The United States Embassy in Kabul has put into halt all operations and told Americans to take cover in place, stating it has received reports of gunfire at the international airport.
The US has started airlifting its diplomats and citizens out of Afghanistan after the Taliban defeated most of the country and entered the capital early Sunday. Afghanistan’s embattled President, Ashraf Ghani too left the country on Sunday, along with his fellow citizens and foreigners in a stampede fleeing the advancing Taliban and signalling the end of a 20-year Western trial that had aimed at remaking Afghanistan.
The Taliban, who for hours had been on the outskirts of Kabul, declared soon after that they would move further into the capital city that was already gripped by panic as helicopters raced overhead throughout the day to evacuate personnel from the US Embassy. Smoke rose near the compound as staff destroyed important documents. Several other Western missions also prepared to pull their people out.
Lined up at cash machines to withdraw their life savings, civilians fearing that the Taliban could reimpose the kind of unmerciful rule that had eliminated women’s rights, forcing them to leave the country as well. On the other hand, thousands of desperately poor people who had left their homes in the countryside for their presumed safety at the capital remained in parks and open spaces across the capital city.
US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken refused any comparisons to the US pullout from Vietnam with the Afghan displacement, as many watched in unbelief the sight of helicopters landing in the embassy compound. "This is manifestly not Saigon," he said.
President Ashraf Ghani flew out of the country, two officials told The Associated Press, speaking on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to brief journalists. Abdullah Abdullah, the head of the Afghan National Reconciliation Council, later confirmed that Ghani had left. "The former president of Afghanistan left Afghanistan, leaving the country in this difficult situation. God should hold him accountable," Abdullah said.
The Taliban seized nearly all of Afghanistan in just over a week, despite the billions of dollars spent by the US and NATO over nearly two decades to build up Afghan security forces.
On Sunday, the insurgents entered the outskirts of Kabul but initially remained outside of the city's downtown. In the meantime, Taliban mediators in Kabul discussed the transfer of power, said an Afghan official who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals. It remained unclear when that transfer would take place and who among the Taliban was negotiating.
The negotiators on the government side included former President Hamid Karzai and Abdullah, who has been a vocal critic of Ghani.
The insurgents tried to calm residents of the capital, insisting their fighters wouldn’t enter people’s homes or interfere with their businesses. They also said that would offer an “immunity” to those who worked with the Afghan government or foreign forces.
"No one’s life, property, and dignity will be harmed and the lives of the citizens of Kabul will not be at risk," the insurgents said in a statement.
However, there have been reports of revenge killings and other brutal tactics in areas of the country the Taliban had seized in the recent past. Panic set in as many rushed to leave the country through the Kabul airport, the last route out of the country as the Taliban now hold every border crossing.
NATO said it was "helping to maintain operations at Kabul airport to keep Afghanistan connected with the world."