The Taliban has seized power in Afghanistan two weeks before the United States was set to complete its troop withdrawal, after a costly two-decade war. On Sunday, Kabul fell to the Taliban, completing their takeover of the country in a quick offensive that saw provinces and warlords give up without a fight.
Here’s a look at what exactly happened and what comes next:
What happened in Kabul today?
Thousands of Afghans who are desperate to leave the country thronged the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul today, where at least seven people were killed, witnesses say. It is not clear whether the victims were killed by gunshots or in a stampede.
Many were seen clinging to a US military transport plane as it taxied on the runway, in visuals released on social media. Another video showed several falling through the air as the airplane rapidly gained altitude over the city.
Meanwhile in the city, a tense calm set in, with most people hiding in their homes as the Taliban deployed fighters at major intersections. There were scattered reports of looting and armed men knocking on doors and gates, and there was less traffic than usual on eerily quiet streets. Fighters were also seen searching vehicles at one of the city’s main squares.
The United States temporarily halted all evacuation flights from Kabul to clear people who had converged on the airfield, a US defense official told Reuters. The official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, did not say how long the pause would last.
The American embassy was also evacuated and the American flag lowered, with diplomats relocating to the airport to aid with the evacuation.
Why were flights cancelled?
As the Taliban took control of Kabul, including its airport, the air space of Afghanistan was declared uncontrolled with aircraft transiting over the country being asked to reroute.
In a notice to airmen (NOTAM), the Afghanistan Civil Aviation Authority said that the Kabul airspace has been “released to the military” and that the surrounding airspaces have been informed of this. It advised all transiting aircraft to reroute.
The authorities did not specify which military, given the collapse of local security forces in the face of the Taliban offensive. However, the air traffic control was taken over by US forces.
Later in the day, the United States said that it will focus on securing the Kabul airport and fly additional US forces to assist evacuation operations at the airport.
According to the Associated Press, a US defence official said the head of Central Command met face-to-face with senior Taliban leaders and urged their fighters not to interfere with the US military’s evacuation operations at the airport.
Where is the President of Afghanistan?
On Sunday, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said that he had left the country to avoid bloodshed as the Taliban entered the capital Kabul.
In a post on his Facebook page, Ghani said he had faced a difficult decision, with the fate of millions of Kabul residents and the security of the city at stake after 20 years of war in which countless had already been killed. “To avoid bloodshed, I thought it would be better to leave,” he said in his first comments since quitting the presidential palace and flying out of the country.
Reports said that Ghani, along with his wife, his chief of staff and national security adviser, had flown to Tashkent in neighbouring Uzbekistan. His present whereabouts are still unknown as some reports suggest Ghani fled to Oman, from where he will travel to the United States.
Meanwhile, the Russian embassy in Kabul alleged that Ghani fled the country with four cars and a helicopter full of cash and had to leave some money behind as it would not all fit in.
What is the US doing?
According to the White House, US President Joe Biden will address the nation over the situation in Afghanistan on Monday. The White House says Biden will travel back to Washington from the Camp David presidential retreat to speak at 3:45 Monday afternoon from the East Room.
Meanwhile, a senior US official said it’s heartbreaking to see what’s happening in Kabul but that President Joe Biden stands by his decision to pull out forces as did not want the war there–already the longest in US history–to enter the third decade.
In an interview with a US television network, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan blamed the Afghan military for the Taliban rapid takeover, saying it lacked the will to fight.
Sullivan also that Biden is prepared to marshal the international community on human rights in Afghanistan. “He is prepared to marshal the international community on this issue. He cares passionately about these human rights questions, and we will stay focused on them in the period ahead,” Sullivan said.
Former US President Donald Trump said that the fall of Kabul without any resistance will be remembered as one of the greatest defeats in American history. “What Joe Biden has done with Afghanistan is legendary. It will go down as one of the greatest defeats in American history,” Trump said in a short statement hours after the Taliban took over the presidential palace in Kabul.
What happens next
The Taliban say they want to form an “inclusive, Islamic government” with other factions. They are holding negotiations with senior politicians, including leaders in the former government.
According to AP, they have pledged to enforce Islamic law but say they will provide a secure environment for the return of normal life after decades of war. But many Afghans distrust the Taliban and fear that their rule will be violent and oppressive. One sign that worries people is that they want to rename the country the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, which is what they called it the last time they ruled.
How the world reacted
Afghanistan’s Permanent Representative to the UN Ghulam Isaczai on Monday said that the powerful Security Council and UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres must not recognise any administration that achieves power through force. Isaczai, at an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council, urged the UNSC to unequivocally state that it does not recognise the restoration of the Islamic Emirate.
“Today I’m speaking on behalf of millions of people in Afghanistan whose fate hangs in the balance and are faced with an extremely uncertain future,” he said. There is no time for blame game anymore. We have an opportunity to prevent further violence, prevent Afghanistan descending into a civil war and becoming a pariah state. Therefore, the Security Council and the UN Secretary General should use every means at its disposal to call for an immediate cessation of violence and respect for human rights and international humanitarian law,” Isaczai said.
Most countries said their primary focus at the moment is on evacuating their citizens who are stuck in the war-torn country.
India said that the situation in Kabul has “deteriorated significantly” in the last few days and efforts are on to facilitate the return of those who want to leave Afghanistan. “We’ve been issuing periodic advisories for the safety and security of Indian nationals, including calling for their immediate return to India,” MEA spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said during a media briefing. “We are in touch with representatives of Afghan Sikh, Hindu communities…will facilitate those who want to leave Afghanistan,” he added.
Britain’s Defense Ministry said that UK troops are in Kabul to help with the evacuation of the remaining Britons there. Earlier, Prime Minister Boris Johnson had said that the priority is to get out British nationals, as well as Afghans who helped British forces in Afghanistan over the past 20 years.
France is also relocating its embassy in Kabul to the airport to evacuate all citizens still in Afghanistan, initially transferring them to Abu Dhabi.
However, China said that it is ready to develop “friendly and cooperative” relations with Afghanistan and that it “respects the wishes and choices of the Afghan people.” Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan also seemed to endorse the Taliban by saying that Afghanistan has broken the “shackles of slavery” in the neighbouring war-torn country. Saudia Arabia, in a statement by its foreign ministry on Monday, called on the Taliban to preserve lives and property.
Russia’s presidential envoy to Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov said Moscow would not rush to recognize the Taliban and would make a decision based on the group’s actions, AFP reported.
With agency inputs