Taliban forces entered Kabul Sunday as U.S. diplomatic personnel left the embassy and evacuated to the Kabul airport—which the U.S. embassy reported may now face a security threat, directing citizens to shelter in place—as the Afghan government appears to rapidly fall to the Islamic insurgent group as the U.S. government withdraws from the region.
Taliban forces reportedly entered the city of Kabul Sunday as the group said they were entering to maintain security in police districts, moving into the city after spokesman Suhail Shaheen had previously told the BBC Sunday the forces had been instructed by the group’s leadership “to remain at the gates of Kabul, not to enter the city.”
Taliban leadership is now at the presidential palace to negotiate a transfer of power, and Shaheen told Al-Jazeera Sunday the group is seeking an “unconditional surrender” by the Afghan government—something that appeared to be the case Sunday as Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani has now left Kabul and flown to Tajikistan.
Acting Afghan Interior Minister Abdul Sattar Mirzakwal said earlier Sunday the government would transfer “peacefully” to a “transitional” government, but did not specify what that new administration would look like, CNN reports.
The U.S. is now pulling its diplomatic forces out of Afghanistan and the U.S. embassy—including reportedly the U.S. ambassador, who CBS News reports has now left the embassy and gone to the airport—though a core group of U.S. diplomatic staff was expected to remain at the Kabul Airport.
The U.S. State Department reported Sunday there are now “reports of the airport taking fire” and all U.S. citizens in the region are directed to shelter in place, noting the “security situation in Kabul is changing quickly.”
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken continued to defend the U.S.’s retreat from Afghanistan despite the Taliban’s entrance into Kabul Sunday, saying on Meet the Press it’s a “fiction” the outcome would have been better had the U.S. delayed its withdrawal and predicting, “All gloves would have been off…we would have been back at war with the Taliban.”
Blinken claimed Sunday the U.S. had “succeeded” in its initial anti-terrorism goals for entering Afghanistan in the wake of September 11 despite being criticized now for the country’s quick exit from the region. “The idea that we would sign up for remaining there in the midst of a civil war…was simply not in the national interest,” Blinken said on Meet the Press, also noting on ABC’s This Week that “there is nothing more that our strategic competitors would like to see than us bogged down and mired in Afghanistan for another five, 10, 20 years.”
What To Watch For
The U.S. has long planned to withdraw all of its military troops from Afghanistan by August 31, a timeline that so far does not appear to be affected by the Taliban’s swift takeover of the country. If the Taliban does pose any threat to U.S. personnel—as any potential attack on the Kabul airport could be—the White House has promised to respond a show of force, however. Should the Taliban retake control of the Afghan government, citizens fear their rights will be severely restricted as they were when the insurgent group previously maintained control of the region in the 1990s—particularly women, whose rights the Taliban previously nearly entirely restricted, prohibiting them from working, pursuing an education or even being in public without a male escort.
The Taliban’s imminent takeover of Kabul and the U.S.’s quick evacuation of its personnel comes after Biden predicted just last month the likelihood of the insurgent group “overrunning everything” and taking over the country was “highly unlikely.” “There’s going to be no circumstance where you see people being lifted off the roof of a embassy in the — of the United States from Afghanistan,” Biden said on July 8. “It is not at all comparable.”
The Taliban’s entrance into Kabul completes the insurgent group’s swift takeover of Afghanistan’s biggest cities over the past week as the U.S. has pulled its military forces out of the region. The group took control of Jalalabad early Sunday after capturing the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif, reportedly without a fight, leaving Kabul as the only major Afghan city still left to fall. The Taliban’s regaining of control comes after Biden announced in April the U.S. would pull its troops out of Afghanistan after two decades, but their takeover took place far quicker than anticipated, with U.S. military intelligence reportedly predicting just days ago they Taliban could retake Kabul within three months. The Taliban previously retreated from Kabul in 2001 after the U.S. initially imposed a military presence in the region in the wake of September 11—nearly exactly 20 years before the fall of Kabul taking place now—after taking control of the city in September 1996.
Taliban enter Kabul, await ‘peaceful transfer’ of power (Associated Press)