Taliban fighters stand guard in the main gate leading to Afghan presidential palace, in Kabul, Afghanistan, Monday, Aug. 16, 2021.
Taliban fighters stand guard in the main gate leading to Afghan presidential palace, in Kabul, Afghanistan, Monday, Aug. 16, 2021. Image Credit: AP

The Taliban declared the war in Afghanistan was over after insurgents took control of the presidential palace in Kabul as US-led forces departed and Western nations scrambled on Monday to evacuate their citizens.




India says doors open to Afghan's Sikh and Hindu minorities

NEW DELHI: India will help members of Afghanistan's tiny Sikh and Hindu community to come to India, the foreign ministry said on Monday.

"We are in constant touch with the representatives of Afghan Sikh and Hindu communities. We will facilitate repatriation to India of those who wish to leave Afghanistan," foreign ministry spokesman Arindam Bagchi said in a statement.

India invested millions of dollars in development projects in Afghanistan and Bagchi said the government stood by the Afghans who had partnered it in that task.



Biden to speak 'soon' on Afghanistan: aide

WASHINGTON: President Joe Biden will deliver comments "soon" about Afghanistan, a key aide said Monday as the US leader faces sharp criticism for the Taliban sweep into Kabul and the government's fall.

Afghan's President Ashraf Ghani flew out of the country on Sunday night as the insurgents encircled the capital, after a stunningly swift end to Afghanistan's 20-year war.

"They (Americans) can expect to hear from the president soon. He's right now actively engaged with his national security team. He is working the situation hard," White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told ABC.



Airlines avoid Afghan airspace

PARIS: Airlines are avoiding flights over Afghanistan as the local aviation authority on Monday urged them to reroute after it gave Kabul airspace to the military.

British Airways, Lufthansa, Singapore Airlines, Air France and Virgin Atlantic announced they were no longer flying over the country after the Taliban took over Kabul.

The Afghanistan Civil Aviation Authority said in a "notice to airmen" that "Kabul airspace has been released to the military".

It advised airlines to reroute as "any transit through Kabul airspace will be uncontrolled".

Lufthansa, whose group includes Austrian Airlines, Brussels Airlines, Eurowings and Swiss, and Air France said they would no longer use Afghan airspace until "further notice".

Lufthansa said its group's India-bound flights would suffer delays of up to an hour. The company said the announcement was made to ensure "flight safety".

Air France is rerouting flights headed to Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh City, New Delhi and Singapore.

British Airways said in a brief statement that it is "not currently using Afghanistan's airspace".

Singapore Airlines said it was avoiding the airspace "in view of the latest development in Afghanistan".

Virgin Atlantic said its flights to Islamabad, Lahore, Mumbai and New Delhi will avoid Afghan airspace, stressing that "the health, safety and security of our customers and people always comes first".



Germany must evacuate 10,000 people from Afghanistan: Merkel

BERLIN: Germany may need to evacuate as many as 10,000 people from Afghanistan, Chancellor Angela Merkel told party colleagues on Monday, according to party sources.

That includes 2,500 Afghan support staff as well as human rights activists, lawyers and others whom the government sees being at risk if they remain in the country after the Taliban seized Kabul.

She also said that Germany should cooperate with countries bordering Afghanistan to support those fleeing from the country now.

"This topic will keep us busy for a very long time," she said, according to the party sources.



Taliban start collecting weapons from civilians

KABUL: Taliban fighters in the Afghan capital, Kabul, started collecting weapons from civilians on Monday because people no longer need them for personal protection, Reuters reported quoting a Taliban official.

"We understand people kept weapons for personal safety. They can now feel safe. We are not here to harm innocent civilians," the official told Reuters.

City resident Salad Moleskin, director of the MOBY group media company, said on Twitter that Taliban soldiers had come to his company compound to enquire about the weapons kept by his security team.



China ready for 'friendly relations' with Taliban

BEIJING: China on Monday said it is willing to develop "friendly relations" with the Taliban after the hardliners seized control of Afghanistan.

"China respects the right of the Afghan people to independently determine their own destiny and is willing to continue to develop... friendly and cooperative relations with Afghanistan," foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters.



Russian ambassador to meet Taliban in Kabul Tuesday: diplomat

MOSCOW: Russia's ambassador to Afghanistan will meet with the Taliban in Kabul on Tuesday, foreign ministry official Zamir Kabulov said, reports AFP.

