Victorious Taliban militants patrolled Kabul on Monday after a stunningly swift end to Afghanistan’s 20-year war, as thousands of people mobbed the city’s airport trying to flee the group’s feared hardline brand of Islamist rule.
President Ashraf Ghani flew out of the country on Sunday night as the insurgents encircled the capital, capping a military victory that saw them capture all cities in just 10 days.
“The Taliban have won with the judgement of their swords and guns, and are now responsible for the honour, property and self-preservation of their countrymen,” Mr. Ghani said afterwards.
After police and other government forces gave up their posts in Kabul on Sunday, Taliban militants took over checkpoints across the city and entered the presidential palace.
Militants with rifles slung over their shoulders also walked through the streets of the Green Zone, the formerly heavily fortified district that houses most Embassies and international organisations.
The Taliban, however, sought to reassure the international community that Afghans should not fear them, and said they will not take revenge against those who supported the U.S.-backed alliance.
In a message posted to social media, Taliban co-founder Abdul Ghani Baradar called on the militants to remain disciplined after taking control of the city.
“Now it's time to test and prove, now we have to show that we can serve our nation and ensure security and comfort of life,” he said.
Chaos at airport
There were desperate scenes at Kabul’s airport on Monday as people tried to board the few flights available.
An Afghan military plane that had illegally crossed into Uzbekistan crashed in the south of the country, the Uzbek Defence Ministry said on Monday.
The U.S. has sent 6,000 troops to the airport to ensure the safe evacuation of Embassy staff, as well as Afghans who worked as interpreters or in other support roles. Other governments, including France, Germany and Australia, also organised charter flights.
The U.S. government said on Monday it had secured the airport, but there was still chaos with witnesses reporting soldiers firing shots in the air to ward off crowds.
Authorities then cancelled all remaining commercial flights, citing the threat of looters.
The United States had earlier released a statement with more than 65 nations, urging the Taliban to let Afghans leave the country, warning of accountability for any abuses.
China was the first major nation to flag support for the Taliban, stating it was ready for “friendly relations”.
Russia’s Ambassador to Afghanistan planned to meet with the Taliban on Tuesday, with recognition to be determined on how they govern the country in the near future, a Foreign Ministry official in Moscow said.