Taliban advance on Kabul: The Taliban are on the verge of victory after their fighting fighters entered the capital, Kabul, and seized the presidential palace in Afghanistan.
The government collapsed when President Ashraf Ghani fled abroad.
Kabul is in turmoil as residents and foreign nationals try to escape.
For many Afghans, it was the return of nearly 20 years after the overthrow of the Taliban regime by the US-led coalition.
At the capital’s international airport, an eyewitness told the BBC that staff had left their desks and people were running towards the planes.
Kabul was the last major city to face a Taliban attack that began months ago in Afghanistan but has accelerated over the course of days.
The militants were able to gain control as many foreign troops withdrew.
U.S. President Joe Biden has defended the withdrawal of American troops, saying he could not justify “an endless American presence in the midst of another country’s civil conflict.”
‘People are running and hiding’
The Taliban were ordered to enter Kabul on Sunday after capturing their fighting fighters on the outskirts of the city.
They said they were going inside to avoid chaos and looting after security forces left some areas of the capital.
Footage aired on the television network Al Jazeera shows gunmen brandishing guns inside the presidential palace.
A spokesman for the group later told Al Jazeera: “The war is over.”
The Taliban entered Kabul after President Ghani fled. His whereabouts have not been confirmed but Al Jazeera, citing his staff, said he had flown to Tashkent in neighboring Uzbekistan.
“We woke up this morning to the Taliban white flags all over the city.”— Al Jazeera English (@AJEnglish) August 15, 2021
The Taliban’s capture of Jalalabad effectively leaves Kabul as the last major urban area under government control https://t.co/o6h7POQ8HQ pic.twitter.com/GfXadVywL0
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said he left the country in order to avoid bloodshed, as the Taliban entered the presidential palace in Kabul.— Al Jazeera English (@AJEnglish) August 15, 2021
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In a Facebook post aimed at Afghan citizens, Mr. Ghani said it was a difficult decision for him to leave to prevent bloodshed in the capital city.
“The Taliban have won the sword and gun verdict and they have a responsibility to protect the dignity, well-being and self-respect of our countrymen,” he said.
Other officials have criticized the president for leaving.
“God is accountable to him and the country will also judge,” said Abdullah Abdullah, chairman of the Afghanistan High Council for National Reconciliation.
Panic erupted in Kabul as the Taliban approached victory. Residents walked towards the airport, leaving cars and walking on foot in a quest to get out of the country.
A 22-year-old student told the BBC he had been walking for more than five hours.
“My feet hurt, they had blisters and it was hard for me to stand up,” he said.
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“Now that I’m leaving, I’m thinking about my family – they have no way to escape. I do not see a future.”
The U.S. embassy in Kabul has warned its citizens to seek refuge, saying the “security situation is changing rapidly.”
In the city center, there were large queues at banks all day as people tried to withdraw cash.
Local MP Farzana Kocha told the BBC that people did not know what to do, with some fleeing or hiding in homes.
There were reports of fighting and injuries in the city’s Karabagh district.
Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen told the BBC the people of Kabul had nothing to worry about and that their property and lives were safe.
“We are servants to the people and to this country,” he said.