Taliban fighters entered the Afghan capital’s outskirts on Sunday, saying they were awaiting a “peaceful transfer” of the city after promising not to take it by force. But the uncertainty frightened residents, who rushed to flee, with workers fleeing government offices and helicopters landing at the US Embassy.

Updates:

  • Kabul on the verge of fall. Taliban on their way to the presidential palace for the “transfer of power”
  • Afghanistan’s president Ghani is relinquishing power. Interim “government” led by the Taliban to be formed.
  • Taliban commander Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar to become president of Afghanistan.
  • Taliban commander: “It’s our belief that one day mujahideen will have victory, and Islamic law will come not to just Afghanistan, but all over the world. We are not in a hurry. We believe it will come one day. Jihad will not end until the last day.”
  • Taliban asks foreigners in Afghanistan to leave or register their presence with the militants. Urges women to move to protected areas.

According to three Afghan officials, the Taliban are in the capital’s districts of Kalakan, Qarabagh, and Paghman.

The Taliban has defeated, co-opted, or forced Afghan security forces to flee large swaths of the country in just over a week, despite receiving some air support from the US military.

Many people were taken aback by the speed of the push, which raised questions about why Afghan forces crumbled despite years of US training and billions of dollars spent. Only a few days ago, an American military assessment predicted that the capital would be under insurgent attack in a month.

Suhail Shaheen, a Taliban spokesman, told Qatar’s Al-Jazeera English satellite news channel that the insurgents are “waiting for a peaceful transfer of Kabul city.” He refused to provide details about any potential negotiations between his forces and the government.

When pressed on the nature of the Taliban’s agreement, Shaheen admitted that they were seeking the central government’s unconditional surrender.

Taliban negotiators arrived at the presidential palace on Sunday to discuss the transfer, according to an Afghan official who spoke on the condition of anonymity due to fear of retaliation. It was unclear when that transfer would occur.

Acting Defense Minister Bismillah Khan attempted to reassert his authority.

“Authority has been given to a delegation that will be going to Doha (Qatar) tomorrow to reach an agreement on Afghanistan,” he said. “I assure you about the security of Kabul.”

Earlier, the insurgents also tried to calm residents of the capital.

“No one’s life, property and dignity will be harmed and the lives of the citizens of Kabul will not be at risk,” the insurgents said in a statement.

Despite the pledges, panic set in as many people rushed to leave the country through Kabul airport, the last route out as the Taliban now control every border crossing. After the militants took control of the nearby city of Jalalabad, rapid shuttle flights of Boeing CH-47 Chinook helicopters near the embassy began a few hours later. Diplomatic armored SUVs were seen leaving the vicinity of the post.

The US State Department did not respond immediately to questions about the movements. However, wisps of smoke could be seen near the embassy’s roof as diplomats urgently destroyed sensitive documents, according to two American military officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the situation.

Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters, which usually transport armed troops, also landed near the embassy. At least one attack helicopter could be seen flying overhead, launching flares to divert potential missile fire. The United States decided a few days ago to send in thousands of troops to assist in the evacuation of personnel from its embassy.

According to a pilot who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss security matters, Afghan forces abandoned Kabul International Airport to Western militaries. An Afghan flight from Kandahar had earlier landed at the airport carrying troops who had surrendered to the Taliban, despite receiving shrapnel damage from a mortar attack, according to the pilot.

President Ashraf Ghani, who addressed the nation for the first time since the offensive began on Saturday, also appears increasingly isolated. Warlords he negotiated with only a few days ago have either surrendered to the Taliban or fled, leaving Ghani with no military option. Ongoing talks in Qatar, where the Taliban has an office, have also failed to halt the insurgents’ advance.

Thousands of civilians are now living in parks and open spaces in Kabul, fearful of a Taliban government reimposing a brutal rule that has all but eliminated women’s rights. As hundreds gathered in front of private banks to withdraw their life savings, some ATMs stopped dispensing cash.

Gunfire erupted at several points, though the Afghan presidency sought to downplayed the shooting.

“The defense and security forces along with the international forces working for the security of Kabul city and the situation is under control,” the presidency said amid the chaos.

Jalalabad, Afghanistan’s last major city other than the capital not under Taliban control, fell to the militants earlier Sunday. Militants posted photos of themselves in the governor’s office in Jalalabad, the capital of Nangarhar province, on the internet.

According to Abrarullah Murad, a provincial lawmaker, the insurgents seized Jalalabad after elders negotiated the fall of the government there. According to Murad, there was no fighting as the city surrendered.

According to Afghan lawmaker Hamida Akbari and the Taliban, the militants also took Maidan Shar, the capital of Maidan Wardak, on Sunday, which is only 90 kilometers (55 miles) from Kabul. Another provincial capital in Khost was also taken by the Taliban.

The fall of Mazar-e-Sharif, the country’s fourth largest city, which Afghan forces and two powerful former warlords had pledged to defend, gave the insurgents control of all of northern Afghanistan on Saturday.

According to officials close to Dostum, Atta Mohammad Noor and Abdul Rashid Dostum, two of the warlords Ghani tried to rally to his side days earlier, fled across the border into Uzbekistan on Saturday. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about his movements.

Noor claimed, without elaborating, on Twitter that a “conspiracy” aided the Taliban’s takeover of the north.

“Despite our firm resistance, sadly, all the government and the Afghan security forces equipment were handed over to the Taliban as a result of a big organized and cowardly plot,” Noor wrote. “They had orchestrated the plot to trap Marshal Dostum and myself too, but they didn’t succeed.”

The Taliban also insisted that their fighters would not enter people’s homes or disrupt business operations. They also stated that those who worked with the Afghan government or foreign forces would be granted “amnesty.”

“The Islamic Emirate once again assures all its citizens that it will, as always, protect their life, property and honor and create a peaceful and secure environment for its beloved nation,” the militants said. “In this regard, no one should worry about their life.”

Despite the pledge, those who can afford a ticket have been flocking to Kabul International Airport, the only way out of the country since the Taliban took the last government-held border crossing at Torkham on Sunday. Pakistan’s Interior Minister, Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, told local broadcaster Geo TV that Pakistan had halted cross-border traffic after militants took control of the area.

(Source: The Associated Press)

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