Afghan president flees country as Taliban seize Kabul, take control; US attempts evacuations

Taliban fighters sit on a vehicle along the street in Jalalabad province on August 15, 2021.
Taliban fighters sit on a vehicle along the street in Jalalabad province on August 15, 2021. | AFP via Getty Images

UPDATE 12:23 P.M.:  The U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan told Americans to "shelter in place" after it received reports of gunfire at the Kabul international airport. In a security alert released Sunday, the State Department said “the security situation in Kabul is changing quickly including at the airport.” It advised Americans seeking to leave the country to fill out an online form. 

The Pentagon said an additional 1,000 troops would be deployed to Afghanistan to evacuate Americans. This brings the total number of U.S. troops on the ground to 6,000.

Original report:

Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani fled the country Sunday for Tajikistan as the Taliban terrorist group moved further into Kabul, a senior Afghan Interior Ministry official said.

“The former president of Afghanistan left Afghanistan, leaving the country in this difficult situation. God should hold him accountable,” said Abdullah Abdullah, the head of the Afghan National Reconciliation Council, in an online video, according to a translation of his comments on social media, The Associated Press reported.

Other videos posted on social media purported to show Ghani and his advisors leaving the country on a plane at around 10 a.m. U.S. Eastern Time. 

Taliban militants have taken control of all major cities in Afghanistan and are now seizing its capital city of Kabul.

The U.S. Embassy in Kabul lowered its flag as officials moved their diplomatic operations to the city's airport. Some U.S. diplomats and American staff were evacuated by helicopter overnight and taken to the Kabul airport where they await military flights out of the region.

President Biden on Saturday authorized the deployment of about 5,000 U.S. troops to safely evacuate U.S. and allied personnel from the South Asian country.

“Based on the recommendations of our diplomatic, military, and intelligence teams, I have authorized the deployment of approximately 5,000 U.S. troops to make sure we can have an orderly and safe drawdown of U.S. personnel and other allied personnel and an orderly and safe evacuation of Afghans who helped our troops during our mission and those at special risk from the Taliban advance,” Biden said in a statement.

The president, who held consultations with top advisers at Camp David, the presidential retreat in Maryland’s Catoctin Mountains, added: “I was the fourth President to preside over an American troop presence in Afghanistan — two Republicans, two Democrats. I would not, and will not, pass this war onto a fifth,” he said.

The deployment includes 1,000 troops already stationed on the ground as well as the 3,000 U.S. infantry troops — one Army and two Marine Corps units, according to The Wall Street Journal, which reported that Saturday’s authorization effectively means there will be an additional 1,000 troops sent from the Gulf region into Kabul.

The president said in Saturday’s statement that he had ordered Secretary of State Antony Blinken to back Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani and other leaders in their efforts toward a political settlement.

Biden also said Taliban representatives in Doha had been warned against any action on U.S. personnel in Afghanistan which “will be met with a swift and strong U.S. military response,” according to the Journal.

The United States is seeking to develop an “over-the-horizon” capability to mount attacks inside Afghanistan if terrorist groups emerge in that country after U.S. forces are gone — the administration doesn’t have access to Central Asian countries yet to do so.

Before their takeover of Kabul on Sunday, the Taliban had said their fighters would remain at the entry points of the capital city to negotiate a peaceful transfer of power, the BBC reported, adding that the chairman of the United Kingdom’s Foreign Affairs Committee called the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan Britain’s biggest foreign policy disaster.

Tory MP Tom Tugendhat said the U.K. has “abandoned the Afghan people.”

The U.K.’s shadow Foreign secretary Lisa Nandy said there had been a “catastrophic miscalculation” by the U.S. and the U.K., which overestimated the strength of Afghanistan’s government. “It beggars belief that in the face of all that, the (U.K.) government has been so slow to respond. What we need to hear now is an actual strategy from the government.”

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