Taliban seize presidential palace in Kabul as Western diplomats flee
Taliban fighters take control of the Afghan presidential palace after Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled the country in Kabul, Afghanistan on Sunday, August 15, 2021.
Zabi Karimi | AP
WASHINGTON – The Taliban captured the presidential palace in the war-weary Afghan capital of Kabul on Sunday, a dramatic development that marked the end of a 20-year American era in the country.
The breathtaking reveal comes hours after Taliban insurgents invaded their front lines in Kabul after a series of shocking battlefields fueled by the exodus of US and coalition forces.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled the country on Sunday as Western nations rushed to evacuate embassies amid deteriorating security.
Foreign Secretary Antony Blinken, who appeared on several Sunday news programs, did not say the U.S. embassy in Kabul would be practically abandoned. He added that a “core diplomatic presence” will now be based at Hamid Karzai International Airport.
The State Department announced on Sunday evening that all employees of the US embassy were safely evacuated from the embassy premises to the airport in Kabul by military helicopter.
“All embassy staff are on the premises of Hamid Karzai International Airport, the area around which is secured by the US military,” said State Department spokesman Ned Price.
The latest revelation follows President Joe Biden’s orders to send about 5,000 US soldiers to Kabul to evacuate embassy personnel. In the meantime, the State Department instructed staff at the US embassy to destroy sensitive information before they left.
Great Britain, Germany and Canada also stormed troops into Kabul to evacuate their embassies.
In the past few days, the Taliban have made breathtaking changes of battlefield, with almost the entire nation now under their control.
Although the Taliban are vastly outnumbered by the Afghan military, which has long been supported by US and coalition forces, the Taliban invaded Kabul on Sunday.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani attends a security meeting in Kabul, Afghanistan, on August 14, 2021.
Afghan Presidential Palace | Reuters
Two U.S. defense officials confirmed to NBC News that the Taliban also seized Bagram Air Force Base, a development that came less than two months after the U.S. military handed over the once steadfast air base to the Afghan National Security and Defense Forces.
The group began emptying the local Parwan Prison, which is estimated to have 5,000 to 7,000 prisoners, including die-hard Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants, officials said, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
In 2012, at its peak, Bagram looked through more than 100,000 U.S. soldiers. It was the largest US military facility in Afghanistan.
Last week the group captured Kandahar and Herat, Afghanistan’s second and third largest cities. The group also captured the strategic city of Pul-e-Alam, a city that has one of the four main roads into Kabul.
“You have to fight for yourself”
Taliban fighters sit over a vehicle on a street in Laghman province on August 15, 2021.
AFP | Getty Images
Speaking to reporters at the White House last week, Biden said he had no regrets about his decision to withdraw US forces from Afghanistan, effectively ending America’s longest war.
“Look, we’ve spent over a trillion dollars over 20 years, we’ve trained over 300,000 Afghan forces and equipped them with modern equipment,” Biden said on Aug. 10.
“Afghan leaders need to come together,” added the president. “You have to fight for yourself, fight for your nation.”
In April, Biden ordered the Pentagon to withdraw US forces from Afghanistan by September 11, a decision he believed was made in lockstep with NATO coalition forces.
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The Pentagon’s colossal task of removing soldiers and equipment from Afghanistan is almost complete, and the U.S. military mission is slated to end on August 31.
The Pentagon previously stated that the ongoing Taliban offensive across the country violates a commitment made by the group last year to open peace talks with the Afghan government.
The peace talks taking place in Qatar have now stalled.
“What we are seeing on the ground is that the Taliban are advancing and taking control of district and provincial centers, which clearly shows that they believe it is possible to get government through violence, brutality, violence and repression in great contradiction to their previously stated goal of actually participating in a negotiated political solution, “Pentagon spokesman John Kirby recently told reporters.
He added that while the Pentagon is concerned to see such advances by the Taliban, the Afghan military must now take advantage of nearly two decades of training from US and NATO coalition forces.
“They have the advantage in numbers, operational structure, air force and modern weapons, and it’s really about having the will and leadership to use those advantages for their own benefit,” said Kirby.
“The recipe cannot just be a permanent US presence in Afghanistan that never ends,” he added.