Afghan president flees the country after Taliban return to Kabul

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People walk near a mural of President Ashraf Ghani at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul yesterday. (AP pic)

Reuters

KABUL: President Ashraf Ghani left Afghanistan today after Taliban fighters entered the capital Kabul, capping their return to power two decades after being forced out by US-led forces.

American diplomats were evacuated from their embassy by helicopters after the militants swept across Afghanistan in days with little resistance from local forces trained and equipped by the US and others for billions of dollars.

The Taliban urged government officials to stay, but officials said Ghani had left the country.

It was not clear where he was going: a senior interior ministry official said he had left for Tajikistan, while a foreign ministry official said it was not known which country he would land in.

A representative of the Taliban said the group was checking on Ghani’s whereabouts. Some local social media users branded him a “coward” for leaving them in chaos.

Taliban fighters reached Kabul “from all sides”, the senior interior ministry official told Reuters and there were some reports of sporadic gunfire around the city.

But there was no significant fighting and the group said it was waiting for the Western-backed government to surrender peacefully.

“Taliban fighters are to be on standby at all entrances to Kabul until a peaceful and satisfactory transfer of power is agreed,” said spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid.

Many Afghans fear the Taliban will return to past harsh practices in their imposition of Sharia, or Islamic law. During their 1996-2001 rule, women were not allowed to work and punishments such as stoning, whipping and hanging were administered.

Taliban sought to project a more moderate face, promising to respect women’s rights and protect both foreigners and Afghans.

Another spokesman, Suhail Shaheen, said the Taliban would protect the rights of women, as well as freedom for media workers and diplomats.

“We assure the people, particularly in the city of Kabul, that their properties, their lives are safe,” he told the BBC, saying a transfer of power was expected in days.