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Taliban declare victory after Ghani flees Kabul

August 16, 2021

Media reports indicate the Taliban have taken over the presidential palace in Kabul and claimed victory, hours after President Ashraf Ghani fled the country. Evacuations from the capital are ongoing. DW has the latest.

Armed Taliban stand around the president's desk
Taliban fighters seen in the presidential palace in KabulImage: Zabi Karim/AP/picture alliance
  • President Ashraf Ghani has left the country
  • The Taliban reportedly entered the capital encountering little resistance

  • Television footage showed fighters in the presidential palace, claiming victory

  • Chaotic evacuations continue at Kabul airport, with US soldiers providing security

  • Germany closes its embassy in Kabul, flying staff out

  • US has evacuated its embassy staff

This story was last updated at 3:15 (UTC/GMT). For more information on the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, click here.

Follow for more on the situation in Kabul

This live updates article has now closed. For more on the ongoing situation in Afghanistan, follow our reporting here. 

First evacuations of German citizens taking place

The first evacuation operations of German citizens from Kabul have started early Monday, German news agency DPA reported. Three dozen Germans, along with several Swiss nationals, are being flown to the Qatari capital of Doha.

The evacuees are being transported on US aircraft. The German military has said it is sending more aircraft throughout Monday to carry out evacuations. 

Luftwaffe Airbus A400M on a dark tarmac
German air force transport planes wait in HanoverImage: Moritz Frankenberg/dpa/picture alliance

All US Embassy personnel safely evacuated: State Department

All personnel at the US Embassy in Kabul have been safely evacuated as of early Monday, State Department spokesperson Ned Price said.

"All Embassy personnel are located on the premises of Hamid Karzai International Airport, whose perimeter is secured by the US Military," Price said in a statement.

Germany, other countries, call for safe evacuations

Over 60 countries, including Germany and the EU, urged all parties in Afghanistan in a joint statement released early Monday to allow the "safe and orderly departure" of foreign nationals and Afghans from the country amid a rapidly deteriorating security situation.

The countries said "roads, airports and border crossing must remain open, and calm must be maintained."

"The Afghan people deserve to live in safety, security and dignity," the statement added. "We in the international community stand ready to assist them," the statement said. 

A US official told Reuters news agency on Monday that most Western diplomats have left Kabul.

US taking steps to secure evacuations from Kabul airport

A joint statement from the US Department of State and Department of Defense said the US will take over air traffic control at the international airport in Kabul, as Americans and Afghans are evacuated from the city.

Joe Biden alone at a big table
US President Joe Biden during a video conference late Sunday with senior officialsImage: WhiteHouse/Twitter/REUTERS

Images on social media showed chaotic scenes as people tried to board aircraft out of the country. 

Thousands of US citizens will be flown out of the country in the coming days, along with Afghan nationals who worked for the US embassy in Kabul and their families.

The statement also said the US is accelerating the evacuation of Afghans who are eligible for Special Immigrant Visas.

Taliban say they're prepared to take over governing Afghanistan

According to a broadcast on Al Jazeera, a Taliban spokesman has declared the end of the war, adding that the type of rule the Taliban will pursue, and the set up of the new regime, will soon be made clear. 

"We assure everyone that we will provide safety for citizens and diplomatic missions. We are ready to have a dialogue with all Afghan figures and will guarantee them the necessary protection," Taliban political office spokesman Mohammad Naeem told Al Jazeera.

Suhail Shaheen, another spokesman for the militant group, told the AP news agency that the Taliban would hold talks in the coming days toward forming an "open, inclusive Islamic government in Afghanistan."

In live footage aired earlier by Al Jazeera, Taliban commanders and fighters could be seen sitting inside the presidential palace in Kabul and declaring victory in their campaign against Afghan forces. 

Taliban members were shown entering the presidential office and taking down Afghan flags.

Armed Taliban fighters in Kabul on Sunday
Armed Taliban fighters seen near the presidential palace in KabulImage: Zabi Karimi/AP/dpa/picture alliance

US reportedly limiting evacuation flights for Afghans

President Joe Biden's administration is reportedly limiting its current number of flights for Afghans to the US, as a chaotic evacuation continues from Kabul airport, according to CNN.

The administration has said it is instead trying to focus on evacuating American personnel from the country. 

