Kabul airport in chaos as Afghan capital falls to Taliban control

The Taliban have returned to power, 20 years after they were ousted.

Matthias Ang | August 16, 2021, 04:21 PM

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The Taliban have declared an end to war in the Afghanistan after taking control of the country's capital on Aug. 15, Reuters reported.

The takeover marks the culmination of the group's "lightning sweep" across the country which saw major Afghan cities fall to their hands in rapid succession in the past week, prior to the takeover of Kabul.

It also marks their return to power, 20 years after they were ousted in 2001.

Afghan President flees country

Armed Taliban fighters were seen entering the Presidential Palace in Kabul, according to footage by Al Jazeera, while the President, Ashraf Ghani, has since fled the country.

He subsequently put up a Facebook post stating that he had done so to avoid further loss of life.

British media The Independent reported that it is unclear as to whether he fled to Tajikistan or Uzbekistan.

Meanwhile, sources close to the Taliban was quoted by Afghan media TOLOnews as stating that Ghani has agreed to resign after a political agreement and hand power over to a transitional government.

A spokesperson for the Taliban's political office, Mohammad Naeem, was quoted as saying:

"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. Thanks to God, the war is over in the country."

Scenes of chaos at Kabul's airport

In the meantime, scenes of chaos and desperation have been reported at the capital's airport, with civilians and foreigners alike attempting to flee the country.

This is despite AP News reporting that U.S. military officials had closed the airport on Aug. 15 to commercial flights, shutting out one of the last avenues of escape for Afghans, after gunfire occurred near the airport.

According to The Guardianthere are also unconfirmed reports of people being removed from commercial planes so as to allow them to take off.

The U.S. added that it had secured the perimeter of the airport with air traffic control currently being overseen by U.S. military officials.

6,000 U.S. troops deployed to oversee evacuations

Thus far, a total of 6,000 U.S. troops have since been deployed to Afghanistan to facilitate the evacuation of staff and officials from its embassy, with scenes of helicopters taking American diplomats to safety being reported, according to CNN.

Other U.S. allies and NATO members, such as Canada, France and Denmark, have also suspended embassy operations or moved them to the airport.

The Pentagon is looking at flying out as many as 5,000 civilians a day, including Americans and Afghan translators who have worked with the U.S.

However, it is unclear as to how evacuations might be able to continue, given the worsening security situation and the fact there are tens of thousands of Afghans and their families who have worked with the U.S. and other NATO countries, who are seeking to flee the country.

AP News further reported that 60 countries have since launched a joint statement calling for those in power in Afghanistan to "bear responsibility — and accountability — for the protection of human life and property, and for the immediate restoration of security and civil order."

It also called for roads, border crossings and airports to remain open.

Taliban: Not looking to take over Kabul through military force

Another Taliban spokesperson, Zabihullah Mujahid, said that the Taliban did not want to enter Kabul "through military ways."

Aljazeera reported that the Taliban have since taken over abandoned police posts in Kabul, stating that they would maintain law and order.

Separately, a third Taliban spokesperson, Suhail Shaheen, told the BBC that they "will respect the rights of women."

He added, "Our policy is that women will have access to education and work, to wear the hijab."

He also stressed that the properties and lives of the inhabitants of Kabul would be safe.

However, accounts hinting at the Taliban's harsh rule have emerged from other cities that fell under their control prior to the group's arrival in Kabul.

In the southern city of Kandahar, nine women working at the offices of a bank were told to leave so that male relatives could take their place, The Independent reported.

In addition, when asked about violent punishments for offenders, such as amputations and stoning, that was the hallmark of their previous reign over Afghanistan, Shaheen replied, "That is up to the religious followers and the courts. They will decide about the punishment."

Why did Afghanistan fall so quickly to the Taliban?

According to the Washington Post, morale within the Afghan military took a turn for the worse in the wake of a deal negotiated between the Taliban and the U.S. in February 2020, under former President Donald Trump, confirming the withdrawal of American forces.

Known as the Doha agreement, the deal brought to the fore the extent of corruption within the Afghan government, with police officers complaining that they had not received their paycheck in at least six months.

The deal was also perceived by government-aligned Afghans as the U.S. leaving them to fail, according to an Afghan special forces officer.

Morale also rapidly collapsed once current U.S. President Joe Biden announced that American forces would withdraw from the country unconditionally, with police officers in cities such as Kandahar complaining that they still had not been paid in six to nine months, prior to the city's fall.

Vox further reported that the Taliban capitalised on the low morale among the forces of the Afghan government by sending fighters to meet low-level representatives of the government, offering either bribes or guarantees of safety.

Why did the U.S. withdraw?

According to Biden, the country has completed its objective of finding Osama Bin Laden, the mastermind of the September 11 terror attacks in 2001 and leader of Al-Qaeda.

Biden said, "That’s why we went. We did not go to Afghanistan to nation-build."

As such, it is now up to Afghans to "decide their future" and "how they want to run their country", he added.

In stressing that keeping U.S. troops in Afghanistan for one more year was not a solution, he said, "I will not send another generation of Americans to war in Afghanistan with no reasonable expectation of achieving a different outcome."

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Top image collage left image from Nicola Careem Twitter, centre image from omar r quraishi Twitter, right image from Saad Mohseni Twitter