have already started house-to-house searches in some neighbourhoods, registering names and looking for people in their target list. 

‘There are already reports of target killings and looting in the city. Kabul residents are living in absolute fear right now. There is no time for blame game. We have an opportunity to prevent further violence, prevent Afghanistan descending into a civil war and becoming a pariah state.

‘Therefore, the security council and the UN secretary general should use every means at its disposal to call for an immediate succession of violence, respect for human rights and international humanitarian law.’ 

Footage showed desperate Afghans trying to climb onto grounded planes at Hamid Karzai airport

People desperately try to flee after the Taliban took Kabul on Sunday

Footage showed desperate Afghans trying to climb onto grounded planes at Kabul’s Hamid Karzai airport after the Taliban swept the city

US troops fired shots into the air at Kabul airport today as desperate Afghans climbed up the outside of airbridges trying to flee as the Taliban took control of Afghanistan

US troops fired shots into the air at Kabul airport today as desperate Afghans climbed up the outside of airbridges trying to flee as the Taliban took control of Afghanistan

Hundreds of desperate people are seen around grounded planes at Kabul airport in this satellite image

Hundreds of desperate people are seen around grounded planes at Kabul airport in this satellite image

Afghan passengers sit inside a plane as they wait to leave Kabul airport although all commercial flights have been grounded, with only military aircraft being allowed in and out

Afghan passengers sit inside a plane as they wait to leave Kabul airport although all commercial flights have been grounded, with only military aircraft being allowed in and out 

Ghani fled the country on Sunday night as the insurgents encircled the capital – saying he wanted to avoid bloodshed – capping a military victory that saw them capture all cities in just 10 days.

In a Facebook post, Ghani said he had left the country to avoid clashes with the Taliban that would endanger millions of Kabul residents. Some social media users branded Ghani, who did not disclose his location, a coward for leaving them in chaos. Al-Jazeera reported he had flown to Uzbekistan, citing his personal bodyguard.

‘The Taliban have won with the judgement of their swords and guns, and are now responsible for the honour, property and self-preservation of their countrymen,’ Ghani said after fleeing.

Taliban officials said they had received no reports of any clashes anywhere in the country: ‘The situation is peaceful,’ one official said. The Taliban control 90 percent of state buildings and fighters had been told to prevent any damage, the official added.

Scenes of panic spread across the country on Monday as thousands of Afghans desperately try to flee Afghanistan before the Taliban’s brutal rules are implemented. Refugees massed at borders, with pictures from Afghanistan’s border with Pakistan showing hundreds of people queuing in an attempt to leave.   

‘Today is a great day for the Afghan people and the mujahideen. They have witnessed the fruits of their efforts and their sacrifices for 20 years,’ Mohammad Naeem, the spokesman for the Taliban’s political office, told Al Jazeera TV. ‘Thanks to God, the war is over in the country.’

Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, who fought in the Soviet-Afghan War during the 1980s and helped ex-chief Mohammad Omar create the Taliban in 1994, is thought likely to be installed as the head of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, according to reports in the Arab world.   

Taliban fighters patrolled Kabul on Monday as chaos continued at the city's airport as thousands try to flee the fundamentalist group

Taliban fighters patrolled Kabul on Monday as chaos continued at the city’s airport as thousands try to flee the fundamentalist group

Taliban fighters were seen inside the Afghan parliament on Monday

It came after Taliban officials promised civilians would not be harmed and announced everyone would be allowed to return home from Kabul airport if they decided to stay in the country

Taliban fighters were seen inside the Afghan parliament on Monday after officials promised civilians would not be harmed and announced everyone would be allowed to return home from Kabul airport if they decided to stay in the country

How did the Taliban take over Afghanistan so quickly?

The Taliban’s stunning and rapid takeover of Afghanistan was the result not only of their battlefield strength, but also a sustained push to force surrenders and cut deals.

The insurgents mixed threats and lures with propaganda and psychological warfare as they took city after city – some with barely a shot fired – eventually capturing the capital Kabul.

How did this happen? Why didn’t the Afghan army put up a fight? 

As foreign troops began their final withdrawal in May, Washington and Kabul were confident the Afghan military would put up a strong fight against the Taliban.

With more than 300,000 personnel and multi-billion-dollar equipment more advanced than the Taliban arsenal, Afghan forces were formidable – on paper.

In reality, they were plagued by corruption, poor leadership, lack of training and plummeting morale for years. Desertions were common and US government inspectors had long warned that the force was unsustainable.

Afghan forces put up strong resistance this summer in some areas such as Lashkar Gah in the south, but they now faced the Taliban without regular US air strikes and military support.

Faced with the smaller but highly motivated and cohesive enemy, many soldiers and even entire units simply deserted or surrendered, leaving the insurgents to capture city after city.

How did the Taliban take advantage of low morale? 

