At least eight dead in Kabul airport chaos: US uses helicopters to try and herd desperate Afghans off runway – after two stowaways fell to their death while clinging to evacuation flight forcing military to halt departures
Speculation about the location of the former President of Afghanistan who fled the country is rife
Russian sources claiming he is in exile in Oman while early reports suggested he had fled to Tajikistan
Taliban terror group swept into the capital on Sunday after the US-backed government collapsed
Reports from Al-Jazeera later claimed he had flown to Uzbekistan, citing his personal bodyguard
Ghani’s political rivals branded ex-Afghan President a coward for leaving the country in chaos
Speculation about the current location of the former President of Afghanistan is rife, with Russian sources claiming he is in exile in Oman while early reports suggested he had fled to Tajikistan after escaping Kabul and effectively ceding power to the Taliban on Sunday.
The Taliban terror group swept into the capital on Sunday after the US-backed government collapsed and Ashraf Ghani fled the country ‘to avoid bloodshed’, bringing the nearly 20-year Western intervention begun after the September 11, 2001 attacks to a climactic end.
The Russian Embassy in Kabul said on Monday that Ghani had fled the country with four cars and a helicopter full of cash, and had to leave some money behind as it would not all fit in.
However, the former Afghan President’s whereabouts remain unknown, with Russian sources insisting that he flew directly from Kabul to the Sultanate of Oman, across the Persian Gulf from Afghanistan.
Early reports suggested that he had initially gone to Dushanbe in Tajikistan, but this has been denied by local authorities – with a Tajik source saying: ‘The plane with Mr Mohammad Ashraf Ghani onboard did not enter airspace of Tajikistan and did not land in the territory of the country.’
Reports from Al-Jazeera later claimed he had flown to Uzbekistan, citing his personal bodyguard.
One Afghan diplomat who has not been named said: ‘There is no exact information about the whereabouts of the escaped president. According to some sources, he flew from Kabul directly to the Sultanate of Oman.’ However, Kazakhstan has denied he flew via its territory.
In a Facebook post, the former Afghan President said he had left the country to avoid clashes with the Taliban that would endanger millions of Kabul residents. However, Ghani’s critics and political rivals branded him a coward for leaving the country in chaos, with Abdullah Abdullah, Chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation, vowing that ‘God will hold him to account’.
It comes as Afghanistan slips back into Taliban control after the Islamist insurgency captured most of the country almost unopposed amid the Anglo-US withdrawal, two decades after NATO forces first invaded the Middle Eastern state following the September 11, 2001 attacks.
Much of the Western media and political class have called the crisis the biggest foreign policy disaster since Suez, with Armin Laschet – the head of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party – calling it the ‘biggest NATO debacle’ since the founding of the alliance.
As rumours about Ghani’s location spread:
- Taliban fighters were seen patrolling the streets of Kabul as thousands of hopeful Afghans gathered on the runway at Hamid Karzai airport trying desperately to escape from Afghanistan;
- The UK’s ambassador to Afghanistan put plans to leave the country on hold – and remained at Kabul airport to help process the applications of those seeking to leave;
- Prime Minister Boris Johnson said hundreds of nationals and eligible Afghans would be evacuated every day, with flights out of the country continuing as long as it is safe;
- Defence Minister Ben Wallace choked up as he vowed to fly hundreds of desperate Afghans out of the country within the next 36 hours – but insisted sending UK troops back in is not ‘on the cards’;
- The EU said member states’ foreign ministers would hold crisis talks via video link on Tuesday;
- Former President Hamid Karzai urged the Taliban to spare Kabul and told residents to stay in their homes and said he would be staying in the country;
- Russian officials said they were in touch with the Taliban in Afghanistan via its Embassy in Kabul;
- The US ambassador and embassy staff fled Afghanistan after Taliban forces stormed Kabul in scenes likened to the 1975 evacuation of its mission in Saigon;
- PM Boris Johnson said said the US decision to withdraw from Afghanistan had ‘accelerated’ the crisis;
- British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab was forced to return to the UK from his holiday abroad;
- Tory MPs called fallout from Anglo-US withdrawal ‘Britain’s worst foreign policy disaster since Suez’;
- MPs are expected to to vent their anger and frustration when they return to Westminster on Wednesday for an emergency recall of Parliament to discuss the crisis;
- President Biden defended the withdrawal of US troops and blamed his predecessor Donald Trump for a deal that left the warlords ‘in the strongest position militarily since 2001’.
