Ghani Flees as Taliban Encircle Kabul, Deliver 11th-Hour Ultimatum to US-Backed Government

August 15, 2021Nolan Peterson
operation freedom sentinel

A US soldier assigned to the 10th Mountain Division surveys the back of a CH-47 Chinook during flight over the southern region of Kabul, Afghanistan, on Nov. 6, 2019. US Army Reserve photo by Spc. Jeffery J. Harris, courtesy of DVIDS.

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With their forces poised on Kabul’s outskirts, Taliban officials reportedly paused their lightning offensive on Sunday and began talks with the US-backed Afghan government to negotiate a peaceful handover of the capital city. Kabul’s fall will mark the fall of Afghanistan to Taliban rule and solidify the defeat of America’s 20-year war effort.

President Ashraf Ghani fled Afghanistan on Sunday, multiple news agencies reported, signaling the government’s capitulation to Taliban rule.

Multiple reports from Kabul on Sunday say the Taliban has already established de facto control of Afghanistan’s capital city. According to the Saudi Arabian news site Al Arabiya, the Taliban issued a statement on Sunday, claiming: “No combat operations are underway in the capital of the country and the group has established control of the whole of Afghanistan.”

Based on official statements, Afghan officials seem ready to cede power to the Taliban without a fight.

“The Afghan people should not worry… There will be no attack on the city and there will be a peaceful transfer of power to the transitional government,” Afghan Interior Minister Abdul Sattar Mirzakwal said in a prerecorded address, Al Jazeera reported.

On Sunday, Taliban militants met at the presidential palace in Kabul for negotiations with government officials.

An Afghan National Army soldier on patrol in Afghanistan's Logar Province in 2013. Photo by Nolan Peterson/Coffee or Die.
An Afghan National Army soldier on patrol in Afghanistan’s Logar province in 2013. Photo by Nolan Peterson.

In the face of a relentless Taliban offensive that swept across Afghanistan over the past several weeks, Kabul has remained the last stronghold of Ghani’s US-backed Afghan government. According to multiple area news reports, the advancing Taliban forces had orders not to sack Kabul on Sunday. In a statement, the Taliban said they paused their forces “at the gates of Kabul” and did not want to take the capital city “by force or war, but rather to enter peacefully,” the Hindustan Times reported.

According to the BBC, Taliban forces did not meet significant resistance as they advanced on Kabul’s outskirts over the weekend. The subsequent pause in their offensive allowed Taliban leaders time to entertain a negotiated takeover. The Taliban reportedly offered amnesty to Afghan soldiers operating under the US-backed government.

“The rapid progress of Taliban units is a sign of the movement’s popularity,” the Taliban said in a Friday statement, Iran’s ISNA news agency reported.

“Those who fought against Taliban have nothing to be afraid of,” the Taliban reportedly announced. “We all can live in peace. We are your brothers. If anyone attacks you on behalf of the Taliban, immediately report to our headquarters, and we will deal with them.”

After a lightning advance across the country that seized multiple provincial capitals in a matter of days, Taliban forces had advanced to the outskirts of the Afghan capital of Kabul by Saturday. A military takeover of the capital city, which is home to around 4.5 million people, would surely result in a massive loss of civilian and military lives, lay waste to the city’s infrastructure, and spur a humanitarian catastrophe.

A US Army soldier at FOB Shank in Afghanistan in 2013. Photo by Nolan Peterson.

A negotiated settlement, however, spares the civilian population of Kabul from disaster and provides the Taliban with a geopolitical victory that might make future diplomatic relations with foreign powers such as Russia and China less problematic.

The Taliban now control the entirety of Afghanistan’s borders and most of its interior territory, according to various media reports. As the Taliban have advanced across Afghanistan, civilians have fled from the embattled regions into Kabul, which became the US-backed government’s final redoubt. Inside the city, foreign correspondents have recounted a chaotic scene as Afghan civilians empty their bank accounts and prepare for an imminent siege. Parks and open spaces are reportedly filled with Afghan civilians who have fled from the countryside; foreign correspondents report the sounds of gunfire from the city’s outlying areas.

Reports of summary executions by advancing Taliban militants, mainly targeted at Afghan officials and soldiers who assisted the US and NATO war effort, have reportedly left many inside Kabul doubtful as to the veracity of the Taliban’s claims that they will not seek retribution once the war is over.

The Taliban’s rapid offensive spurred Washington to evacuate the US embassy in the Afghan capital. President Joe Biden has ordered 5,000 US troops to the country to assist in the evacuation effort. Those forces include 1,000 troops from the 82nd Airborne Division.

Update: Diplomats at the US Embassy are evacuating to Kabul’s central airport, according to numerous media reports, while the Afghan government led by President Ashraf Ghani is reported to be in discussions to peacefully relinquish power to the Taliban in the nation’s capital city. For more updates, follow the story here.

Read Next: Respected Afghan Known as ‘Lion of Herat’ Surrenders to Taliban

Nolan Peterson
Nolan Peterson
Nolan Peterson is a senior editor for Coffee or Die Magazine and the author of Why Soldiers Miss War. A former US Air Force special operations pilot and a veteran of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Nolan is now a conflict journalist and author whose adventures have taken him to all seven continents. In addition to his memoirs, Nolan has published two fiction collections. He lives in Kyiv, Ukraine, with his wife, Lilya.
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