CNN reporter Jennifer Hansler tweeted that the last flight of Afghan Special Immigrants Visa has departed Afghanistan.

A group of around 100 protesters gathered in front of the White House on Sunday to call on the administration to not leave Afghans behind.

US authorizes another 1,000 troops to aid evacuations  

The US is sending another 1,000 troops to support evacuations from Kabul airport amid reports of scattered gunfire, officials said. 

According to a US defense official cited by the AP news agency, the soldiers were heading directly to Kabul instead of going to Kuwait as a standby force. 

Saudi Arabia evacuates embassy

Saudi Arabia has evacuated all members of its diplomatic mission in Kabul, the Saudi Foreign Ministry said. 

"All members of the Kingdom's embassy in the Afghan capital, Kabul, have been evacuated, and they have arrived home," the ministry said in a statement. 

British troops arrive in Kabul 

Britain's Defense Ministry said UK troops have landed in Kabul to help the evacuation mission.

Johnson said British nationals were the priority, as well as Afghans who helped British forces in Afghanistan over the past 20 years. 

"The ambassador is working round the clock, has been there in the airport to help process the applications," Johnson said after chairing an emergency Cabinet meeting. 

The British Parliament will be recalled from the summer break for one day on Wednesday to address the government's response to the crisis. 

UN to hold emergency meeting 

The United Nations Security Council will hold an emergency session on the worsening situation in Afghanistan on Monday at 10 a.m. (1400 UTC). 

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres will brief council members on the latest developments, according to diplomats cited by the AP news agency. 

The Estonian and Norwegian missions to the UN, currently in charge of Afghanistan affairs in the Security Council, called the meeting.

Former US defense official: Washington made 'huge blunders'

David Sedney, former US deputy assistant secretary of defense for Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia and former president of the American University of Afghanistan in Kabul, told DW that the Taliban takeover was "eminently avoidable." 

"But the United States made a number of huge blunders," Sedney said, adding that " the most important blunder of all" was President Joe Biden's decision to withdraw the small number of US troops that were still in Afghanistan. 

Sedney said that by September 11, when the US finalizes its troop withdrawal, the Taliban and al-Qaida will be "back in Kabul. Back where we started 20 years ago."

"The US should have stayed there until it had achieved its objectives of preventing Afghanistan from being returned to a base of terrorism. But the US, as it has in many other places, has failed," he said.

"We are writing the end to a sad chapter of 20 years of futile American efforts," Sedney said. "I was part of those, and I know we made many mistakes. But the biggest share of the blame goes to President Biden for making this decision."

Ghani fled Afghanistan to 'avoid bleeding flood'

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has released a statement hours after fleeing Afghanistan, saying he left to avoid bloodshed.

"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 wrote in a Facebook post.

"In order to avoid the bleeding flood, I thought it was best to get out."

He vowed to "always continue to serve my nation" and called on the militant group to "win the legitimacy and the hearts of the people." 

Germany sending military planes to Kabul, says foreign minister

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said that Bundeswehr planes are being deployed to help with evacuation efforts in Kabul.

In a brief statement to reporters on Sunday evening, Maas said those who are being evacuated will be brought to a neighboring country and then will use civilian, passenger planes to fly them back to Germany.

Some German staff will be flown out already on Sunday night, he said.

Maas said that the security of the German embassy staff and local partners "is paramount."

Germany closed its embassy in Kabul earlier on Sunday, moving its staff to a location at Kabul airport. He said that the staff "are safe."

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas
Germany's Heiko Maas said that some German Embassy staff will be flown out already on Sunday nightImage: Xander Heinl/photothek/picture alliance

Taliban control 'multiple' Kabul districts, most flights grounded

The Taliban say they have entered multiple districts in Kabul to "ensure security."

Reuters news agency cited a spokesman for the group as saying they now control the centers of 11 districts of the capital.

The claim came hours after Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled the country. Local media reported he left for Tajikistan. 

Reuters also cited a NATO official as saying that all commercial flights to and from Kabul airport have been suspended and only military aircraft are allowed to operate.

The closure comes as US and European embassies attempt to evacuate their nationals and diplomatic staff.

