Taliban commander claimed he spent eight years in Guantanamo Bay in a triumphant speech from inside the Presidential Palace in Kabul
Taliban commander claimed he spent eight years in Guantanamo Bay in a triumphant speech from inside the Presidential Palace in Kabul as the militants declared an Islamic state of Afghanistan after the country’s president joined thousands of Afghan nationals in a mass exodus.
Taliban fighters marched into the ancient palace on Sunday and demanded a ‘peaceful transfer of power’ as the capital city descended into chaos, with US helicopters evacuating diplomats from the embassy in scenes echoing the 1975 Fall of Saigon which followed the Vietnam War.
There were chaotic scenes at Kabul airport where thousands of desperate Afghans are gathering in an attempt to flee the country. Fighting and stampedes broke out between passengers before commercial flights were stopped and only military planes departed the terminals which are now guarded by US troops.
The Al-Jazeera news channel livestreamed the press conference from inside the palace, which showed a group of Taliban fighters sitting at the President’s desk before a fighter claimed he was a former inmate of the US-controlled Guantanamo Bay detention centre in Cuba.
Established by George W Bush in 2002, suspected terrorists have been detained without trial and tortured at the facility. Donald Trump signed an executive order to keep the centre open indefinitely in 2018, while in February the Biden administration vowed to shut Guantanamo down.
A spokesman for the Taliban’s political office told Al-Jazeera TV on Sunday that the war is over in Afghanistan and that the type of rule and the form of regime will be clear soon.
‘We assure everyone that we will provide safety for citizens and diplomatic missions. We are ready to have a dialogue with all Afghan figures and will guarantee them the necessary protection,’ spokesman Mohammad Naeem told the Qatar-based channel.
He said the group does not think foreign forces will repeat ‘their failed experience in Afghanistan again,’ adding: ‘We move with responsibility in every step and make sure to have peace with everyone… We are ready to deal with the concerns of the international community through dialogue’.
Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen vowed there would be ‘no revenge’ against those who worked with the previous Afghan government, but refused to guarantee that Afghans would be allowed to flee. ‘Our policy is that no one should leave the country’ he told the BBC. ‘We need all Afghans to stay.’
US-backed Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled the country for Tajikistan, effectively ceding power to the Taliban and bringing the 20-year Western occupation of Afghanistan to an end, while thousands of Afghan nationals rushed to the Pakistan border in a bid to escape Islamist rule.
Mr Ghani said in a Facebook post that he escaped Afghanistan to ‘prevent a flood of bloodshed’, claiming ‘countless patriots would be martyred and the city of Kabul would be destroyed’ if he had remained. He did not disclose details on his current location.
Foreigners in Kabul were told to either leave or register their presence with Taliban administrators, while RAF planes were scrambled to evacuate 6,000 British diplomats, citizens and Afghan translators, and the British Ambassador was moved to a safe place. The US and French Ambassadors have already been evacuated as the US rushes to rescue more than 10,000 of its citizens.
Italy’s defence ministry said a first military plane would arrive on Sunday to begin ’emergency evacuation’ operations, while Denmark, Norway and Finland are temporarily shutting their Kabul embassies, with Finland to offer asylum to 170 local staff and their families.
However, the Kremlin’s envoy said that there are no plans to evacuate the Russian Embassy in Kabul, as China, Russia, Pakistan and Turkey all appear set to formally recognise the rule of the Sunni extremist group which was created after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
The United States on Sunday led more than 65 nations in urging the resurgent Taliban to let Afghans leave the country, warning of accountability for any abuses.
‘The United States joins the international community in affirming that Afghans and international citizens who wish to depart must be allowed to do so,’ Secretary of State Antony Blinken wrote on Twitter as the State Department released a statement signed by its close allies.
‘Those in positions of power and authority across Afghanistan bear responsibility – and accountability – for the protection of human life,’ the joint statement said.
Bagram airbase was also surrendered to the Taliban by Afghan troops, despite the hundreds of billions of dollars spent by the US and NATO to build up Afghan security forces. Upon its takeover, hundreds of Taliban and Islamic State terrorists being held prisoner there were freed.
Commercial flights were later suspended after sporadic gunfire erupted at the airport, according to two senior US military officials who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss ongoing operations. Evacuations continued on military flights, but the halt to commercial traffic closed off one of the last routes available for Afghans fleeing the country.
As night fell, Taliban fighters deployed across Kabul, taking over abandoned police posts and pledging to maintain law and order during the transition. Residents reported looting in parts of the city, including in the upscale diplomatic district, and messages circulating on social media advised people to stay inside and lock their gates.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the US decision to withdraw from Afghanistan had ‘accelerated’ the current crisis and announced his government’s priority is to get UK nationals out ‘as fast as we can’ after chairing an emergency Cobra meeting in Downing Street. He also vowed that the Middle Eastern state must not become a ‘breeding ground for terror’ again.
But he was slammed by Tory MPs – including ex-soldiers Tom Tugendhat, Johnny Mercer and Tobias Ellwood – for presiding over Britain’s ‘biggest single foreign policy disaster’ since Suez and called for UK troops to be redeployed. They also called the crisis a humiliation for the West.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab was accused of ‘going AWOL’ after spending the past week on holiday abroad while the Afghanistan crisis unfolded. The British Foreign Office said he was returning to the UK on Sunday and was ‘personally overseeing’ the department’s response to the situation.
President Joe Biden vowed that any action that puts Americans at risk ‘will be met with a swift and strong US military response’. He also swiped his predecessor Donald Trump for the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, claiming he left the group ‘in the strongest position militarily since 2001’.
As Kabul fell to the Taliban:
- Hopeful passengers gathered on Kabul Airport’s runway to escape from Afghanistan;
- Britain’s ambassador to Afghanistan remains in Kabul, despite an SAS-backed operation to evacuate embassy staff amid a Taliban takeover of the city;
- The US ambassador and embassy staff are fleeing Afghanistan after Taliban forces stormed Kabul;
- Donald Trump called for President Biden to resign on Sunday over the swift Taliban takeover of Afghanistan;
- President Biden ordered about 5,000 troops to help evacuate US staff ‘and other allied personnel’;
- PM Boris Johnson said said the US decision to withdraw from Afghanistan had ‘accelerated’ the crisis;
- British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab was forced to return to the UK from his holiday abroad;
- Tory MPs called fallout from Anglo-US withdrawal ‘Britain’s worst foreign policy disaster since Suez’;
- MPs are expected to to vent their anger and frustration when they return to Westminster on Wednesday for an emergency recall of Parliament to discuss the crisis;
- President Biden defended the withdrawal of US troops and blamed his predecessor Donald Trump for a deal that left the warlords ‘in the strongest position militarily since 2001’;
- General David Petraeus said President Biden must take responsibility for decision to withdraw;
- US Secretary of State Antony Blinken insisted the scene in Afghanistan is not comparable to the fall of Saigon as he diverted blame for the Taliban takeover on Republicans