Afghanistan President, Ashraf Ghani, on Sunday said he fled the country to avoid bloodshed from the Taliban.
Ghani made this known in a Facebook post addressed to Afghan citizens hours after he left the country following the invasion of Kabul, the country’s capital, by the Taliban.
He, however, did not disclose where he had gone to.
Ghani said the Taliban had won, as the militants entered Kabul — nearly 20 years after they were ousted from power by a US-led invasion.
The insurgents’ imminent takeover triggered fear and panic in Kabul among residents fearful of the group’s hardline brand of Islam, which it imposed during its 1996-2001 rule.
“The Taliban have won with the judgement of their swords and guns, and are now responsible for the honour, property and self-preservation of their countrymen,” Ghani said in a statement posted to Facebook, his first since fleeing.
“They are now facing a new historical test. Either they will preserve the name and honour of Afghanistan or they will give priority to other places and networks,” he added, saying he left to prevent a “flood of bloodshed”.
The Afghan President quietly left the sprawling presidential palace with a small coterie of confidants — and did not even tell other political leaders who had been negotiating a peaceful transition of power with the Taliban that he was heading for the exit.
Leading Afghan media group, Tolo news, suggested he had gone to Tajikistan but Qatar-based global broadcaster, Al Jazeera, quoted sources as saying that he left for Uzebekistan.
But other Afghan officials criticised the move.
Abdullah Abdullah, his long-time rival who had twice buried his animosity to partner with Ghani in government, and Chairman of Afghanistan’s High Council for National Reconciliation, said: “God will hold him accountable and the nation will also judge.”
Ghani, 72, spent most of his career overseas as a student and academic before returning to Afghanistan in 2002.
He arrived with a powerful set of economic credentials. He was attractive to the West with his World Bank background and was seen as a possible solution to Afghanistan’s crumbling and corrupt economy. He was finance minister for two years until 2004. He survived cancer.
In 2014 he fought his first presidential race. It was criticized as deeply flawed and allegations of widespread fraud threatened to destabilize the still fragile nation. Both Ghani and his rival Abdullah Abdullah claimed victory. In the end, the United States brokered a compromise and divided power between the two men and even created a new position of chief executive.
The next election in 2019 fared the same. Again, accusations swirled of deep corruption and both Ghani and Abdullah declared themselves president. They eventually ended months of bickering and Abdullah became head of the National Reconciliation Council that was to bring Afghanistan’s warlords and political leaders together to put a united face before the Taliban.
The Taliban’s advance across the country began months ago but has accelerated in the space of days.
Heavily armed Taliban fighters fanned out across the capital, and several entered Kabul’s abandoned presidential palace. Suhail Shaheen, a Taliban spokesman and negotiator, said the militants would hold talks in the coming days aimed at forming an “open, inclusive Islamic government”.
Kabul was gripped by panic. Helicopters raced overhead throughout the day to evacuate personnel from the U.S. Embassy. Smoke rose near the compound as staff destroyed important documents, and the American flag was lowered. Several other Western missions also prepared to pull their people out.
In a stunning rout, the Taliban seized nearly all of Afghanistan in just over a week, despite the billions of dollars spent by the U.S. and NATO over nearly 20 years to build up Afghan security forces. Just days earlier, an American military assessment estimated that the capital would not come under insurgent pressure for a month.
The fall of Kabul marks the final chapter of America’s longest war, which began after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. A U.S.-led invasion dislodged the Taliban and beat them back, but America lost focus on the conflict in the chaos of the Iraq war.
Fearful that the Taliban could reimpose the kind of brutal rule that all but eliminated women’s rights, Afghans rushed to leave the country, lining up at cash machines to withdraw their life savings. The desperately poor — who had left homes in the countryside for the presumed safety of the capital — remained in parks and open spaces throughout the city.
Though the Taliban had promised a peaceful transition, the U.S. Embassy suspended operations and warned Americans late in the day to shelter in place and not try to get to the airport.
Commercial flights were suspended after sporadic gunfire erupted at the Kabul airport, according to two senior U.S. military officials. Evacuations continued on military flights, but the halt to commercial traffic closed off one of the last routes available for fleeing Afghans.
Additional reporting from AFP, AP and BBC
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