Taliban leaders are reportedly at the presidential palace in Kabul, Afghanistan, negotiating a swift “transfer of power” from the Afghan government in place.
Residents of Kabul and refugees who took shelter in the Afghan capital city over the last several weeks as the Taliban seized power in the country’s southern provinces are now trying to flee the city, but finding roads blocked and airports now under Taliban control.
“Taliban fighters entered Kabul on Sunday and sought the unconditional surrender of the central government, officials said, as Afghans and foreigners alike raced for the exit, signaling the end of a 20-year Western experiment aimed at remaking Afghanistan,” The Associated Press noted.
“The Taliban in a statement said that they wouldn’t take Kabul by force,” The Wall Street Journal added based on reports from the ground. “The insurgent group added that it had ordered its fighters to wait and not attack the Afghan capital, home to six million people and that it was in talks with ‘the other side’ to discuss entering the city without harming its residents.”
“Negotiations are underway with the other side to ensure that the transition process is completed safely and securely,” a Taliban spokesperson told the BBC Sunday morning. “No one’s head, property or honor will be harmed and the lives of Kabulis will not be in danger. The Islamic Emirate instructs all its forces to stand at the gates of Kabul and not try to enter the city.”
“A senior Afghan official said President Ashraf Ghani was at the U.S. Embassy to consult with the U.S. envoy,” The Wall Street Journal continued.
The United States has asked the Taliban for a two-week delay in taking control in Kabul — enough time for the U.S. to evacuate its key personnel and to make arrangements for allies in the city. They also requested that the Taliban agree to a “transitional government,” and U.S. diplomats have even, reportedly, offered the Taliban a substantial aid package in return for a peaceful handoff.
Ghani, though, told media that he does not believe the Taliban will agree to the offer.
The Taliban took the last major city before Kabul, Jalalabad, on Saturday, giving it, now 8 of the 10 largest cities in the country. Only Kabul and Charikar remain, but Kabul is the single largest city yet to fall, and Afghanistan will be in Taliban hands once negotiations are completed, per The Associated Press.
In shocking images, helicopters evacuated the remaining U.S. personnel from Kabul early Sunday morning. A small diplomatic force is expected to remain, but plans are in place to move that group to the heavily fortified U.S. airbase in the event they must be pulled from the country quickly.
“At the U.S. Embassy on Sunday afternoon, helicopters ferried American and Western diplomats and civilians to the military side of Kabul airport. One after another, Chinooks and Black Hawks took off from the landing zone, spraying dust,” the WSJ noted, adding that the airport is secured by newly arrived American troops. “Below them was a city of traffic jams and roundabouts choked by cars—many of them filled with Afghans trying to reach the airport’s relative safety. Dark smoke, presumably from burning documents, rose from the presidential palace.”
Video of the mass exodus from Kabul began appearing on social media just hours ago.
— Obaidullah Rahimi Mashwani (@IamObaidRahimi) August 15, 2021
Only military flights are leaving. According to reports, and confirmed by the European Council on Foreign Relations, private flights to and from Kabul are now being rerouted.
The Emirates flight to Kabul is forced to turn around as 🇺🇸 military obviously takes over the airport for only its evacuation use. There were surely many people booked on the return flight to Dubai. pic.twitter.com/e0KyAY7mKO
— Carl Bildt (@carlbildt) August 15, 2021
Europe is bracing for an influx of refugees, Politico’s European arm said Sunday, under the theory that thousands of refugees from Kabul will now join the thousands of refugees who fled to Kabul in recent weeks in seeking safe harbor elsewhere in the world.
Afghans, the WSJ noted Sunday, were mobbing the city’s ATMs and passport offices, though the “subdued panic” that gripped the city on Saturday and ahead of the Taliban’s march to the city gates on Sunday had mostly disappeared as residents of Kabul retreated into their homes.
On Saturday, President Joe Biden, who has called an official lid on communication until Wednesday, said only that any action against American personnel “will be met with a swift and strong U.S. military response.”