Afghan president flees country, says he left to avoid violence as Taliban take over Kabul

Afghanistan’s president Ashraf Ghani has fled the country to avoid bloodshed as Taliban insurgents entered the capital Kabul on Sunday.

But in a Facebook post late on Sunday, Ghani said he was faced with a "hard choice" between the "armed Taliban" or leaving the dear country that he dedicated his life to protecting the past 20 years.

"The Taliban had made it clear that they were ready to carry out a bloody attack on all of Kabul and the people of Kabul Sharif to oust me. In order to prevent a flood of bloodshed, I decided to leave,” he said.

Taliban commanders said they have taken control of the presidential palace.

Earlier on Sunday, the insurgents captured the eastern city of Jalalabad without a fight, giving them control of one of the main highways into landlocked Afghanistan.

The capture of Jalalabad followed the Taliban’s seizure of the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif late on Saturday, also with little fighting.

British troops arrived in Kabul on Sunday to help evacuate embassy staff and UK citizens.

The United States has evacuated diplomats from its embassy by helicopter.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson chaired a COBRA meeting on the Afghan crisis this evening after requesting to recall parliament from its summer break on Wednesday.

He said the UK and its international partners should work to ensure "Afghanistan does not become a breeding ground for terror" once again.

Mr Johnson added that the "situation remains difficult" and the world is facing a "change of regime in Kabul".

British troops from the 16 Air Assault Brigade landed in Kabul on Sunday, while British Airways and Virgin Atlantic ordered its pilots to stay away from Afghan airspace over security concerns.

Meanwhile, a Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen said that women should not be scared. “We will protect their honour, allow them to work and have access to education,” he told the BBC. “They should continue the work as normal.”

However, reports from areas already captured by the group suggest women’s rights are being eradicated.

The UN Security Council said it would hold an emergency meeting on Monday morning.

US President Joe Biden announced he was sending 6,000 more troops to Kabul to help remove personnel - and the evacuation of the American embassy has now begun.

US diplomats have been urgently destroying sensitive documents, with helicopters seen flying over the US embassy.

The Biden administration has warned Taliban officials any actions that put American personnel at risk "will be met with a swift and strong US military response".

The president defended his decision to withdraw US troops from the country in the coming weeks, and said the task of fighting back against Taliban insurgents must fall to Afghan forces.

He warned that an indefinite American military presence in Afghanistan is not an option, and has vowed not to pass on the war to a fifth US president.

However, the handling of the crisis has attracted criticism from some American politicians and former US president Donald Trump has said that Mr Biden "gets it wrong every time on foreign policy".

In a strongly worded statement, Mr Trump said that after he took out ISIS, he established a credible deterrent and added that the deterrent was now nonexistent. The Taliban no longer has fear or respect for America, or America's power.

"What a disgrace it will be when the Taliban raises their flag over America's embassy in Kabul. This is complete failure through weakness, incompetence, and total strategic incoherence."

Who are the Taliban?

Image credit: Getty

The Taliban were removed from power in Afghanistan by US-led forces in 2001, but the group has been on the offensive in recent months and has seized power again.

The group entered direct talks with the US back in 2018, and in February 2020 the two sides struck a peace deal in Doha that committed the US to withdrawal and the Taliban to preventing attacks on US forces.

The Taliban, or "students" in the Pashto language, first appeared in the early 1990s in northern Pakistan following the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan. The predominantly Pashtun movement emerged in religious seminaries - mostly paid for Saudi Arabia - which preached a hardline form of Sunni Islam.

The promise made by the Taliban - in Pashtun areas was to restore peace and security and enforce their own austere version of Sharia, or Islamic law, once in power.

The group is thought to now be stronger in numbers than at any point since they were ousted in 2001 - with up to 85,000 full time fighters, according to recent Nato estimates.