Afghanistan president Ashraf Ghani has left the capital Kabul for Tajikistan, a senior Afghan interior ministry official said on Sunday.
Asked for comment, the president’s office said it “cannot say anything about Ashraf Ghani’s movement for security reasons”. A representative of the Taliban, which entered the capital Kabul earlier on Sunday, said the group was checking on Ghani’s whereabouts.
An Afghanistan government delegation will travel to Qatar on Sunday to meet with representatives of the Taliban, an Afghanistan negotiator said.
It comes hours after the insurgents reached the country’s capital Kabul with little resistance.
Fawzi Koofi, a member of the Kabul negotiating team, confirmed to Reuters the delegation would meet with the Taliban in the Gulf state after the militant group earlier entered Kabul.
A source familiar with the matter said the Afghan delegation and Taliban representatives would discuss a transition of power, adding that officials from the United States would also be involved. Senior official Abdullah Abdullah will be part of the Afghan delegation.
A spokesman for the Taliban said it expects a peaceful transition of power in the next few days. Suhail Shaheen said the group would protect the rights of women, as well as freedoms for media workers and diplomats.
“We assure the people, particularly in the city of Kabul, that their properties, their lives are safe,” the spokesman said in an interview with the BBC.
“Our leadership had instructed our forces to remain at the gates of Kabul, not to enter the city.
“We are awaiting a peaceful transfer of power,” he said, adding the Taliban expected that to happen in a matter of days.
Earlier on Sunday an interior ministry official in Afghanistan said the militant Islamist group was coming into Kabul “from all sides” but gave no further details.
A tweet from the Afghan presidential palace account said firing had been heard at a number of points around Kabul but that security forces, in co-ordination with international partners, had control of the city.
A Taliban official said the group did not want any casualties as it took charge but had not declared a ceasefire.
There was no immediate word on the situation from president Ashraf Ghani, who said on Saturday he was in urgent consultations with local leaders and international partners on the situation.
The United States have evacuated diplomats from its embassy by helicopter, and officials said more troops were being sent to help in the evacuations.
A US official has said the country is unlikely to change its military strategy in Kabul unless the Taliban impact the evacuation of the embassy. The official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that the US had not yet seen the Taliban enter Kabul in a major way.
Sweden has said it will evacuate all its embassy staff from Kabul on Sunday, public service broadcaster Swedish Radio reported, citing sources.
Germany’s army is sending A400M transport aircraft to Kabul with 30 paratroopers each on board to evacuate embassy staff and their Afghan helpers, Bild am Sonntag reported.
A defence ministry spokesman said that an evacuation mission had been prepared through the night with the greatest urgency, but he declined to comment further on the newspaper report.
Approval from the German parliament, which is required for such a military mission, will have to be given after the fact due to the urgency of the operation, the paper cited its sources as saying.
Capture of Jalalabad
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. They also took over the nearby Torkham border post with Pakistan, leaving Kabul airport the only way out of Afghanistan that is still in government hands.
The capture of Jalalabad followed the Taliban’s seizure of the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif late on Saturday, also with little fighting.
“There are no clashes taking place right now in Jalalabad because the governor has surrendered to the Taliban,” a Jalalabad-based Afghan official told Reuters. “Allowing passage to the Taliban was the only way to save civilian lives.”
A video clip distributed by the Taliban showed people cheering and shout Allahu Akbar – God is greatest – as a convoy of pick-up trucks entered the city with fighters brandishing machine guns and the white Taliban flag.
After US-led forces withdrew the bulk of the their remaining troops in the last month, the Taliban campaign accelerated as the Afghan military’s defences appeared to collapse.
US president Joe Biden on Saturday authorised the deployment of 5,000 troops to help evacuate citizens and ensure an “orderly and safe” draw-down of military personnel.
Taliban fighters entered Mazar-i-Sharif virtually unopposed as security forces escaped up the highway to Uzbekistan, about 80km to the north, provincial officials said. Unverified video on social media showed Afghan army vehicles and men in uniforms crowding the iron bridge between the Afghan town of Hairatan and Uzbekistan.
In a statement late on Saturday, the Taliban said its rapid gains showed it was popularly accepted by the Afghan people and reassured both Afghans and foreigners that they would be safe.
The Islamic Emirate, as the Taliban calls itself, “will, as always, protect their life, property and honour, and create a peaceful and secure environment for its beloved nation,” it said, adding that diplomats and aid workers would also face no problems.
Afghans have fled the provinces to enter Kabul in recent days, fearing a return to hardline Islamist rule.
Early on Sunday, refugees from Taliban-controlled provinces were seen unloading belongings from taxis and families stood outside embassy gates, while the city’s downtown was packed with people stocking up on supplies.
Hundreds of people slept huddled in tents or in the open in the city, by roadsides or in car parks, a resident said on Saturday night. “You can see the fear in their faces,” he said.
Mr Biden said his administration had told Taliban officials in talks in Qatar that any action that put US personnel at risk “will be met with a swift and strong US military response.”
He has faced rising domestic criticism as the Taliban have taken city after city far more quickly than predicted. The president has stuck to a plan, initiated by his Republican predecessor, Donald Trump, to end the US military mission in Afghanistan by August 31st.
Mr Biden said it is up to the Afghan military to hold its own territory. “An endless American presence in the middle of another country’s civil conflict was not acceptable to me,” Mr Biden said on Saturday.
Qatar, which has been hosting so-far inconclusive peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban, said it had urged the insurgents to cease fire. Mr Ghani has given no sign of responding to a Taliban demand that he resign as a condition for any ceasefire. – Reuters