The seeds for the collapse were sown last year when Washington signed a deal with the insurgents to withdraw its troops completely.

For the Taliban, it was the beginning of their victory after nearly two decades of war. For many demoralised Afghans, it was betrayal and abandonment.

They continued to attack government forces but started to combine those with targeted killings of journalists and rights activists, ramping up an environment of fear.

They also pushed a narrative of inevitable Taliban victory in their propaganda and psychological operations.

Soldiers and local officials were reportedly bombarded with text messages in some areas, urging them to surrender or cooperate with the Taliban to avoid a worse fate.

Many were offered safe passage if they did not put up a fight, while others were reached through tribal and village elders.

What happened to the anti-Taliban warlords and their militias? 

With Afghan forces unable to hold off the Taliban advances, many of Afghanistan’s famed – and notorious – warlords rallied their militias and promised a black eye to the Taliban if they attacked their cities.

But with confidence plunging in the ability of Afghanistan’s government to survive, never mind hold off the insurgents, the writing was also on the wall for the warlords.

Their cities fell without a fight. Warlord Ismail Khan in the western city of Herat was captured by the Taliban as it fell.

Abdul Rashid Dostum and Atta Mohammad Noor in the north fled to Uzbekistan, as their militia members abandoned humvees, weapons and even their uniforms on the road out of Mazar-i-Sharif.

But how were the Taliban able to do this so quickly?

The Taliban had started putting deals and surrender arrangements in place reportedly long before the launch of their blitz in May.

From individual soldiers and low-level government officials to apparently provincial governors and ministers, the insurgents pressed for deals – with the Taliban all but victorious, why put up a fight?

The strategy proved immensely effective.

The images from their final march to Kabul were not of bodies in the streets and bloody battlefields, but of Taliban and government officials sitting comfortably on couches as they formalised the handover of cities and provinces.

According to one reported US estimate less than a month before the fall of Kabul, the Afghan government could collapse in 90 days.

But once the Taliban captured their first provincial capital, it took less than two weeks. 

Former Afghan President Hamid Kharzai tried to reassure those left in Kabul in a video message: ‘To the people of Kabul, I, my daughters and my family are here with you. My wish is that the problems of our country and capital could be solved with peaceful dialogue and negotiations.

‘I want the Taliban forces, wherever you are, to provide safety to the people and pay attention to preserve people’s lives. I advise all the people to stay in your homes. We are trying to talk with the leadership of Taliban to solve the problems of the people of Afghanistan through dialogue and brotherhood, for the sake of our nation.’

Afghanistan’s Paralympic team have already announced they will not participate in Tokyo Games due to the closure of Kabul airport amid the worsening political situation in the country. 

Many experts and politicians have compared the evacuation at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul to the fall of Saigon.

The fall of Saigon happened when U.S. military personnel evacuated the former southern capital of Vietnam in 1975 after the North Vietnamese army captured the city, leading to the end of the Vietnam War.

The most dramatic images involved the evacuation of people from the roof of the U.S. Embassy in Saigon.

Families of soldiers who died on previous tours of Afghanistan have criticised the Biden administration’s handling of the troop withdrawal from the nation.

The U.S. government said late on Sunday that all staff from the embassy in Kabul were relocated to the airport. Acting U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Ross Wilson was seen arriving at Kabul airport, as other Americans still in the country were ordered to shelter in place.    

Initially, the aim had been to have staff removed within 72 hours, but the Taliban’s advances across the Afghan capital Kabul prompted the immediate removal of all staff.

Former President Donald Trump sent a statement to his followers on Sunday calling on President Joe Biden to ‘resign in disgrace’ amid the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan after the withdrawal of US troops.

‘It is time for Joe Biden to resign in disgrace for what he has allowed to happen to Afghanistan, along with the tremendous surge in COVID, the Border catastrophe, the destruction of energy independence, and our crippled economy,’ Trump said in an email.

He continued perpetuating his claim that Biden won the presidency via election fraud, concluding the email: ‘It shouldn’t be a big deal, because he wasn’t elected legitimately in the first place.’ 

Earlier Sunday, he issued another statement denouncing the Biden administration over the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan.

‘Tragic mess in Afghanistan, a completely open and broken Border, Crime at record levels, oil prices through the roof, inflation rising, and taken advantage of by the entire world—DO YOU MISS ME YET?’ he said in a short emailed statement on Friday.

The Trump administration negotiated the terms of a US withdrawal in talks with the Taliban last year. Now the speed of a Taliban advance has rattled officials three weeks ahead of President Biden’s August 31 deadline to bring all troops home. 

Biden has repeatedly said he has no regrets about pushing ahead with his timetable, insisting there was no choice but to withdraw American troops because he would not ‘pass this war’ to another president. 

The United States released a statement with more than 65 nations urging the Taliban to let Afghans leave the country, warning of accountability for any abuses. 