Kabul graphic showing the key locations inside the Afghan capital
The key strategic locations inside the Afghan capital

Karzai to lead council to transfer power to Taliban

Afghan leaders have created a council to meet with the Taliban and manage the transfer of power, The Associated Press reports.

In a statement posted on social media by former president Hamid Karzai, he said the body will be lead by the head of the High Council for National Reconciliation, Abdullah Abdullah, as well as the leader of Hizb-e-Islami, Gulbudin Hekmatyar, and himself.

The statement said the move was "to prevent chaos and reduce the suffering of the people," and to manage peace and a "peaceful transfer."

German media urge visas for Afghan journalists

German media organizations have issued an urgent appeal for an emergency visa program to help local Afghan staff who worked for them to leave Afghanistan.

In an open letter Sunday, major newspapers, public and commercial broadcasters including Deutsche Welle (DW), and the dpa news agency warned that "the lives of these freelance staff are now in acute danger."

The outlets stressed that reporting from Afghanistan over the past two decades would have been "unthinkable without the efforts and bravery of the Afghan staff who supported us on the ground."

Citing several recent fatal attacks on journalists, the letter said that due to the advance of the Taliban "it must be feared that such murders will now dramatically increase — and many of our staff are at risk.''

"Employees who want to leave the country face persecution, arrest, torture and death. We therefore ask you to act quickly."

US finalizes embassy evacuation: reports

The US Embassy in Kabul has been completely evacuated, according to media reports. CNN reported that the US flag at the embassy was taken down as the final step of the process.
The Associated Press reports the US military has evacuated the acting US ambassador to the Kabul airport.

Images of helicopters evacuating personnel from the diplomatic compound were circulating on social media, as critics of Biden's Afghanistan policies compared them to scenes from the end of the Vietnam War.

US embassy reports Kabul airport 'taking fire'

The US Embassy in Kabul wrote on its website Sunday, "There are reports of the airport taking fire; therefore we are instructing US citizens to shelter in place."

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance was working to keep Kabul airport running as the Taliban closed in on power.   

A Chinook helicopter flies near the US Embassy in Kabul
A Chinook helicopter flies near the US Embassy in KabulImage: Rahmat Gul/AP Photo/picture alliance

Malala urges protection for civilians and refugees

Nobel Laureate Malala Yousafza, who was shot in the head by the Taliban in 2012, has tweeted of her "shock" at the speed of the militant group's advance.

"We watch in complete shock as [the] Taliban takes control of Afghanistan. I am deeply worried about women, minorities and human rights advocates. Global, regional and local powers must call for an immediate ceasefire, provide urgent humanitarian aid and protect refugees and civilians," she wrote.

Yousafza was 15 when she was targeted by a Taliban gunman in neighboring Pakistan for campaigning against its attempts to deny women education

She was given refuge in Britain and two years later became the youngest-ever Nobel Peace Prize winner and has continued to promote women's rights.

Women and girls were mostly prohibited from education during the Taliban's previous rule in Afghanistan, which was overturned after the US-led invasion in 2001.

Johnson holds urgent talks on Britain's response

Britain's Foreign Minister Dominic Raab has called on the Taliban to end its campaign of violence as its seizes power in Afghanistan.

He wrote on Twitter that it was "critical that the international community is united in telling the Taliban that the violence must end and human rights must be protected."

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson called a crisis meeting on Sunday afternoon to discuss the crisis. He also recalled Parliament for Wednesday for an urgent debate on what Britain, which lost 457 troops in the two-decade-long war, should do next.

British media reported that the UK's ambassador to Afghanistan, Laurie Bristow, would be airlifted out of  Afghanistan by Monday evening.

Admiral Mullen: 'Expectations were too high and it was a bridge too far'

Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the joint chiefs when the surge in Afghanistan took place under then US President Barack Obama, told CNN Sunday that he questioned the timing of the withdrawal and conceded there were errors in the overall mission in Afghanistan.

"Anyone who has been in Afghanistan knows this is the peak of the fighting season, when the Taliban is at the peak of their effectiveness," Mullen said about the timing of the withdrawal this summer.

Mullen noted the US and allies "underestimated the impact of what a corrupt government does" and believes endemic corruption under Afghanistan's two presidents of the last twenty years, Hamid Karzai and Ashraf Ghani, explains why Afghans felt more ripped off by their leaders than willing to fight to defend the country.

