Taliban ‘take over’ presidential palace as Ghani flees

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Copters evacuating staff from US embassy; Militants seek unconditional surrender from govt; Local police desert their posts

Kabdul

President Ashraf Ghani, along with his close aides, flew out of Afghanis tan on Sunday, paving way for Taliban to regain power 20 years after a US-led military invasion ousted them.

A senior Afghan Interior Ministry official confirmed the development to Reuters. Asked for comment, the president’s office said it “cannot say anything about Ashraf Ghani’s movement for security reasons”.

Shortly after President Ghani flew out of the country, Taliban commanders claimed that they “took control” of the presidential palace in Kabul, Russia’s RT reported. The report quoted the group as saying that it expected a total handover of power.

Two officials from the militant group told Reuters there would be no transitional government following their lighting sweep across Afghanistan.

Ghani’s destination was uncertain: a senior Interior Ministry official said he had left for Tajikistan, while a Foreign Ministry official said his location was unknown and the Taliban said it was checking his whereabouts. Some local social media users branded him a “coward” for leaving them in chaos.

Abdullah Abdullah, the head of the Afghan National Reconciliation Council, said Ghani had left and blamed him for the country’s situation.

“The former president of Afghanistan left Afghanistan, leaving the country in this difficult situation,” Abdullah said in a Facebook Live video. “God should hold him accountable.”

Vice President Amrullah Saleh, who is said to have accompanied Ghani and the others who left, in a tweet vowed not to bow to the Taliban, but he did not respond in the message to reports of him leaving the country.

Acting defence minister Bismillah Mohammadi, earlier in the day, said that the president had handed the authority of solving the crisis in the country to political leaders.

Mohammadi, according to ToloNews said that a delegation will travel to Doha on Monday for talks on the country’s situation.

Meanwhile, sources close to the Taliban said that it has been agreed that Ghani will resign after a political agreement and hand the power to a transitional government.

Soon after an Afghanistan interior ministry official confirmed reports of Taliban entering Kabul from all sides earlier in the day, a spokesperson for the Taliban stated that the fighters have been ordered to remain at the city’s gates, and not enter it.

The Taliban’s announcement signalled the insurgents were confident of taking power imminently, as the United States and other nations rushed to evacuate their citizens from the capital.
Earlier, Zabihullah Mujahid had said the Taliban had no intention of “entering Kabul by force or war, but is holding talks with the other side for a peaceful entrance to Kabul.”

He did not explain who the “other side was” but assured Afghans that “life, honor and property of people will be protected”, before ordering the Taliban to “remain at the gates of Kabul and avoid revenge.”

Taliban spokesman Mujahid said the group was in talks with the Western-backed government for a peaceful surrender.

“Taliban fighters are to be on standby on all entrances of Kabul until a peaceful and satisfactory transfer of power is agreed,” he said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Taliban negotiators headed to the presidential palace to discuss the transfer, said an Afghan official who spoke on condition of anonymity. It remained unclear when that transfer would take place.

The negotiators on the government side included former president Hamid Karzai and Abdullah Abdullah, the head of the Afghan National Reconciliation Council, an official said.

Abdullah has long been a vocal critic of Ghani, who has refused giving up power to get a deal with the Taliban.

Earlier in the day, Afghanistan Minister of Interior General Abdul Satar Mirzakwal announced that there will be a ‘peaceful transfer of power’ to a ‘transitional government’ hours after the Taliban began entering Kabul.

“The security of Kabul is the responsibility of the security forces,” he said.
President Ghani’s government was left completely isolated on Sunday after the Taliban claimed the anti-Taliban northern stronghold of Mazar-i-Sharif and the eastern city of Jalalabad.

Like with most of the other captured cities, the seizure of power came after government forces surrendered or retreated.

Three diplomatic sources said Ali Ahmad Jalali, a U.S.-based academic and former Afghan interior minister, could be named head of an interim administration in Kabul, but Taliban have not agreed to proposal. In 2009, he was barred from running for president after refusing to give up his U.S. citizenship.

Another spokesperson Suhail Shaheen said the group would protect the rights of women, as well as freedoms for media workers and diplomats.

“We assure the people, particularly in the city of Kabul, that their properties, their lives are safe,” Shaheen told the BBC, saying a transfer of power was expected in days.

The ease of the Taliban’s advance, despite billions of dollars spent by the United States and others to build up local Afghan government forces, has stunned the world.

US officials said diplomats were being ferried by helicopters to the airport from its embassy in the fortified Wazir Akbar Khan district.

More American troops were being sent to help in the evacuations after the Taliban’s surge brought the Islamist group to Kabul in a matter of days.—Agencies

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