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres urged the Taliban and all parties to ‘exercise restraint’ and said the rights of women and girls, who suffered under the previous Taliban regime, must be protected.  

The US government has insisted in recent days that its two decades of war in Afghanistan was a success, defined by quashing the Al-Qaeda threat.

President Joe Biden also said he was determined there was no choice but to withdraw American troops, as he would not ‘pass this war’ onto another president. 

But Washington was left shocked by the rapid collapse of the Afghan government, and critics have said the United States’ reputation as a global power has been badly tarnished.

‘America’s credibility as an ally is diminished,’ said Husain Haqqani, Pakistan’s former ambassador to the United States.

The Taliban freed thousands of prisoners as they swept across the country as the police melted away in recent days. There were scattered reports of looting and armed men knocking on doors and gates. 

The Taliban deployed fighters at major intersections and sought to project calm, circulating videos showing quiet city streets.

‘There were a few Taliban fighters on each and every road and intersection in the city,’ Shah Mohammad, a 55-year-old gardener, said after coming to work in the diplomatic quarter. He said there was less traffic than usual and fewer people out on the streets.

A US Chinook helicopter flies over the city of Kabul as diplomatic vehicles leave the compound after the Taliban advanced on the Afghan capital

US troops are guarding the airport and have taken over air traffic control, but all non-military flights are grounded. Soldiers take up their positions as they secure the airport in Kabul on Monday

US troops are guarding the airport and have taken over air traffic control, but all non-military flights are grounded. Soldiers take up their positions as they secure the airport in Kabul on Monday

Taliban fighters raise their flag at the Ghazni provincial governor's house, in Ghazni, southeastern, Afghanistan, Sunday, Aug. 15, 2021

Taliban fighters raise their flag at the Ghazni provincial governor’s house, in Ghazni, southeastern, Afghanistan, Sunday, Aug. 15, 2021

Taliban commander ‘spent eight years in Guantanamo Bay’ 

A Taliban commander claimed he spent eight years in Guantanamo Bay in a triumphant speech from inside the Presidential Palace in Kabul as the militants declared an Islamic state of Afghanistan after the country’s president joined thousands of Afghan nationals in a mass exodus.

Taliban fighters marched into the ancient palace on Sunday and demanded a ‘peaceful transfer of power’ as the capital city descended into chaos, with US helicopters evacuating diplomats from the embassy in scenes echoing the 1975 Fall of Saigon which followed the Vietnam War.

There were chaotic scenes at Kabul airport where thousands of desperate Afghans are gathering in an attempt to flee the country. Fighting and stampedes broke out between passengers before commercial flights were stopped and only military planes departed the terminals which are now guarded by US troops.

The Al-Jazeera news channel livestreamed the press conference from inside the palace, which showed a group of Taliban fighters sitting at the President’s desk before a fighter claimed he was a former inmate of the US-controlled Guantanamo Bay detention centre in Cuba.

Established by George W Bush in 2002, suspected terrorists have been detained without trial and tortured at the facility. Donald Trump signed an executive order to keep the centre open indefinitely in 2018, while in February the Biden administration vowed to shut Guantanamo down.

A spokesman for the Taliban’s political office told Al-Jazeera TV on Sunday that the war is over in Afghanistan and that the type of rule and the form of regime will be clear soon.

Suhail Shaheen, a Taliban spokesman, tweeted that fighters had been instructed not to enter any home without permission and to protect ‘life, property and honor.’  

The speed of the Taliban advance has taken almost everyone by surprise and Afghans who had booked commercial flights to escape the Taliban face being forced to remain in Afghanistan.

Westerners will be evacuated by their home nations on military flights but the Taliban has said that it will not allow Afghan citizens to leave.

Tens of thousands of interpreters and officials who helped the Western-backed Afghan government are desperate to escape the country for fear of reprisals by the Taliban.

On Sunday the US led more than 65 nations in urging the resurgent Taliban to let Afghans leave the country, warning of accountability for any abuses. 

‘The United States joins the international community in affirming that Afghans and international citizens who wish to depart must be allowed to do so,’ Secretary of State Antony Blinken wrote on Twitter as the State Department released a statement signed by its close allies. 

‘Those in positions of power and authority across Afghanistan bear responsibility – and accountability – for the protection of human life,’ the joint statement said.  

The Taliban insisted that they were seeking a peaceful takeover of power and were prepared to offer an amnesty to those who had worked with the Afghan government or with foreign governments.

However those assurances were being treated with deep scepticism by many British MPs amid reports of threats to those who remain and their families.

Heavily armed Taliban fighters fanned out across the capital, and several entered Kabul’s abandoned presidential palace. 

Suhail Shaheen, a Taliban spokesman and negotiator, said that the militants would hold talks in the coming days aimed at forming an ‘open, inclusive Islamic government.’

