The Slatest

Taliban Declares “War Is Over” in Afghanistan as Government Collapses

Helicopter flying against an overcast sky
A U.S. military helicopter near the U.S. Embassy in Kabul on Sunday. Wakil Kohsar/AFP via Getty Images

Update, Aug. 15, 2021, at 10:40 p.m.: Afghans woke up Monday to a new reality as the Taliban declared victory, saying the war in Afghanistan had ended after insurgents took over the presidential palace in Kabul. It was the result of a fast-moving day in which the Afghan capital fell without a fight and the United States and other Western countries struggled to get their citizens out as quickly as possible. The collapse of the Afghan government was all but a done deal from early in the day, when President Ashraf Ghani fled the country. “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,” Mohammad Naeem, the spokesman for the Taliban’s political office, told Al Jazeera. “Thanks to God, the war is over in the country.”

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

The Taliban said there would be negotiations to set up an “open, inclusive Islamic government.” Earlier, the Taliban appeared intent to announce the restoration of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, which was the formal name of the country when it was under Taliban rule before the U.S. invasion. But that seemed to be postponed, at least for now, as Taliban leaders insisted they did not want to be cut off from the world. It was unclear who was responsible for the Taliban’s side of negotiations and when the transfer of power would take place.

As the U.S. struggled to put order to a chaotic withdrawal that included packing up the embassy, the Pentagon authorized an additional 1,000 troops to aid in the evacuation effort. That means there will be a total of 6,000 U.S. troops at Kabul International Airport. The United States will be taking over air traffic control and security at the Kabul airport in order to aid the effort to evacuate thousands of Americans and Afghans over the next few days. For now the evacuations appear slow, but U.S. officials assured they would speed up once all the troops arrived.

Advertisement
Advertisement

Original post at 10:27 a.m.: It’s happening. Last week, U.S. intelligence estimates had predicted the Afghan government could hold on to Kabul for at least three months. That proved to be yet another mistaken analysis of the situation on the ground, as it only seemed to be a matter of hours before the Taliban will take control of Afghanistan. Amid the chaos, Afghanistan’s president, Ashraf Ghani, left the country for Tajikistan, the most evident sign yet that the U.S.-backed government was collapsing after two decades of war.

Advertisement

Ghani left the country shortly after Taliban fighters entered Kabul on Sunday morning through the city’s four main gates and were not met with any resistance. The Taliban at first said fighters were instructed not to push into the city with force and instead were carrying out negotiations. Later, though, the Taliban said its fighters would enter the city to respond to a “law and order issue” amid reports of looting as security forces abandoned their posts. A Taliban spokesman told Al Jazeera the insurgents are “awaiting a peaceful transfer of Kabul city.” Taliban fighters entered Kabul shortly after they captured the eastern city of Jalalabad without a fight. It was the last major city besides Kabul to still be under the government’s control.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

The Afghanistan government seemed to be hopeful at first that it would be able to set up a transition administration, but as time went on, the U.S.-backed officials seemed to have little in the way of negotiating power. And while the Taliban talked of negotiations, the spokesman acknowledged they wanted an unconditional surrender of the central government.

As the fighters entered Kabul, helicopters were seen evacuating personnel from the U.S. Embassy, where smoke was clearly visible as staff rushed to destroy sensitive documents. The embassy will close once all personnel are removed, according to NBC News, which reported ongoing “intense negotiations” with the Taliban for safe passage. A small group of diplomats continued working from the Kabul airport, which NATO is helping to secure. The airport was filled with people, many of them wearing special bracelets that designated they were eligible to fly out.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

Outside the airport, millions of Afghans rushed around in a city that was suddenly engulfed by chaos as they tried to withdraw all their money from banks and braced for the inevitable Taliban takeover. Many shops closed their doors and traffic was at a standstill as rumors spread about what could happen next. The Taliban tried to reassure citizens that fighters would not enter people’s homes and vowed an “amnesty” for those who worked with the Afghan government or foreign troops. “No one’s life, property and dignity will be harmed and the lives of the citizens of Kabul will not be at risk,” the Taliban said in a statement. The Taliban also tried to paint themselves with a more modern face, insisting that they would protect the rights of women as well as press freedoms. But there were already early reports that insurgents were tearing down ad billboards that featured women.

Advertisement