Taliban militants take over Kabul; U.S. embassy in Afghanistan evacuated

By Allen Cone & Darryl Coote
People depart to their homes after Taliban entered Kabul, Afghanistan, on Sunday. Photo by Bashir Darwish/ UPI
1 of 5 | People depart to their homes after Taliban entered Kabul, Afghanistan, on Sunday. Photo by Bashir Darwish/ UPI | License Photo

Aug. 15 (UPI) -- Taliban militants took control of Afghanistan on Sunday, after storming Kabul and the presidential palace.

President Ashraf Ghani has fled the country and former President Hamid Karzai said he has formed a council to facilitate the peaceful transition of power over Afghanistan to the Taliban.


Meanwhile, the United States is sending 6,000 troops to help evacuate U.S. personnel, including those stationed at its embassy, as well as Afghans such as translators who worked with American troops.

The Taliban took control of almost the entire country ahead of the total withdrawal of U.S. military forces.

The fighters on Sunday entered Kabul, rather than remaining on the outskirts, because Afghan government security forces had abandoned their posts, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in a statement.


"This morning the Islamic Emirate released a statement that our forces were outside Kabul city and we did not want to enter Kabul through military ways," he said. "However, now we are getting reports that the district police offices are evacuated, police has left their job of ensuring the security, also the ministries are emptied and the security personnel of the Kabul administration has fled."

He told the citizens of Kabul not to feat their presence.

The Taliban had said fighters were ordered to remain on the edges of the capital with negotiations taking place to ensure a peaceful transition of power. "We assure the people in Afghanistan -- there will be no revenge on anyone," a Taliban spokesman told the BBC.

Ghani, a former economist who has served as Afghanistan's president since 2014, departed from the nation, Abdullah Abdullah, the Afghan chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation, said in a video statement. He used to be an American citizen but gave up his passport to run for the Afghan presidency in 2009.

"Today, I came across a hard choice; I should stand to face the armed Taliban who wanted to enter the palace or leave the dear country that I dedicated my life to protecting and protecting the past twenty years," Ghani posted on Facebook. "If there were still countless countrymen martyred and they would face the destruction and destruction of Kabul city, the result would have been a big human disaster in this six million city. The Taliban have made it to remove me, they are here to attack all Kabul and the people of Kabul. In order to avoid the bleeding flood, I thought it was best to get out."


He wrote the future for Afghanistan is uncertain.

"Taliban have won the judgement of sword and guns and now they are responsible for protecting the countrymen's honor, wealth and self-esteem," the post read. "Never in history has dry power given legitimacy to anyone and won't give it to them. They are now facing a new historical test; either they will protect the name and honor of Afghanistan or they will prioritize other places and networks. Many people and many Aqshar are in fear and are unreliable in the future. It is necessary for Taliban to assure all the people, nations, different sectors, sisters and women of Afghanistan to win the legitimacy and the hearts of the people."

Karzai announced in a statement following Ghani's departure he was coordinating a council consisting of himself, Abdullah Abdullah and political party Hesb-i-Islami leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar to negotiate the transfer of power to the Taliban.

A witness told CNN that Hamid Karzai International Airport was in a chaotic situation, as most foreigners attempted to leave the country.

"There are big crowds trying to get in and at one stage shooting erupted," the witness said.

"There was also a warning of a ground attack and we were in a bunker for the past hour but now it is all clear. It's all foreigners here. One young European woman was freaking out."


A 22-year-old student told the BBC that he had walked more than five hours to reach the airport.

"My feet hurt, they have blisters and I'm finding it difficult to stand," he said. "It was like a military town -- people were in traditional clothes, but they had weapons and were firing in the air. It reminded me of the jihad that I heard of from my parents."

The U.S. State Department with 65 other countries and the European Union issued a joint statement Sunday night calling on the Taliban to "respect and facilitate the safe and orderly departure of foreign nationals and Afghans who wish to leave the country."

"Those in positions of power and authority across Afghanistan bear responsibility -- and accountability -- for the protection of human life and property and for the immediate restoration of security and civil order," they said without stating the Taliban by name. "The Afghan people deserve to live in safety, security and dignity. We in the international community stand ready to assist them."

Mujahid assured foreign nationals in Kabul their safety via Twitter.

"Let everyone be in Kabul with full confidence, the forces of the [Taliban] are tasked with strengthening the security of Kabul and all other cities," he said.


Staff from the U.S. Kabul embassy were seen boarding military planes at the airport.

A small number of core personnel, including the top U.S. diplomat will remain at the Kabul airport.

Earlier Sunday, militants took without a fight control of Jalalabad, a key eastern city, which means roads are secured the roads connecting the country with Pakistan.

The Taliban regained Bagram airfield and prison, which is about 25 miles north of the city center.

The complex, which was once the largest U.S. military facility in Afghanistan, was evacuated by the U.S. military on July 2

On Saturday, President Joe Biden announced an additional direct deployment of 1,000 troops to Afghanistan for a total of 5,000 "to make sure we can have an orderly and safe drawdown of U.S. personnel and other allied personnel and an orderly and safe evacuation of Afghans who helped our troops during our mission and those at special risk from the Taliban advance."

Then Sunday, the Defense Department added another 1,000.

About 1,000 are already on the ground in country, according to a defense official. A 1,000-troop battalion from the 82nd Airborne Division were redirected to Kabul, instead of being on standby in Kuwait.


U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Sunday the Taliban advanced "more quickly than we anticipated," but defended the U.S. troops' withdrawal.

On Feb. 29 of last year, the United States and the Taliban signed a peace agreement that include the withdrawal of all regular American and NATO troops from Afghanistan.

"We were in Afghanistan for one over-riding purpose: to deal with the folks who attacked us on 9/11. That's why we went there 20 years ago," he said. "And over those 20 years we brought Bin Laden to justice, we vastly diminished the threat posed by Al-Qaida in Afghanistan to the United States to the point where it's not capable of conducting such an attack again from Afghanistan."

"On the terms that we went into Afghanistan in the first place, we've succeeded in our objectives," he said.

The Trump administration agreed to reduce its forces from 13,000 to 8,600 by July 2020 with a full withdrawal by May 2021 and Biden extended it to Sept. 11, the anniversary of the 9/11 attack. On July 8, Biden said it would be complete by Aug. 31.

"The idea that the status quo could have been maintained by keeping our forces there is simply wrong," Blinken told CNN's Jake Tapper.


"We haven't asked the Taliban for anything. We've told the Taliban that if they interfere with our personnel, with our operations as we're proceeding with this drawdown, there will be a swift and decisive response."

Other nations evacuating their embassy buildings included Canada, Sweden, Germany.

Russia says it will not be closing its embassy, because of security assurances by the Taliban. But Russia is planning to convene an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council to discuss the situation in Afghanistan.

The Taliban were ousted nearly 20 years ago by a U.S.-led military coalition.

People in Kabul have no need to worry and their properties and lives are safe, Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen told the BBC.

"We are the servants of the people and of this country," he said.

The Taliban wants Afghans to help with the post-conflict reconstruction, Shaheen said.

The 20-year war in Afghanistan that was initiated following the terror attacks on 9/11 has resulted in the deaths of 2,448 U.S. troops and 20,722 wounded, Biden said in April.

At hight of 2011, the U.S. military had some 98,000 troops in the country.

Brown University's Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs has said the United States has spent more $2.2 trillion on its longest war.


For the Afghans, the war has also resulted in the deaths of upwards of 69,000 military and police, it said.

The university tallies the deaths of some 241,000 in Afghanistan as well as Pakistan connected war zones, with more than 71,000 being civilians.

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