Saturday, December 4

The fall of Kabul: a 20-year mission collapses in a single day | Afghanistan

The 20-year western mission to Afghanistan collapsed in a single dramatic day when Taliban gunmen stormed the capital Kabul on Sunday to regain control of the country.

Amid scenes of panic, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled the country and the US ambassador was evacuated to Kabul airport, leaving the US embassy as diplomats desperately sought to destroy sensitive material before being airlifted to safety. .

Even before the Taliban announced plans to proclaim a new Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, it was clear that a second era of their rule had indeed begun. The group started the day so confident of victory that their fighters surrounded the capital, then ordered to stay outside the city and wait.

“Our forces are not entering the city of Kabul. We want a peaceful transfer of power, ”said spokesman Suhail Shaheen. But with surrender seemingly inevitable, Afghan government forces faded, looting broke out, and hours later the Taliban claimed their men were needed to restore order.

So they entered not as combatants but as policemen, presenting themselves as a waiting government. By night, the Taliban had seized Afghanistan’s historic seat of power, which was expected to be used to declare a new Islamic Emirate, more than two decades after the group had established its first.

Outside, the city held its breath. Most of the streets were deserted, but the access to the airport was packed with people desperate to flee, and a constant rotation of helicopters filled the sky.

In deeply humiliating scenes for the Biden administration, less than a month before the 20th anniversary of the September 11 attacks on the United States, smoke spiraled out of the embassy compound as staff hastily destroyed documents, before a group In the end, he removed the stars and stripes flag and headed to the airport by military helicopter.

People had run home to destroy evidence of Western or government ties. Women without burqa looked for stores to buy them. Even hospitals were closed, with at least one desperate woman forced to give birth at home, with a doctor begging to attend.

Boy on bicycle and on the street and others carry bags in Kabul
People running home for shelter when the Taliban entered Kabul. Photograph: Bashir Darwish / UPI / Rex / Shutterstock

In parks and other open areas, people who had fled the Taliban advance in other parts of Afghanistan huddled in tents, fearful of a future from which they had tried to escape and had not been able to escape. The United Nations refugee agency says more than 550,000 people in Afghanistan have fled their homes due to the conflict since the beginning of this year.

Shaheen, the Taliban spokesman, has promised “amnesty” for those working for the now-fallen government, or with Western nations, inviting them, though probably only men, to serve under Taliban rule. “Once again we invite you all to come and serve the nation and the country,” he said.

But it was an offer viewed with skepticism by many. In areas seized by the group, there have been credible reports of retaliatory killings, execution of surrendered soldiers and women forced to leave their jobs at gunpoint, excluded from education and forced into marriage by militants.

Remnants of the Afghan government traveled to Doha in Qatar to meet with the Taliban in an attempt to obtain assurances on a peaceful transfer of power, the treatment of refugees and the promise of a ban on retaliation.

A US mandate that was once aimed at rebuilding Afghanistan had come down to trying to remove all Afghan personnel and allies from the country who had made the sometimes random cut before a total takeover by the Taliban. .

All other Western embassies were already operating only from the airport, at the insistence of the United States. Their buildings on the other side of the city were practically empty, although diplomats from Russia, Pakistan, Iran and other countries that had not been part of the NATO mission remained in their precincts.

The exodus of those who were able to get out began early Sunday after insurgents captured the eastern city of Jalalabad, the last major government-controlled center, and the nearby border crossing with Pakistan.

By night, Ghani was reportedly in Tajikistan. In a Facebook post, Ghani said he had left the country to avoid bloodshed and clashes with the Taliban that would put millions of Kabul residents in danger. “The Taliban have managed to expel me,” he said. “They are here to attack all of Kabul and the people of Kabul. To avoid the bloody flood, I thought it best to get out. “

Abdullah Abdullah, the collapsing government peace chief envoy who traveled to Doha for negotiations, confirmed his departure from office and the country. “The former president of Afghanistan left Afghanistan, leaving the country in this difficult situation,” he said. “God should hold him accountable.”

People queuing to withdraw money from a bank in Kabul on Sunday.
People queuing to withdraw money from a bank in Kabul on Sunday. Photograph: Anadolu Agency / Getty Images

Former President Hamid Karzai, by contrast, shared a video of him with his daughters, promising to stay in Kabul. He is part of a newly formed Afghan Leadership Coordination Council, which will meet with the Taliban and manage the transfer of power.

There was outrage in the capital over the flight of a man who had appeared on national television just a day earlier promising to reorganize the army. “Ghani sold the country to the Taliban. I trusted him and voted for him, but he is a failed leader, ”said official Karima Jamili.

But as the Taliban drew closer, there had been fears of street-to-street fighting, a retaliation for the brutal civil war that tore Afghanistan in the 1990s and reduced Kabul to ruins. So some welcomed his departure, despite unease for what would come next.

“Imagine if he fought the Taliban, how many lives would be taken and how many innocent civilians would be killed?” said Hadia, a college student. “Considering that all the provinces are now under the control of the Taliban, it was the only way to temporarily reduce the violence.

The near bloodless takeover of the capital by the Taliban came after an 11-day blitzkrieg offensive in cities in Afghanistan. They had already seized most of Afghanistan’s rural areas along with key border crossings in a campaign that began in May, and this month they forcibly moved into urban areas across the country, dividing and demoralizing Afghan forces. .

On Friday they captured the second and third largest cities, southern Kandahar and western Herat, and on Saturday the northern fortress of Mazar-i-Sharif fell.

So it seemed a question of whether, rather than when, the Taliban would take Kabul, but even so the speed of Sunday’s collapse was staggering. TO US intelligence estimate last week he had said that Kabul could hold out for at least three months.

It came almost exactly two decades after an international coalition led by Washington and London triumphantly toppled the Taliban in December 2001, seemingly consigning their caliphate to history.

In both the United Kingdom and the United States, politicians tried to project their long mission as a counter-terrorism that would continue. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who was asked about the situation in Afghanistan, said in a television interview: “It is very important that the West work collectively to come up with that new government, whether by the Taliban or from anyone else: no one wants Afghanistan once again to be a breeding ground for terror. “

But the West for years also established an explicit mission to support democracy and human rights, and most of those achievements are expected to disappear. The Taliban have always been clear that they are fighting for an austere interpretation of Islam, which includes particularly severe restrictions on women and girls.

During years of US-brokered peace talks, Taliban negotiators have vowed to respect women’s rights under Islam, but declined to elaborate. And in the areas they control, women already have limited education, work and freedom of movement.

In Kabul, the shops had started delete photos of women in wedding dresses and women were preparing for a very different life. “I felt very sad today, it was amazing for me that the Taliban were back in Kabul,” Hawa said. “They will not respect our freedom.”

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