But he refused to guarantee that Afghans would be allowed to leave the country, telling the BBC: ‘We need all Afghans to stay’. 

He said Taliban forces would not attack NATO teams overseeing evacuations, but said aid organizations and foreign embassies should stay, saying ‘We won’t hurt them’.

‘The Taliban have won with the judgement of their swords and guns, and are now responsible for the honor, property and self-preservation of their countrymen,’ Ghani said after fleeing. 

Secretary of State Antony Blinken had said earlier on Sunday that US embassy staff were ferried by helicopter from the diplomatic compound to the airport, about 3 miles away on the northeastern side of the city.

‘We’re working to make sure that our personnel are safe and secure. We’re relocating the men and women of our embassy to a location at the airport,’ Blinken told ABC news.

Asked if the evacuation was evocative of the US departure from Vietnam in 1975, he said: ‘Let’s take a step back. This is manifestly not Saigon.’   

Taliban are seen inside the presidential palace in Kabul amid a withdrawal of western forces

Taliban are seen inside the presidential palace in Kabul amid a withdrawal of western forces

Last days of the US Embassy in Kabul: Nerve center of the war on terror is being gutted of all sensitive material as staff and CIA assets

The US Embassy in Kabul – the nerve center of the war on terror – is being gutted of all its sensitive material and evacuated in 72 hours, as the Taliban coils around Afghanistan’s capital. 

The Embassy’s demise will create an intelligence void that could plunge the US into pre-9/11 blindness, unless it can find another nearby country that will allow it rebuild its spy center.  

For the past 20 years, the US Embassy in Kabul has gathered vast amounts of information that shaped counterterrorism military actions – such as precision drone strikes – and prevented another 9/11-type attack. 

The location allowed CIA agents to meet with sources and monitor the Taliban, Al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations in the region.  

‘When the time comes for the US military to withdraw, the US government’s ability to collect and act on threats will diminish. That’s simply a fact,’ CIA Director Bill Burns told Senators in April.  

Everyone in the Embassy – except Bureau of Diplomatic Security Service agents and top decisionmakers, including the ambassador – will be out of the country before the end of Tuesday.   

Security Engineers will also stay behind as they continue to burn, shred and pulverize 20 years worth of intelligence stored on electronics and in documents. 

Embassy or agency logos, American flags ‘or items which could be misused in propaganda efforts’ are also considered to be sensitive materials and will be destroyed. 

The military is prepared to lower the American flag flying above the Embassy – at the State Department’s order – signaling the Embassy’s official closure. 

Sources told Reuters that most U.S staff were expected to be evacuated from Kabul in the coming day or two.

A NATO official said all commercial flights had been suspended and only military aircraft were allowed to operate. The alliance said it was helping to keep the airport running.

France and Germany, members of NATO, said on Sunday they were moving their diplomats to the airport and sending military transport planes to Kabul to evacuate their citizens and their Afghan helpers.

A US intelligence assessment earlier in the week had said Kabul could be encircled in 30 days and could fall to the Taliban within 90 days, but the insurgents captured most of Afghanistan’s major cities in less than a week and entered the capital on Sunday.

Some 4,200 people remained in the US embassy until Thursday, when the Taliban’s rapid gains forced the Biden administration to begin flying in thousands of troops to help pull out many of the remaining diplomats.

The deployment included an additional 1,000 soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division, who President Joe Biden said on Saturday would help evacuate citizens and ensure an ‘orderly and safe’ drawdown of US military personnel.

On Sunday, US officials said they were weighing whether more troops were needed. Another 3,000 are on standby in Kuwait.

Washington invested billions of dollars over four US administrations in Afghan government forces, giving them advantages over the Taliban, but they were unable to defend the country in the face of the militants’ advance, Blinken told CNN.

The United States’ original mission in Afghanistan, launched to oust al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, had been fulfilled, Blinken said, saying Washington had prevented further attacks by militants harbored by the Taliban.

But Biden has faced rising domestic criticism after sticking to the plan to withdraw, which was agreed under his Republican predecessor Donald Trump. On Saturday, Biden defended his decision, saying an ‘endless American presence in the middle of another country’s civil conflict was not acceptable to me’.

Republican Representative Michael McCaul said a Taliban takeover would revive the threat to America. 

‘We are going to go back to a pre-9/11 state. A breeding ground for terrorism,’ he told CNN on Sunday.

Biden met with his national security team on Sunday by secure videoconference from the presidential retreat at Camp David to hear updates on evacuations and the security situation, a White House official said.

Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said at a news conference that the safety of U.S. personnel and of Afghans who supported the Americans should be Washington’s top concern. 

‘Job number one is for us to bring back, first, all American personnel… But second, all of the brave Afghans who helped our military, they have to be provided an exit to come to America,’ Schumer said.


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