FALL OF KABUL: A TIMELINE OF THE TALIBAN’S FAST ADVANCE AFTER 40 YEARS OF CONFLICT
Feb. 29, 2020 Trump negotiates deal with the Taliban setting U.S. withdrawal date for May 1, 2021
Nov. 17, 2020 Pentagon announces it will reduce troop levels to 2500 in Afghanistan
Jan. 15, 2020 Inspector general reveals ‘hubris and mendacity’ of U.S. efforts in Afghanistan
Feb 3. 2021 Afghan Study Group report warns against withdrawing ‘irresponsibly’
March Military command makes last-ditch effort to talk Biden out of withdrawal
April 14 Biden announces withdrawal will be completed by Sept. 11
May 4 – Taliban fighters launch a major offensive on Afghan forces in southern Helmand province. They also attack in at least six other provinces
May 11 – The Taliban capture Nerkh district just outside the capital Kabul as violence intensifies across the country
June 7 – Senior government officials say more than 150 Afghan soldiers are killed in 24 hours as fighting worsens. They add that fighting is raging in 26 of the country’s 34 provinces
June 22 – Taliban fighters launch a series of attacks in the north of the country, far from their traditional strongholds in the south. The UN envoy for Afghanistan says they have taken more than 50 of 370 districts
July 2 – The U.S. evacuates Bagram Airfield in the middle of the night
July 5 – The Taliban say they could present a written peace proposal to the Afghan government as soon as August
July 21 – Taliban insurgents control about a half of the country’s districts, according to the senior U.S. general, underlining the scale and speed of their advance
July 25 – The United States vows to continue to support Afghan troops “in the coming weeks” with intensified airstrikes to help them counter Taliban attacks
July 26 – The United Nations says nearly 2,400 Afghan civilians were killed or wounded in May and June in escalating violence, the highest number for those months since records started in 2009
Aug. 6 – Zaranj in the south of the country becomes the first provincial capital to fall to the Taliban in years. Many more are to follow in the ensuing days, including the prized city of Kunduz in the north
Aug. 13 – Pentagon insists Kabul is not under imminent threat
Aug. 14 – The Taliban take the major northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif and, with little resistance, Pul-e-Alam, capital of Logar province just 70 km (40 miles) south of Kabul. The United States sends more troops to help evacuate its civilians from Kabul as Afghan President Ashraf Ghani says he is consulting with local and international partners on next steps
Aug. 15 – The Taliban take the key eastern city of Jalalabad without a fight, effectively surrounding Kabul
Taliban insurgents enter Kabul, an interior ministry official says, as the United States evacuate diplomats from its embassy by helicopter
In a statement posted on Facebook, Ghani wrote: ‘Dear countrymen! Today, I came across a hard choice; I should stand to face the armed Taliban who wanted to enter the palace or leave the dear country that I dedicated my life to protecting and protecting the past twenty years.
‘If there were still countless countrymen martyred and they would face the destruction and destruction of Kabul city, the result would have been a big human disaster in this six million city.
‘The Taliban have made it to remove me, they are here to attack all Kabul and the people of Kabul. In order to avoid the bleeding flood, I thought it was best to get out.’
Russia has said it will retain a diplomatic presence in Kabul and hopes to develop ties with the Taliban even as it says it is no rush to recognise them as the country’s rulers and will closely observe their behaviour.
‘As for the collapse of the (outgoing) regime, it is most eloquently characterised by the way Ghani fled Afghanistan,’ Nikita Ishchenko, a spokesman for the Russian embassy in Kabul, was quoted as saying by RIA.