"We just reached too far, expectations were too high, and it was a bridge too far to get to where we thought we wanted to go," Mullen concluded.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has left Afghanistan

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has reportedly left Afghanistan. The Afghan outlet Tolo News was first to report the development Sunday.

An Interior Ministry official told Reuters Sunday Ghani left Kabul for Tajikistan. The Associated Press also reported the president has left the country, citing officials.

Abdullah Abdullah, the head of the Afghan National Reconciliation Council, later confirmed Ghani had left in an online video.

"He left Afghanistan in a hard time, God hold him accountable," Abdullah said.

Germany will have to work with Taliban

The Taliban's speedy recapture of Afghanistan marks the "end of an era" in which "the West believed it could turn weak countries into stable ones," Roderich Kiesewetter, a member of the German government's foreign affairs committee, told DW on Sunday.

He blamed the Trump administration's decision to pull US troops out of the war-torn country for the chaos. Asked whether NATO soldiers could have remained, Kiesewetter noted that the West had originally pledged to stand by the Afghan government until 2024, but now "there is no willingness at all."

He criticized the corruption within the Afghan government, which he said was responsible for a breakdown in "trust" with the West.

Asked whether Germany would cooperate with the Taliban if they lead a new government, Kiesewetter said Berlin "cannot afford not to negotiate" with the militant group. However, the Taliban will be in a much stronger position and will likely take advantage of the West's "weakness" in talks.

US Secretary of State: Kabul embassy situation 'manifestly not Saigon'

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told CNN Sunday the Kabul embassy drawdown is "manifestly not Saigon" as US military helicopters worked to scuttle embassy staff from the Kabul embassy roof to the airport in a near repeat of scenes that played out in the South Vietnamese capital 46 years ago as the US withdrew at the conclusion of the Vietnam war.

"This is not Saigon," Blinken said.

He acknowledged the "hollowness" of Afghanistan's security forces, however, which the US and NATO allies have spent twenty years training and equipping.

"The fact of the matter is we've seen that force has been unable to defend the country." He added, "that has happened more quickly than we anticipated," Blinken said.

Pope Francis expresses 'concern' for 'battered population'

Pope Francis expressed "concern" for the people of Afghanistan during weekly Angelus on St. Peter's Square Sunday and called for dialogue so the "battered population" can live in peace.

"I join in the unanimous worry about the situation in Afghanistan," Pope Francis said, adding, "I ask you to pray along with me to the God of peace so that the din of weapons ends and that solutions can be found around a table of dialogue."

There are very few Christians in Afghanistan, most of them embassy employees or foreign aid workers.

Afghan army yet to be mobilized

Journalist Franz Marty, reporting for DW from the Afghan capital, says there's no evidence that Afghan forces have been mobilized to protect the city, as promised by President Ashraf Ghani in a speech on Saturday.

"As far as I can tell, there has been no big last stand organized," Marty said.

He added that Ghani's speech appeared to be "detached from reality," because so many other provincial capitals have fallen to the Taliban without a fight and so fast.

"It's difficult to imagine how [the outcome] in Kabul can be completely different ... that they put up a swift resistance when everything [other cities] has collapsed in three days."

NATO maintaining Kabul airport operations

NATO said in a statement it is "helping to maintain operations at Kabul airport to keep Afghanistan connected with the world."

While NATO will maintain a diplomatic presence in Kabul, "the security of our personnel is paramount, and we continue to adjust as necessary."

The alliance did not disclose details on the number of its staff in the country, but said it is "constantly assessing developments."

"We support Afghan efforts to find a political solution to the conflict, which is now more urgent than ever,'' the statement said.

Germany closing its Kabul embassy

The German foreign ministry announced Sunday it is closing its Kabul embassy. In a statement on the ministry website, officials have requested all German nationals leave Afghanistan at this time.

On Twitter, German foreign minister Heiko Maas announced the embassy will be relocated to the military section of the airport for now.

"Foreign Minister Maas has also reconvened the Federal Government's crisis team for today in order to initiate immediate measures to secure the safety and departure of German staff and other persons at risk," the ministry said in their statement.

The ministry also advises German citizens, "In consular emergencies in Afghanistan, contact the German Foreign Office directly," and to "only travel and stay on the basis of a viable, professional security concept."

