WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The US embassy in Kabul said on Sunday that the security situation at the airport in the Afghan capital was changing rapidly and there were reports of gunfire as US troops helped evacuate US personnel.
Two sources familiar with the situation at Hamid Karzai International Airport could not confirm reports of gunfire there, however, amid an exodus of Americans from Taliban insurgents entering Kabul and their local allies and other foreigners.
“There are reports that a fire broke out at the airport, so we are instructing US citizens to seek refuge,” the embassy said in a security alert.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Sunday that embassy officials were being transported by helicopter from the diplomatic compound to the airport, which is about three miles to the northeast of the city. Recently arrived US troops provided security.
President Ashraf Ghani left the country, not explaining how power would be transferred after an attack that brought the Taliban back two decades after the Taliban was overthrown by US-led forces.
Sources told Reuters that most American personnel would be evacuated from Kabul in the next day or two.
A NATO official said all commercial flights have been suspended and only military aircraft are allowed to operate.
A US intelligence analysis earlier this week said that Kabul could be besieged in 30 days and under the Taliban in 90 days, but the insurgents captured most of Afghanistan’s major cities in less than a week. captured and entered the capital on Sunday.
About 4,200 people remained at the US embassy until Thursday, when the Taliban’s quick gains forced the Biden government to send troops to begin the withdrawal.
Blinken told CNN that Washington invested billions of dollars in Afghan government forces across four US administrations, giving them an advantage over the Taliban, but that they were unable to defend the country in the face of militants.
“It happened faster than we expected,” Blinken said.
The Native American mission in Afghanistan launched after September 11, 2001 to topple al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden, the attacks have been completed, Blinken said, adding that Washington has prevented further attacks by militants sheltered by the Taliban. .
But Biden has faced mounting internal criticism after sticking to a return plan that his Republican predecessor, Donald Trump, had agreed to. On Saturday, Biden defended his decision, saying that “an endless American presence in the midst of another country’s civil strife was not acceptable to me.”
A White House official said Biden met with his national security team via secure videoconference from the president’s retreat at Camp David on Sunday and heard updates on the evacuation and security situation.
(Reporting from the Kabul Bureau; Idris Ali, Jonathan Lande, Chris Sanders, Michael Martina and Brad Heath in Washington, Steve Holland at Camp David; Text by Simon Lewis and Sonya Hepinstall; Editing by Daniel Wallis).
Afghanistan’s president leaves the country as Taliban capture Kabul
(Reuters) – Afghan President Ashraf Ghani left Afghanistan on Sunday after Taliban fighters arrived in the capital, Kabul, cementing the group’s return to power two decades after being ousted by US-led military forces.
US diplomats were evacuated from the embassy by helicopter after terrorists swept the country in a matter of days with little resistance from local forces trained and equipped with billions of dollars by the United States and others.
The Taliban told government officials to stop, but officials said Ghani had left the country.
It was not clear where he was going. A senior home ministry official said he had gone to Tajikistan, though a foreign ministry official said it was not known which country he would visit.
A Taliban representative said the group was verifying Ghabi’s whereabouts. Some social media users called him a “coward” for leaving him in the chaos.
“Taliban guerrillas arrived in Kabul “from all sides”, and there were reports of sporadic firing around the city, a senior interior ministry official told Reuters.
There were no significant skirmishes and the group said it was waiting for the Western-backed government to surrender peacefully.
“Taliban fighters are on standby at every entrance to Kabul until a peaceful and satisfactory transfer of power is agreed,” spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said.
Many Afghans fear that the Taliban will back down with harsh practices in implementing Sharia, Islamic law. During the group’s domination between 1996 and 2001, women were not allowed to work and punishments such as stone pelting, whipping and hanging were practiced.
The group sought to present a more liberal face, promising to respect women’s rights and protect both foreigners and Afghans. Another spokesman, Suhail Shaheen, said the Taliban would protect women’s rights as well as the freedoms of media professionals and diplomats.
“We assure the people, especially the people of Kabul city, that their property and their lives are safe,” Shaheen told the BBC.
Acting Interior Minister Abdul Sattar Mirzakawal said the transfer would be made to a transitional government. There will be no attack on the city, a peaceful concession has been agreed.”
Residents said many of Kabul’s streets were filled with cars and people trying to get home or to the airport.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the embassy in Washington was being moved to the airport and there was an inventory to protect people from harm.
A NATO official said the coalition was helping to secure the airport and that a political solution “is now more urgent than ever.”
Earlier on Sunday, rebels captured the eastern city of Jalalabad without a fight, gaining control of one of Afghanistan’s main highways. They also seized the Torkham border post with Pakistan, making Kabul airport the only exit out of the country that is still in government hands.
“The only way to save civilian lives was to let the Taliban pass,” an Afghan official in Jalalabad told Reuters.
US President Joe Biden authorized the deployment of 5,000 US troops to help evacuate civilians to ensure an “orderly and safe” return of military personnel.
Biden said his government had told Taliban officials in talks in Qatar that any action that would put US officials at risk would “in return result in a swift and strong military response from the United States.”
The Democratic president is facing domestic criticism after sticking to a plan launched by his predecessor Donald Trump to end the US mission in Afghanistan by August 31.
Biden said on Saturday, “I do not accept America’s endless presence in the midst of another country’s civil strife.”
Afghan president says he left country to avoid bloodshed
NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said on Sunday that he had left the country to avoid bloodshed as the Taliban captured the capital Kabul and stormed the Rashtrapati Bhavan in Kabul.
Ghani has stepped in to avoid a conflict with the Taliban that would threaten millions of Kabul residents, he said in a Facebook post – his first remarks since leaving the country.
He did not divulge details about his current location.