‘Four cars were full of money, they tried to stuff another part of the money into a helicopter, but not all of it fit. And some of the money was left lying on the tarmac,’ he was quoted as saying.
Ischenko, the Russian embassy spokesman, confirmed his comments to Reuters. He cited ‘witnesses’ as the source of his information. Reuters could not independently confirm the veracity of his account immediately.
President Vladimir Putin’s special representative on Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov said earlier it was unclear how much money the fleeing government would leave behind.
‘I hope the government that has fled did not take all the money from the state budget. It will be the bedrock of the budget if something is left,’ Kabulov told Moscow’s Ekho Moskvy radio station.
‘The Taliban have won with the judgement of their swords and guns, and are now responsible for the honour, property and self-preservation of their countrymen,’ Ghani said after fleeing.
Taliban officials said they had received no reports of any clashes anywhere in the country: ‘The situation is peaceful,’ one official said. The Taliban controlled 90 percent of state buildings and fighters had been told to prevent any damage, the official added.
Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, who fought in the Soviet-Afghan War during the 1980s and helped ex-chief Mohammad Omar create the Taliban in 1994, has already been installed as the head of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, according to reports in the Arab world.
Video from Afghanistan’s parliament building showed Taliban fighters entering the main chamber today. The grainy footage showed fighters carrying weapons sitting at a table at the head of the chamber under the government’s seal, with some smiling and posing for photographs.
On Sunday, Taliban fighters took control of Afghanistan’s presidential palace in Kabul, with members of the group posing at another table.
Victorious Taliban fighters patrolled Kabul on Monday after a stunningly swift end to Afghanistan’s 20-year war, as thousands of people mobbed the city’s airport trying to flee the group’s feared hardline brand of Islamist rule.
It took the Taliban just over a week to seize control of the country after a lightning sweep that ended in Kabul as government forces trained for years and equipped by Britain, the United States and other Western nations at a cost of billions of dollars, melted away.
As the militants declared victory and claimed peace had been brought to the country, at least five people were killed in Kabul airport and another three reportedly died falling from a plane, while hundreds tried to forcibly enter aircraft leaving the Afghan capital, witnesses said.
One witness said he had seen the bodies of five people being taken to a vehicle. Another witness said it was not clear whether the victims were killed by gunshots or in a stampede.
US troops, who are in charge of the airport, earlier fired in the air to scatter the crowd, a US official said, but officials were not immediately available to comment on the deaths.
Meanwhile, refugees have been massing at the borders as people desperately try to flee Afghanistan before the Taliban’s brutal rules are implemented, with pictures from the country’s border with Pakistan showing hundreds of people queuing in an attempt to leave.
‘Today is a great day for the Afghan people and the mujahideen. They have witnessed the fruits of their efforts and their sacrifices for 20 years,’ Mohammad Naeem, the spokesman for the Taliban’s political office, told Al Jazeera TV. ‘Thanks to God, the war is over in the country.’
Thousands of terrified people descended on Hamid Karzai International Airport as the US, Britain and other Western countries evacuate their citizens and diplomats on military aircraft following the Taliban’s seizure of the capital city Kabul and much of Afghanistan this week.
Video posted on Twitter shows hundreds of people running alongside a C-17 crammed with 800 people – eight times its usual capacity – with many clambering on to the front and rear wheels, while others climbed airbridges hoping to force their way on to planes waiting at the departure gates.
At least seven dead in Kabul airport chaos: US uses helicopters to try and herd desperate Afghans off runway – after two stowaways fell to their death while clinging to evacuation flight forcing military to halt departures
Evacuation flights out of Kabul have been halted after at least eight people were killed on Monday, including two shot dead by US troops, three run over by taxiing jets and three stowaways who plummeted from the engines of an airborne plane amid chaotic scenes in Afghanistan.
Three stowaways fell hundreds of feet to their deaths after climbing onto the fuselage of a departing US Air Force C-17 plane as it took off from at Hamid Karzai International Airport, while hundreds of other desperate people tried to cling onto planes as they taxied down the runway.
