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Afghan government falls as the Taliban take charge of Kabul

“We want all foreign forces to leave before we start restructuring governance,” the leader told Reuters by phone.

But in scenes that were anything but normal, Al Jazeera English broadcast images of Taliban fighters holding guns while touring the presidential palace, sitting behind a desk and in luxuriously upholstered armchairs, in what they described as a formal handover.

Smoke rises near the US embassy in Kabul on Sunday.

Smoke rises near the US embassy in Kabul on Sunday.Credit:AP

One of the fighters took down the flag of Afghanistan, rolled it up and placed it on a mantelpiece. Outside, the flag of the Taliban was flown above the palace, replacing the national flag.

Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen told the Afghan-born Australian BBC presenter Yalda Hakim that the Taliban would run an “inclusive Afghan government”.

He promised that women would have access to work and education, but that they would be required to observe the hijab.

“That is it,” he said.

Shaheen said fighters had been ordered to stay outside the city because the Taliban wanted to “avoid bloodshed and destruction to the properties and the people … and not give chance to looters”.

Taliban negotiators had entered the capital earlier on Sunday in a relatively peaceful fashion, initially ordering fighters to stay outside the city’s walls as they sought the unconditional surrender of Ghani and his government.

A pair of Taliban officials said they expected a complete handover of power and that there would be no transitional government.

Hours later, Ghani fled Kabul with his core team, including the Vice-President and national security adviser, signalling the collapse of his central government. He had not given a statement since giving a televised address on Saturday, hours later he said on Facebook, that he said he felt it was better to leave to avoid bloodshed.

His departure was condemned by his Defence Minister General Bismillah Mohammadi, who said in a tweet that Ghani had sold out his homeland.

Mohammadi and another former cabinet minister were reported to have fled to the UAE, according to local reports, citing Kabul airport sources.

Many residents of Kabul tried to flee, fearful of a return to the repressive Taliban regime of the ’90s during which women were forced into marriage and risked execution if they went to school.

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There were traffic jams and queues to withdraw bank savings, but the panic appeared to abate by late afternoon as the Taliban urged people to stay put, promising there would be no recriminations.

The Taliban’s largely bloodless victory in Kabul came just 10 days after they took control of the provincial capital Zaranj, in the south.

Within a week, four more key capitals had fallen including the country’s second-most populous city, Kandahar. By Sunday, they had encircled Kabul.

Safe passage

Dozens of nations from around the world are calling on all involved to respect and facilitate the departure of foreign nationals and Afghans who wish to leave the country.

More than 60 nations released a joint statement through the US State Department on Sunday night (Monday AEST) citing what they called “the deteriorating security situation”. The statement said those in power and authority across the country “bear responsibility — and accountability — for the protection of human life and property, and for the immediate restoration of security and civil order”.

The nations’ statement also says that roads, airports and border crossings must remain open, and that calm must be maintained.

Passengers outside the main terminal at Kabul airport. Thousands of people were trying to flee the Afghan capital as the Taliban took charge of the city.

Passengers outside the main terminal at Kabul airport. Thousands of people were trying to flee the Afghan capital as the Taliban took charge of the city.Credit:AP

The statement concludes: “The Afghan people deserve to live in safety, security and dignity. We in the international community stand ready to assist them.”

The Taliban said they would not attack foreign embassies as they advanced into the capital shortly after in what they said was an effort to stop any looting.

US President Joe Biden announced on Saturday that approximately 5000 US troops would be deployed to Kabul to oversee the evacuation of US diplomats. The Defence Department authorised another 1000 troops to help evacuate US citizens and Afghans who worked for them, a US official said.

Taliban fighters patrol inside the city of Kandahar province in the south-west of Afghanistan.

Taliban fighters patrol inside the city of Kandahar province in the south-west of Afghanistan.Credit:AP

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

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.

A spokesman for the Taliban’s political office told Al-Jazeera TV on Sunday that the war was over in Afghanistan and foreigners would be protected.

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

Naeem said the group did not think foreign forces would 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 dialogue,” Naeem said.

The White House President Joe Biden meets virtually with his national security team and senior officials for a briefing on Afghanistan.

The White House President Joe Biden meets virtually with his national security team and senior officials for a briefing on Afghanistan.Credit:AP

The Biden administration doubled down on its decision despite widespread condemnation and accusations of betrayal and abandonment, with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken telling CNN that the Afghan military had been “unable to defend the country”.

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He conceded that the fall had happened more quickly than anticipated but denied it was reminiscent of the United States’ hasty exit from Vietnam. “This is manifestly not Saigon,” he said in a separate interview on America’s ABC.

Governments, including Canada and France, evacuated their embassy staff, but Russia said it would not retreat as it had been assured its staff would be safe in Kabul.

France’s ambassador in Afghanistan tweeted a wordless video of himself on a military aircraft leaving the Green Zone where government buildings, embassies and residences were housed.

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned countries against individually and prematurely recognising the Taliban as Afghanistan’s new government.

With AP and Reuters

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