"Our ambassador is in contact with the Taliban leadership, tomorrow he will meet with the Taliban security coordinator," Kabulov said in a interview to the Ekho Moskvy radio station on Monday, adding that Moscow will decide on recognising the new government based on its "conduct".

He said the talks between Moscow's ambassador, Dmitry Zhirnov, and the Taliban would centre on how the group plans to provide security for the Russian embassy in the Afghan capital.



Afghan military jet crashes in Uzbekistan - report

TASHKENT: An Afghan military jet has crashed in Uzbekistan, an Uzbek news website reported on Monday, citing sources and images shared via messaging apps.

The Afghan government collapsed on Sunday and the Taliban insurgents were poised to take over after capturing the capital

According to the Gazeta.uz report, the jet crashed late on Sunday in Uzbekistan's southernmost Surxondaryo province adjacent to Afghanistan. It published photographs of medics attending to a man in an air force uniform.

The website also said a source told it that two Afghan military servicemen believed to have also been on the plane were hospitalised in the provincial capital, Termez



Lufthansa looking at ways to help Germany evacuate citizens

BERLIN: Lufthansa is examining how it can help the German government evacuate citizens and local support workers from Afghanistan in the near future, the airline said in a statement on Monday.

The ariline earlier said it is rerouting flights to avoid Afghan airspace until further notice, a spokesperson said on Monday, after insurgents took control of the presidential palace in Kabul.

"All Lufthansa Group Airlines are suspending overflights of Afghanistan until further notice," the spokesperson said in an emailed statement.

As a result, the flight time to India and other destinations will be extended by up to one hour, the spokesperson added.

Afghans crowd at the airport as they wait to leave from Kabul on August 16, 2021.
Afghans crowd at the airport as they wait to leave from Kabul on August 16, 2021. Image Credit: AFP


Swedish Kabul embassy staff evacuated, focus on local employees 

STOCKHOLM: Sweden has completed the evacuation of all its Swedish embassy staff from Kabul and is now working on plans to get local employees and those who have supported its activities out of the country, Foreign Minister Ann Linde said on Monday.

"All deployed personnel were evacuated from Afghanistan last night by helicopter and plane to a U.S. military base in Doha," Linde told reporters at a news conference.



Gunfire at Kabul airport kills 5 as Afghans flee

Kabul: At least three people were killed by gunfire on Mondayat the passenger terminal of the Kabul international airport, where thousands of Afghans who fear for their lives after the Taliban takeover of the country have converged in hopes of getting an evacuation flight, The Wall Street Journal said in a rpeort.

Witnesses reported seeing the bloodied bodies lying on the ground just outside the terminal building, according to the report.

Officials at the US Central Command weren't immediately available for comment.

The US military has taken over security of the Kabul airport to execute the massive airlift of foreign diplomats and citizens after the Afghan government collapsed on Sunday.

Those evacuation flights are processed on the separate, military, side of the airport.

The US military extended its footprint to the civilian terminal, where thousands of desperate Afghans, many of whom used to work for the American forces, continued to flock as the victorious Taliban combed Kabul for those who had collaborated with the West.

The US Marines fired warning shots late on Sunday when hundreds of Afghans who breached the perimeter rushed to board an idling C-17 transport aircraft, a Western military official said.

EARLIER REPORTS:

Taliban declares 'war is over' as president and diplomats flee Kabul

Kabul: The Taliban declared the war in Afghanistan was over after insurgents took control of the presidential palace in Kabul as US-led forces departed and Western nations scrambled on Monday to evacuate their citizens.

President Ashraf Ghani fled the country on Sunday as the Islamist militants entered the capital virtually unopposed, saying he wanted to avoid bloodshed, while hundreds of Afghans desperate to leave flooded Kabul airport.

"Today is a great day for the Afghan people and the mujahideen. They have witnessed the fruits of their efforts and their sacrifices for 20 years," Mohammad Naeem, the spokesman for the Taliban's political office, told Al Jazeera TV.

"Thanks to God, the war is over in the country." It took the Taliban just over a week to seize control of the country after a lightning sweep that ended in Kabul as Afghan forces, trained for years and equipped by the United States and others at a cost of billions of dollars, melted away.