Senior US military officials said troops shot and killed two armed Afghans among those trying to get onto the jet while US citizens were evacuated in two separate incidents. A further three people were caught under plane wheels amid scenes of anarchy as the country slips into Taliban control.
A Pentagon official said US troops had come under fire at the airfield and grounded all flights while soldiers cleared the airfield with Apache helicopters and fired ‘warning shots’ to disperse the crowds. Flights resumed after 90 minutes but were suspended again after a security breach on the civilian side of the airport, a Pentagon spokesperson said.
Thousands of terrified people descended on Hamid Karzai International Airport as the US, Britain and other Western countries evacuate their citizens and diplomats on military aircraft following the Taliban’s seizure of capital city Kabul and much of Afghanistan this week.
The clip then shows three people falling to their deaths from hundreds of feet in the air, with images posted online later appearing to show residents collecting bodies from a rooftop in Kabul.
The C-17 can carry 171,000 pounds of cargo but its interior is designed to carry fewer than 150 soldiers. It is unclear who exactly was on board and how many Americans remain on the ground. However, a flight-tracker showed the jet was flown to the Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar.
The first of three German evacuation planes en route to Afghanistan diverted to the Uzbek capital Tashkent after it could not land at Kabul airport, a German general said on Monday.
The A400M transport plane circled for more than an hour over Kabul before changing its destination, Lieutenant General Markus Laubenthal told public broadcaster ZDF. A foreign ministry spokesperson said earlier in Berlin that no evacuation flights were leaving Kabul because people were blocking the runway.
A Pentagon spokesperson said 3,000 soldiers would be on the ground at the airport by Tuesday to help with the evacuation efforts, with a further 3,000 troops arriving later this week. However, the shambolic scenes further humiliated the US and its NATO powers, with much of the Anglo-US media and political class branding the withdrawal the biggest foreign policy disaster since Suez.
The head of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party, Armin Laschet, called it the ‘biggest NATO debacle’ since the founding of the alliance, while MPs accused Prime Minister Boris Johnson of a ‘shameful’ silence and questioned if he did enough to discourage Joe Biden from withdrawing US troops.
Joe Biden has returned to the White House ahead of his address to the American nation later on Monday. He had retreated to Camp David for a vacation amid fierce domestic and global criticism of his handling of the Afghanistan crisis from both the Left and Right of politics across the West.
In a statement on Saturday, the President blamed his predecessor Donald Trump for creating the conditions in which the Taliban could march on Kabul, seize the Presidential Palace and declare an Islamic state in just days. Mr Trump in turn called on President Biden to resign over his mismanagement.
US media said the ‘debacle of the US defeat and chaotic retreat in Afghanistan’ was a ‘political disaster’ and slammed President Biden’s ‘failure to orchestrate an urgent and orderly exit’.
A New York Post editorial even said his claims that he ‘inherited’ Trump’s withdrawal plans were a ‘lie’ and branded the crisis situation ‘as humiliating an end as the rooftop scramble in Saigon in 1975’.
The head of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party, Armin Laschet, called it the ‘biggest NATO debacle’ since the founding of the alliance, while MPs accused Prime Minister Boris Johnson of a ‘shameful’ silence and questioned if he did enough to discourage President Biden from withdrawing US troops.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he was ‘concerned’ by accounts of human rights violations against the women and girls of Afghanistan who fear a return to the darkest days’ of the 1990s when the Taliban came to power after the Civil War and imposed theocracy on the country.
Afghanistan’s representative to the UN Security Ghulam Isaczai told a meeting of the five powers – the US, Britain, China, Russia and France – on Monday that ‘there are already reports of target killings and looting in the city’.
‘Kabul residents are reported that the Taliban have already started house-to-house searches in some neighbourhoods, registering names and looking for people in their target list,’ he added.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has also come under fire from critics and political rivals for hightailing out of the country as the Taliban stormed the Presidential Palace last night. The Russian Embassy claimed that he had fled in a helicopter full of cash. His whereabouts remain unknown.