Kabul breached: Taliban seize presidential palace, declare 'war is over'

The Taliban said there will be no transitional government and demanded immediate control after Afghan President Asraf Ghani fled the country.

 CH-46 Sea Knight military transport helicopter flies over Kabul, Afghanistan (photo credit: REUTERS/STRINGER)
CH-46 Sea Knight military transport helicopter flies over Kabul, Afghanistan
(photo credit: REUTERS/STRINGER)

The Taliban Islamist insurgency group has seized control of the presidential palace in Kabul and is set to declare that the "Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan," according to footage obtained by Al Jazeera.

"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."

Naeem said the type and 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."

The spokesman also said they would provide protection and safety for diplomats and others.


"We assure everyone that we will provide safety for citizens and diplomatic missions. We are ready to have a dialog with all Afghan figures and will guarantee them the necessary protection," Naeem told the Qatar-based channel. 

The group added that it does not think foreign forces will repeat "their failed experience in Afghanistan again."

"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 dialog," Naeem told Al Jazeera.

The group claims to have already set up channels of communication with foreign countries and wants to develop them further.

The Islamist insurgency also said that they respected the rights of women and minorities in light of sharia law.

The Islamist group seized the presidential palace following the flight of President Ashraf Ghani, who reportedly fled to Tashkent in Uzbekistan. According to the Taliban's spokesperson, nobody expected Ghani would flee, not even those close to him.

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 U.S. 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.

US soldiers were forced to shoot into the air in order to prevent Afghans from running onto the tarmac and attempting to board US military flights.

The US government and more than 60 other countries including Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Republic of Korea, Qatar and the United Kingdom said in a joint statement that Afghans and international citizens who want to leave Afghanistan must be allowed to depart and added airports and border crossings must remain open, the US State Department said late Sunday.

 "Those in positions of power and authority across Afghanistan bear responsibility - and accountability - for the protection of human life and property, and for the immediate restoration of security and civil order," the statement read.

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

The United Nations Security Council is set to convene Monday on Afghanistan after the country's president fled and the Taliban seizes control of Kabul. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson had also called NATO’s North Atlantic Council to meet on the burgeoning crisis that has captured the world's attention.

President Ashraf Ghani's departure capped the Taliban's return to power two decades after being forced out by US-led forces. 

The president later posted on Facebook saying, "Today I came across a tough choice. I had to face the armed Taliban who want to enter the palace or leave the country I have dedicated my life to protecting and nurturing for the last 20 years. If left unchecked, countless patriots would be martyred and the city of Kabul would be devastated, resulting in a major humanitarian catastrophe in the 6-million-strong city. The Taliban had made it clear that they were ready to carry out a bloody attack on all of Kabul and the people of Kabul to oust me. In order to prevent a flood of bloodshed, I decided to leave."

The government's acting interior minister, Abdul Sattar Mirzakawal, had said that power would be handed over to a transitional administration. 

Two Taliban officials told Reuters on Sunday there would be no transitional government in Afghanistan and that the group expects a complete handover of power.

Top Afghan peace official Abdullah Abdullah described Ashraf Ghani as Afghanistan's former president in a video message on Sunday.

He blamed Ghani for the current situation in Afghanistan.

Taliban's Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar is preparing to arrive in Afghanistan, according to an official in Doha. Earlier, acting Interior Minister Abdul Sattar Mirzakwal said in a televised address that a peaceful transition would take place but no details have as yet been confirmed.

Ali Ahmad Jalali, a US-based academic and former Afghan interior minister, is likely to be named to head an interim administration in Kabul, three diplomatic sources said on Sunday as Taliban fighters gathered around the city.

It was not immediately clear whether the Taliban had given their final agreement to Jalali's appointment but he was seen as a potentially acceptable compromise figure to oversee the transition of power, the sources said.

President Ghani, who said on Saturday he was in urgent consultations with local leaders and international partners on the situation, held emergency talks with US special representative for Afghanistan reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad as well as top NATO officials.

After its lightning advance on the capital, the insurgent group ordered its fighters to refrain from violence, allow safe passage to anyone seeking to leave and request women to head to protected areas, said a Taliban leader in Doha. Taliban fighters were also ordered to stand at all entry points of Kabul.

"We don't want a single, innocent Afghan civilian to be injured or killed as we take charge," a Taliban official told Reuters. "But we have not declared a ceasefire," he added. The official called on Afghan forces to stop gunfire and allow a safe passage out of Kabul to all civilians and foreigners. He also noted Mujahideen have not killed or injured anyone in Kabul yet.

The Taliban's policy on punishments, such as execution, stoning, and amputation will be up to courts, a spokesperson said. In addition, Afghan media will be allowed to criticize anyone, according to the spokesperson, who has also warned the media of "indulging in character assassination."

On the future Taliban government's policy towards women, they stated Afghan women will be allowed to leave homes alone, as well as have access to education and work. In addition, Taliban "does not intend to take revenge on government and military personnel, and all those who have served the state will be forgiven," according to the spokesperson.

Afghan civilians who want to leave the country due to fear were asked to remain in Afghanistan. "Foreigners in Kabul should leave if they wish to, or register their presence in the coming week with Taliban administrators," an official said.

The Taliban has also ordered its fighters to enter the Afghan capital Kabul to prevent looting after local police deserted their posts, a spokesman for the militant group said on Sunday.

The statement by Zabihullah Mujahid came shortly after a leading Afghan peace envoy said President Ashraf Ghani had left the country.

However, Kabul Hospital said on Twitter that more than 40 people were wounded in clashes on the outskirts of Kabul on Sunday.

"Most (people brought to the hospital) came from fighting in the Qarabagh area," it said, without giving any further details of the clashes. It made no reference to any fatalities.

Earlier on Sunday, the insurgents captured the eastern city of Jalalabad without a fight, giving them control of one of the main highways into landlocked Afghanistan. They also took over the nearby Torkham border post with Pakistan, leaving Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul the only way out of Afghanistan that is still in government hands.