Afghan leader flees country as Taliban seizes presidential palace

Ashraf Ghani fled as the country teetered on the brink of collapse (Picture: EPA/Reuters)

The Taliban said it will declare the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan after militants stormed the Presidential Palace, as British troops arrive to evacuate UK nationals.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled the country today as the group entered Kabul, the last of the major cities.

The leader said he left the country to avoid the bloodshed of his people and the Taliban is ‘now responsible for protecting the honor, property and self of their compatriots’.

In a Facebook post, he said: ‘I have to either face the armed Taliban who want to enter the palace or leave the country where I have dedicated my life to protecting and nurturing it 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 six-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 Sharif to oust me. In order to prevent a flood of bloodshed, I decided to leave.

‘The Taliban have won the sword and gun judgment and are now responsible for protecting the honor, property and self of their compatriots.

‘But the legitimacy of hearts did not win them over. Never in history has dry force given legitimacy to anyone and never will. 

‘They are now facing a new historical test. Either it will preserve the name and honor of Afghanistan or it will give priority to other places and networks. Many people and many strata are in fear and have no faith in the future.

‘The Taliban must ensure that all the peoples, ethnicities, different strata, sisters and women of Afghanistan have a clear plan to win legitimacy and win the hearts of the people and share it with the people. I will always continue to serve my people intellectually and through programs.’

Militants posed in the office as the Taliban took over the presidential palace (Picture: Twitter)
A military helicopter flying above the US embassy in Kabul on Sunday (Picture: AFP via Getty)
Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani said he left for the good of his people (Picture: Reuters)

The Taliban demanded a ‘peaceful transfer of power’ today as footage on social media showed thousands scrambling to get out of the capital.

There are fears the group will reimpose the brutal rule that eliminated women and minority rights when they last held power.

Smoke rose near the compound as helicopters raced overhead throughout the day to evacuate personnel from the US Embassy and staff destroyed important documents.

Several other countries have announced plans to evacuate embassies in the coming hours and days, with some UK staff already being flown out of the country.

US military officials said Kabul airport is now closed to commercial flights as military evacuations continue.

Boris Johnson has vowed to get as many as possible of the Afghans who worked with the UK out of the country.

After chairing a meeting of the Government’s Cobra contingencies committee the PM said the UK was determined to work with allies to prevent the country becoming a ‘breeding ground for terror’ again.

He said: ‘We don’t want anybody to bilaterally recognise the Taliban. We want a united position among all the like-minded, as far as we can get one, so that we do whatever we can to prevent Afghanistan lapsing back into a breeding ground for terror.’

But chairman of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, Tom Tugendhat, said it was ‘the biggest single foreign policy disaster since Suez’ in the 1950s.

Taliban forces patrol a street in Herat, Afghanistan (Picture: Reuters)
Officials have been left shocked by the speed in which the Taliban took over (Picture: EPA)

He told Times Radio: ‘This is completely humiliating for the West. We assembled the most incredible, technologically advanced alliance the world has ever seen and we are being defeated by an insurgency that’s armed with AK47s and RPGs.’

Meanwhile, UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab was accused of ‘going AWOL’ today as he rushed back from a holiday abroad.

Shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy said: ‘A catastrophe is unfolding in front of our eyes and while the Foreign Secretary is nowhere to be seen, hundreds of British nationals are being evacuated and his department is cancelling scholarships for young Afghans.’

An FCDO spokesperson said the foreign secretary was ‘personally overseeing the FCDO response, and engaging with international partners’.

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