The Afghan government and the army is folding faster than the Taliban can advance, as the city of Jalalabad fell to the Taliban without a shot. The last major population center remaining is the capital of Kabul.
Jalalabad, the key eastern city near the border of Pakistan, which is also the capital of Nangarhar province, surrendered early on Sunday morning. Its fall followed the Taliban’s seizure of Mazar-i-Sharif, a major northern city on Saturday.
The Associated Press reported that according to Abrarullah Murad, a legislator from Nangarhar province, the Taliban moved into Jalalabad after elders negotiated the fall of the government there.
“There are no clashes taking place right now in Jalalabad because the governor has surrendered to the Taliban,” an Afghan official said to Reuters. “Allowing passage to the Taliban was the only way to save civilian lives.”
On Saturday, Taliban fighters entered Mazar-i-Sharif unopposed as security forces dropped their weapons, abandoned their equipment, and escaped up the highway to neighboring Uzbekistan about 50 miles north of the city, provincial officials said toAl Jazeera.
Now, Taliban fighters are entering the capital of Kabul on all sides as the collapse of Afghanistan’s government is accelerating at a breakneck pace. Despite the proclamations of the U.S. government a few months ago that the U.S. withdrawal will not result in a chaotic “fall of Saigon”-type of evacuation, Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks said in April, that is exactly what is playing out.
AFP photographers showed U.S. Chinook helicopters ferrying American diplomats and civilians out of the U.S. Embassy, en route to the airport. Afghan troops have abandoned the airport to U.S. and Turkish control.
Just a week ago, U.S. intelligence estimates said that the Taliban could isolate the capital in 30 days and threaten to take it in 90. “But this is not a foregone conclusion,” the unnamed intelligence official said.
A Peaceful Transfer of Power?
Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen in Qatar said that while there is no ceasefire, Taliban troops will not enter the city of Kabul as they expect a peaceful transfer of power.
“Our forces have not entered Kabul city, and we just issued a statement saying that our forces will not enter Kabul city,” Shaheen told Al Jazeera
“We are talking and awaiting a peaceful transfer – a transition of the capital city.”
The Taliban’s statement was repeated by the Afghan Interior Minister, Abdul Sattar Mirzakwal, who said there would be a “peaceful transfer of power” to a transitional government after the Taliban fighters paused in the outskirts of Kabul.
President Ashraf Ghani’s chief of staff took to Twitter and tried to assuage civilians’ fear. “Please don’t worry. There is no problem. The situation of Kabul is under control,” he said. But this is clearly not the case.
“Negotiations are underway to ensure that the transition process is completed safely and securely, without compromising the lives, property, and honor of anyone, and without compromising the lives of Kabulis,” a released Taliban statement said.
The Associated Press confirmed from three Afghan officials that Taliban fighters were in the districts of Kalakan, Qarabagh, and Paghman in the capital. Firing has been reported from the area around the airport.
President Biden has sent thousands of troops to evacuate U.S. diplomatic personnel from the city, as the U.S. Embassy has moved its “core” personnel to the airport.
The president insisted this week that it is up to the Afghan military to hold its own territory.
But the Afghans, who for 20 years have failed to bring together a government and military that united the population, are collapsing before our eyes. And the U.S. is evacuating the exact same way they did 46 years ago in Vietnam.