After two decades and billions spent, Afghan government collapses as Taliban takes Kabul
Category: News & PoliticsVia: sister-mary-agnes-ample-bottom • one month ago • 126 comments
By: Deirdre Shesgreen and Michael Collins (MSN)
In a swift and stunning rout, Taliban fighters seized control of Afghanistan's capital on Sunday, completing their sweep of the besieged country as the Afghan government collapsed after two decades of efforts by the U.S. to reshape the region as part of its "war on terror."
Taliban takes over Kabul as Afghanistan's president flees USA TODAY See more videos SHARESHARETWEETSHAREEMAIL What to watch next
Embattled President Ashraf Ghani fled the country as the Taliban entered the capital city of Kabul, and American troops scrambled to evacuate thousands of U.S. diplomats and Afghans from its embassy.
The Taliban, which for hours had been in the outskirts of Kabul, announced soon after they would move farther into a city gripped by panic throughout the day as helicopters raced overhead to evacuate personnel from the U.S. Embassy. Smoke rose near the compound as staff destroyed important documents. Several other Western missions also prepared to pull their people out.
© Rahmat Gul, AP A U.S. Chinook helicopter flies over the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, Sunday, Aug. 15, 2021.
The Taliban is soon expected to declare the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan from the presidential palace in Kabul, an official told the Associated Press.
In Washington, President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris met via videoconference with their national security team to hear updates on the drawdown of civilian personnel in Afghanistan and the evacuation of allies who worked alongside the U.S. government during the 20-year war.
The fall of Kabul marked the final chapter of America's longest war, which began after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks masterminded by al-Qaida's Osama bin Laden, then harbored by the Taliban government. A U.S.-led invasion forced the Taliban to retreat.
For some, the U.S. pullout was a reminder of America's ignominious withdrawal from Vietnam in 1975, which ended with iconic images of U.S. helicopters evacuating Americans from the roof of the embassy in Saigon.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken flatly rejected such comparisons. "This is manifestly not Saigon," Blinken argued, characterizing the drawdown of embassy and other personnel as "very deliberate."
Still, analysts predicted that history would view the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan as a failure.
"On day one, we go in and the Taliban is in charge. Twenty years later, the Taliban is back in charge," said Jack Weinstein, a former Pentagon official and expert on international security.
"I don't know how you couch that as a victory," he said.
US responds: U.S. troops evacuate embassy staff to Kabul airport as Taliban encircles Afghan capital, Blinken says
Caught off guard
Though Kabul had been expected to fall, the speed of its collapse clearly caught the Biden administration off guard.
Biden set an Aug. 31 deadline to withdraw all U.S. forces from Afghanistan and bring an end to the 20-year conflict. Just last week, an American military assessment estimated it would be a month before the capital would come under insurgent pressure.
Defying expectations, the Taliban seized nearly all of Afghanistan in a short time, despite the hundreds of billions of dollars spent by the U.S. and NATO over nearly two decades to build up Afghan security forces. Afghan security forces were defeated by the Taliban or fled much of the country, even though they had some air support from the U.S. military.
The U.S. Embassy in Kabul warned on Sunday that the security situation in Afghanistan was deteriorating and instructed American citizens to "shelter in place" amid reports of gunfire at the airport in Afghanistan's capital. The embassy's security alert came as American troops were in the midst of evacuating all diplomatic staff from the embassy to the airport and as the Taliban entered Kabul, seemingly poised to take over the government.
President Ghani flew out of the country, according to multiple media outlets.
Abdullah Abdullah, the head of the Afghan National Reconciliation Council, later confirmed in an online video that Ghani had left. "The former president of Afghanistan left Afghanistan, leaving the country in this difficult situation," Abdullah said. "God should hold him accountable."
Afghans fearing that the Taliban would reimpose the kind of brutal rule that all but eliminated women's rights rushed to leave the country, lining up at cash machines to withdraw their life savings, the AP reported.
More: Taliban's Afghanistan advance tests Biden's 'America is back' foreign policy promise
Taliban remained strong
For years, U.S. and Afghan forces focused on controlling key supply chains and major cities in the country, forcing the Taliban into Afghanistan's rugged hinterland. The Taliban remained strong in the country's mountainous rural areas, using those regions as bases of attack to seize territory once U.S. forces began their drawdown.
