Taliban in control of Afghanistan, panic in Kabul

Taliban fighters stand guard along a street at the Massoud Square in Kabul on August 16, 2021. (Photo: AFP)
KABUL — Victorious Taliban fighters patrolled Kabul on Monday after a stunningly swift end to Afghanistan's 20-year war, as thousands of people mobbed the city's airport trying to flee the group's feared rule.اضافة اعلان

President Ashraf Ghani flew out of the country on Sunday as the insurgents encircled the capital, capping a military victory that saw them capture the country's major cities in a 10-day lightning offensive.

"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 afterwards.

Government forces collapsed without the support of the US military, which invaded Afghanistan in 2001 after the September 11 attacks and toppled the Taliban for its support of Al-Qaeda.

But the United States ultimately failed to build a democratic government capable of withstanding the Taliban, despite spending billions of dollars and providing two decades of military support.

US President Joe Biden was due to speak about the chaotic situation for the first time from the White House at 1945 GMT.

Taliban fighters have taken over checkpoints across the city, and militants with rifles slung over their shoulders walked through the streets of the Green Zone, the heavily fortified district that houses most embassies and international organizations.

The Taliban sought to reassure the international community that Afghans should not fear them and said they will not take revenge against those who supported the US-backed alliance.

In a message posted to social media, Taliban co-founder Abdul Ghani Baradar called on his fighters to remain disciplined after taking control of the city.

"Now it's time to test and prove. Now we have to show that we can serve our nation and ensure security and comfort of life," he said.

The Taliban's capture of the capital occurred, as in many other cities, with little of the bloodshed many had feared.

Chaos at the airport

There were desperate scenes at Kabul's airport as people tried to board the few flights available. Social media videos appeared to show people climbing onto the fuselage of some aircraft before takeoff.

"We are afraid to live in this city," a 25-year-old ex-soldier told AFP as he stood among huge crowds on the tarmac.

"Since I served in the army, the Taliban would definitely target me."

An Afghan military plane crashed in Uzbekistan, the Central Asian country's defense ministry said, while neighboring Tajikistan said more than 100 Afghan soldiers had landed at one of its airports.

The United States — which was left shocked by the rapid collapse of the Afghan government — has sent 6,000 troops to the airport to ensure the safe evacuation of embassy staff, as well as Afghans who worked as interpreters or in other support roles.

Other governments including France, Germany, and Australia also organized charter flights.

The US government said Monday it had secured the airport, but there was still chaos with witnesses reporting soldiers firing shots into the air to ward off crowds.

US soldiers shot dead two men in the crowd with weapons who had "brandished them menacingly", a Pentagon official said.

Authorities then canceled all remaining commercial flights, citing the threat of looters and crowds of civilians surging onto the runways.

"US military forces are on the scene working alongside Turkish and other international troops to clear the area of people. We do not know how long this will take," Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said.

'We are afraid'

Critics say the US reputation as a global power has been badly tarnished.
Britain's Defense Secretary Ben Wallace described the Taliban takeover as a "failure of the international community", assessing that the West's intervention was a job only half-done.

The head of German Chancellor Angela Merkel's CDU party, Armin Laschet, described the withdrawal as "the biggest NATO debacle since its founding".

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. 

Biden said at the weekend that there was no choice but to withdraw American troops and he would not "pass this war" on to another president.

The UN Security Council met in emergency session on the crisis, with Secretary-General Antonio Guterres calling on the international community to "suppress the global terrorist threat in Afghanistan" and ensure respect of human rights.

"The following days will be pivotal," he said. "The world is watching. We cannot and must not abandon the people of Afghanistan."

'You can't breathe'

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

The Taliban imposed an ultra-strict interpretation of sharia law during their 1996-2001 rule.

This included banning girls from schools and women from working, while people were publicly stoned to death for adultery.

Muska Dastageer, a lecturer at the American University of Afghanistan, which opened five years after the Taliban were ousted, said Kabul residents felt "frightened and helpless". 

"The fear just sits inside your chest like a black bird. It opens its wings, and you can't breathe," she wrote on Twitter.

China was the first major nation to flag support for the Taliban, stating it was ready for "friendly relations".

Russia's ambassador to Afghanistan planned to meet with the Taliban on Tuesday, with recognition to be determined on how they govern the country in the near future, a foreign ministry official in Moscow said.

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