Pakistan closes border crossing with Afghanistan

Pakistan Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed has told DW that the government has closed the Torkham border crossing with Afghanistan, shuttering the last major land route out of the country.

Rashid Ahmed said Pakistani officials had made the move because the Taliban "have taken control of Jalalabad and deployed their men on the border."

He said that the closure was due to the potentially worsening security situation. 

Islamabad says it will help Pakistanis stranded in Kabul, Jalalabad, and other parts of Afghanistan get out of the country.

Albania agrees to US Afghan refugee request

Albania has accepted a request from the US to take in Afghan refugees seeking visas to enter the United States.

Writing on Facebook, Prime Minister Edi Rama cited US support for his country during previous conflict in the Balkans region as one reason for agreeing to the request.

"We will not say 'No, not just because our great allies ask to," he said. "But because we are Albania."

The Reuters news agency reported on Friday that the US was in talks with Kosovo and Albania to welcome Afghans who had worked for their military over the past two decades.

The move is aimed at protecting them from potential reprisals by the Taliban.

Taliban 'take Bagram air base'

The Associated Press, citing Bagram district chief Darwaish Raufi, said troops have surrendered Bagram air base to the Taliban.

US broadcaster NBC News reported earlier on Sunday that base had been taken by the Taliban, citing sources from the Islamist militant group.

The Afghan government has not commented publicly on the reports.

German army to begin evacuations

The German army will start evacuating German citizens and local Afghan forces from Kabul this Monday, the dpa news agency reports.

Armed Taliban fighters in Kabul on Sunday
Armed Taliban fighters seen near the presidential palace in KabulImage: Zabi Karimi/AP/dpa/picture alliance

The German outlet did not cite how it obtained the information. 

Several A400M transport planes are to fly to the Afghan capital to ferry people home, the report said.

Taliban negotiators headed to presidential palace

The AP, citing an anonymous Afghan official, reports Taliban negotiators are making their way to the presidential palace for negotiations to facilitate a "transfer" of power.

The Afghan official said the goal was a peaceful handover of the government to the Taliban.

Interior Minister Abdul Sattar Mirzakwal also said in a recorded speech that there would be "no attack on the city" and that "a peaceful transfer of power to the transitional government" was in the works.

Britain vows to evacuate nationals, staff

Britain's government said on Sunday that it was working on evacuating its citizens and former UK staff from Afghanistan.

"Home Office (interior ministry) officials are right now working to protect British nationals and help former UK staff and other eligible people travel to the UK," it wrote on Twitter.

The UK government has come under criticism from some British newspapers for not doing enough to help Afghans who worked with its military over the past two decades.

Taliban start entering Kabul

The Taliban, an Islamist militant group that has seized large parts of Afghanistan, started entering the outskirts of Kabul on Sunday, local officials said.

Gunfire and sirens were heard sporadically across Kabul.

The Afghan capital is the last major city held by government forces after insurgents made several advances elsewhere this month amid the withdrawal of allied troops.

Taliban want to avoid forceful takeover

The Taliban later pledged not to take the capital "by force."

"No one's life, property and dignity will be harmed and the lives of the citizens of Kabul will not be at risk," the militant group said in a statement.

Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen later told the Al-Jazeera English channel that they are "awaiting a peaceful transfer of Kabul city'' after they entered the capital's outskirts.

Shaheen declined to offer specifics on any possible negotiations between his forces and the government.

Matin Bek, the chief of staff to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, wrote on social media: "Don't panic! Kabul is safe!"

The Taliban started an offensive nearly two weeks ago, capturing a number of key towns, cities and border posts.

US starts Kabul evacuation

Sunday's move on Kabul comes as international forces start to evacuate their diplomats amid the worsening security situation.

US intelligence officials said earlier this week that they believed it might take as long as three months for the Taliban to seize the Afghan capital.

Peace talks have been taking place in Doha, Qatar, since last September between the Afghan government and the Taliban.

But the negotiations, which are being mediated by the international community, have failed to bear fruit.

Ghani wants stability

In a televised speech on Saturday, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani vowed that he would not give up the "achievements" of the past 20 years.

He warned that the country is in "serious danger" of facing "instability."

Ghani, an academic economist who spent most of his career in the United States, became president in 2014, winning a second term five years later.