The Taliban also remained in control of strategic border crossings, according to the Associated Press, allowing them to smuggle weapons and other key goods while also rejuvenating forces outside the country.
In February 2020, Washington under then-President Donald Trump signed a deal with the Taliban that limited direct military action against the insurgents. That allowed the fighters to gather strength and move quickly to seize key areas when President Joe Biden announced his plans to withdraw all American forces by the end of this month.
More: Trump claims Afghanistan withdrawal would have been 'much more successful' if he were president. Would it?
© Gulabuddin Amiri, AP Taliban flags fly on the gate of Ghazni provincial governor's house, in Ghazni, southeastern, Afghanistan, Sunday, Aug. 15, 2021.
Taliban awaits 'peaceful transfer of Kabul city'
On Sunday, Taliban insurgents approached Kabul. Taliban negotiators in the capital discussed the transfer of power, said an Afghan official who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals, according to AP.
It remained unclear when that transfer would take place and who among the Taliban was negotiating. The negotiators on the government side included former President Hamid Karzai, leader of Hizb-e-Islami political and paramilitary group Gulbudin Hekmatyar and Abdullah, who has been a vocal critic of Ghani.
Karzai, with his three daughters, appeared in a video, saying he remained in Kabul.
"We are trying to solve the issue of Afghanistan with the Taliban leadership peacefully," he said, while the roar of a passing helicopter could be heard overhead.
Taliban returns: Many fear it will again end Afghan human rights, support terrorism
Ex, president Karzai latest message:
I am here in Kabul with my girls and I ask the Taliban to provide security and safety for the people. pic.twitter.com/l3FmVC6jnE
— Tajuden Soroush (@TajudenSoroush) August 15, 2021
Afghanistan's acting defense minister, Bismillah Khan Mohammadi, lashed out at Ghani.
"They tied our hands from behind and sold the country," he wrote on Twitter. "Curse Ghani and his gang."
Taliban fighters tried to calm residents of the capital, insisting they wouldn't enter people's homes or interfere with businesses. They also said they'd offer an "amnesty" to those who worked with the Afghan government or foreign forces.
"No one's life, property and dignity will be harmed and the lives of the citizens of Kabul will not be at risk," the insurgents said in a statement, according to AP.
Reports of brutality across Afghanistan
But there have been reports of revenge killings and other brutal tactics in areas of the country the Taliban have seized in recent days. One female journalist, weeping, sent voice messages to colleagues after armed men entered her apartment building and banged on her door.
"What should I do? Should I call the police or Taliban?" Getee Azami cried. It wasn't clear what happened to her after that.
Many chose to flee, rushing to the Kabul airport, the last route out of the country as the Taliban now hold every border crossing. NATO said it was "helping to maintain operations at Kabul airport to keep Afghanistan connected with the world."
© Rahmat Gul, AP Afghans wait in long lines for hours to withdraw money, in front of Kabul Bank, in Kabul, Afghanistan, Sunday, Aug. 15, 2021. Officials say Taliban fighters have entered Kabul and are seeking the unconditional surrender of the central government.
One Afghan university student described feeling betrayed as she watched the evacuation of the U.S. Embassy.
"You failed the younger generation of Afghanistan," said Aisha Khurram, 22, who is now unsure of whether she'll be able to graduate in two months' time. "A generation ... raised in the modern Afghanistan were hoping to build the country with their own hands. They put blood, efforts and sweat into whatever we had right now."
Sunday began with the Taliban seizing the nearby city of Jalalabad — which had been the last major city besides the capital not in their hands. Afghan officials said the militants also took the capitals of Maidan Wardak, Khost, Kapisa and Parwan provinces, as well as the country's last government-held border post.
Later, Afghan forces at Bagram air base, home to a prison housing 5,000 inmates, surrendered to the Taliban, according to Bagram district chief Darwaish Raufi. The prison at the former U.S. base held both Taliban and Islamic State group fighters.
Contributing: Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: After two decades and billions spent, Afghan government collapses as Taliban takes Kabul