Taliban militias have seized Afghanistan's capital Kabul, while President Ashraf Ghani fled the country after swift military actions over the past week. The war in Afghanistan is over, a spokesman for the Taliban's political office announced, adding that soon it will be clear what kind of government there will be under the Taliban 20 years after a US-led military invasion had ousted them.
The same source also added the group was willing to talk with Afghan personalities, who will be guaranteed the necessary protection, as will be citizens and diplomatic missions.
Our country was liberated and the mujahideen won in Afghanistan, a militiaman told Al Jazeera from the presidential palace.
Many citizens filled the roads in their attempt to leave the country, while Kabul's airport was under fire as foreign diplomats and civilians crammed the passengers halls wishing to leave.
The United Kingdom announced it would keep their diplomatic representation in place, while other western countries such as the United States and Italy instead evacuated their embassies.
Top members of the Taliban military commission Sunday arrived at the presidential palace in Kabul as fighters took positions throughout the city, in order to “prevent chaos and looting after Afghan forces abandoned them,” according to Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid.
Ghani issued a statement on Facebook later Sunday, saying he left the country to prevent bloodshed. He landed in Tajikistan then left soon after for an unknown destination.
The Taliban swept through most of the country in a little more than a week and reached the gates of the capital, Kabul, on Saturday. The insurgents initially stayed out of the city, maintaining they wanted a ”peaceful transition of power” to spare Kabul of any violence. But they had made it clear they would not engage Ghani in any transfer of power, saying he was not “a legitimate” president.
The United Nations urged the Taliban to “exercise utmost restraint in order to protect lives” in a statement from the secretary-general Sunday night, adding that all humanitarian organizations must be allowed to provide assistance unimpeded.
Abdullah Abdullah, Chairman of Afghanistan's High Council for National Reconciliation, is said to be brokering a deal after which a formal transfer of power to the Taliban will take place shortly in Doha, Qatar.
Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen, who is based in the group’s political office in the Qatari capital, Doha, said in a statement that insurgent fighters have been directed not to harm anyone or attack government and private properties during the course of military advances.
Shaheen said “anyone found guilty would be prosecuted and severely punished” by the Taliban. He insisted the Islamist group has maintained from the outset that it wanted a “peaceful transition of power,” blaming the beleaguered Ghani government for “pushing ahead with the war option.”
Earlier Sunday, the Taliban took over Jalalabad, capital of Nangarhar province and the last major city outside the capital to have been under government control.
Various reports said security forces were also retreating from other districts of Nangarhar province, which borders Pakistan and holds one of the key border crossings into Pakistan via Torkhem.
Also Sunday, Mujahid, the Taliban spokesman, said their fighters took control of Bagram Air Base and the Parwan prison there and freed its inmates. There were about 5,000 high-profile Taliban, al-Qaida and ISIS prisoners at Bagram, a facility which served as the main base for the U.S.-led foreign military mission in Afghanistan.
The speed of the Taliban offensive has shocked both locals and the international community. While violence in the country has been high since 2020, after the Taliban signed a deal with the United States, the latest campaign against Afghan cities has been unexpectedly fast.
The Taliban gains started with the capital of Nimruz province August 6 and nine days later, they had surrounded Kabul from all sides.
The Taliban’s arrival at the gates of Kabul has embassies scrambling to get their personnel out.
The U.S. is sending 1,000 troops, in addition to the 3,000 troops that were ordered last week, to help evacuate U.S. Embassy staff. Helicopters are reported ferrying staff to the Kabul airport.
“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 U.S. personnel or our mission at risk there, will be met with a swift and strong U.S. military response,” US President Joseph Biden said, according to a White House statement.