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Taliban declare 'war is over' as president and diplomats flee Kabul

Reuters/Kabul
Filed on August 16, 2021

(AP)

Do not want to live in isolation and calling for peaceful international relations: Taliban


The Taliban declared the war in Afghanistan was over after insurgents took control of the presidential palace in Kabul as US-led forces departed and Western nations scrambled on Monday to evacuate their citizens.

President Ashraf Ghani fled the country on Sunday as the militants entered the capital virtually unopposed, saying he wanted to avoid bloodshed, while hundreds of Afghans desperate to leave flooded Kabul airport.

"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 TV.

"Thanks to God, the war is over in the country."

It took the Taliban just over a week to seize control of the country after a lightning sweep that ended in Kabul as Afghan forces, trained for years and equipped by the United States and others at a cost of billions of dollars, melted away.

Footage was broadcast of what it said were Taliban commanders in the presidential palace with dozens of armed fighters.

Naeem said the form of the new regime in Afghanistan would be made clear soon, adding the Taliban did not want to live in isolation and calling for peaceful international relations.

"We have reached what we were seeking, which is the freedom of our country and the independence of our people," he said. "We will not allow anyone to use our lands to target anyone, and we do not want to harm others."

A Taliban leader told Reuters the insurgents were regrouping from different provinces, and would wait until foreign forces had left the country before creating a new governance structure.

The leader, who requested anonymity, said Taliban fighters had been "ordered to allow Afghans to resume daily activities and do nothing to scare civilians."

"Normal life will continue in a much better way, that's all I can say for now," he told Reuters via Whatsapp.

A US State Department spokesperson said early on Monday that all embassy personnel, including Ambassador Ross Wilson, had been transferred to Kabul airport to await evacuation and the American flag had been lowered and removed from the embassy compound.

Hundreds of Afghans invaded the airport's runways in the dark, pulling luggage and jostling for a place on one of the last commercial flights to leave the country before US forces took over air traffic control on Sunday.

"How can they hold the airport and dictate terms and conditions to Afghans?" said Rakhshanda Jilali, a human rights activist who was trying to get to Pakistan.

"This is our airport but we are seeing diplomats being evacuated while we wait in complete uncertainty," Jilali, who said she had received multiple death threats, told Reuters via Whatsapp from the airport.

More than 60 western countries, including the United States, Britain, France and Japan, issued a joint statement saying all Afghans and international citizens who wanted to leave the country must be allowed to depart.

"The Afghan people deserve to live in safety, security and dignity," the statement said. "We in the international community stand ready to assist them."

Aid group Emergency said 80 wounded people had been brought to its hospital in Kabul, which was at capacity, and that it was only admitting people with life-threatening injuries.

In a Facebook post, Ghani said he had left the country to avoid clashes with the Taliban that would endanger millions of residents of Kabul.

In Washington, opponents of President Joe Biden's decision to end America's longest war, launched after the September 11, 2001, attacks, said the chaos was caused by a failure of leadership.

Many Afghans fear the Taliban will return to past practices in their imposition of Shariah, or Islamic religious law.

During their 1996-2001 rule, women could not work and punishments such as stoning, whipping and hanging were administered.

The militants sought to project a more moderate face, promising to respect women's rights and protect both foreigners and Afghans.

"We are ready to have a dialogue with all Afghan figures and will guarantee them the necessary protection," Naeem told Al Jazeera Mubasher TV.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged the Taliban and all other parties to exercise the utmost restraint, and expressed particular concern about the future of women and girls in Afghanistan.

The Pentagon on Sunday authorized another 1,000 troops to help evacuate US citizens and Afghans who worked for them, expanding its security presence on the ground to almost 6,000 troops within the next 48 hours.

European nations, including France, Germany and the Netherlands, also said they were working to get citizens as well as some Afghan employees out of the country.

Russia said it saw no need to evacuate its embassy for the time being. Turkey said its embassy would continue operations.





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