Al Jazeera broadcast footage of what it said were Taliban commanders in the presidential palace with dozens of armed fighters.

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Naeem said the form of the new regime in Afghanistan would be made clear soon, adding the Taliban did not want to live in isolation and calling for peaceful international relations.

"We have reached what we were seeking, which is the freedom of our country and the independence of our people," he said.

"We will not allow anyone to use our lands to target anyone, and we do not want to harm others." A Taliban leader told Reuters the insurgents were regrouping from different provinces, and would wait until foreign forces had left the country before creating a new governance structure.

The leader, who requested anonymity, said Taliban fighters had been "ordered to allow Afghans to resume daily activities and do nothing to scare civilians." "Normal life will continue in a much better way, that's all I can say for now," he told Reuters via Whatsapp.

A member of Taliban (C) stands outside Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, on August 16, 2021.
A member of Taliban (C) stands outside Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, on August 16, 2021. Image Credit: REUTERS

A US State Department spokesperson said early on Monday that all embassy personnel, including Ambassador Ross Wilson, had been transferred to Kabul airport to await evacuation and the American flag had been lowered and removed from the embassy compound.

Hundreds of Afghans invaded the airport's runways in the dark, pulling luggage and jostling for a place on one of the last commercial flights to leave the country before US forces took over air traffic control on Sunday.

"How can they hold the airport and dictate terms and conditions to Afghans?" said Rakhshanda Jilali, a human rights activist who was trying to get to Pakistan.

"This is our airport but we are seeing diplomats being evacuated while we wait in complete uncertainty," Jilali, who said she had received multiple death threats, told Reuters via Whatsapp from the airport.

More than 60 western countries, including the United States, Britain, France and Japan, issued a joint statement saying all Afghans and international citizens who wanted to leave the country must be allowed to depart.

210816 Kabul
Afghans and travelers pass through checkpoints at the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan ahead of the TalibanÕs arrival, Aug. 15, 2021. Image Credit: New York Times

"The Afghan people deserve to live in safety, security and dignity," the statement said. "We in the international community stand ready to assist them." Aid group Emergency said 80 wounded people had been brought to its hospital in Kabul, which was at capacity, and that it was only admitting people with life-threatening injuries.

In a Facebook post, Ghani said he had left the country to avoid clashes with the Taliban that would endanger millions of residents of Kabul.

Some social media users in Kabul branded Ghani, who did not disclose his location, a coward for leaving them in chaos. A tweet from the verified account of the Afghan Embassy in India said: "We are all banging our heads in shame." SHARIA In Washington, opponents of President Joe Biden's decision to end America's longest war, launched after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, said the chaos was caused by a failure of leadership.

Many Afghans fear the Taliban will return to past harsh practices in their imposition of sharia, or Islamic religious law. During their 1996-2001 rule, women could not work and punishments such as stoning, whipping and hanging were administered.

Taliban fighters drive into Kabul, on Sunday.
Taliban fighters drive into Kabul, on Sunday. Image Credit: NYT

The militants sought to project a more moderate face, promising to respect women's rights and protect both foreigners and Afghans.

"We are ready to have a dialogue with all Afghan figures and will guarantee them the necessary protection," Naeem told Al Jazeera Mubasher TV.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged the Taliban and all other parties to exercise the utmost restraint, and expressed particular concern about the future of women and girls in Afghanistan.

The Pentagon on Sunday authorized another 1,000 troops to help evacuate US citizens and Afghans who worked for them, expanding its security presence on the ground to almost 6,000 troops within the next 48 hours.

British Forces
British Forces from 16 Air Assault Brigade arrive in Kabul, to provide support to British nationals leaving the country, as part of Operation PITTING after Taliban insurgents took control of the presidential palace in Kabul. Image Credit: REUTERS

European nations, including France, Germany and the Netherlands, also said they were working to get citizens as well as some Afghan employees out of the country.

Russia said it saw no need to evacuate its embassy for the time being. Turkey said its embassy would continue operations.

American exit

Asked if images of helicopters ferrying personnel were evocative of the United States departure from Vietnam in 1975, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told ABC News: "Let's take a step back. This is manifestly not Saigon." Biden has faced rising domestic criticism after sticking to a plan, initiated by his Republican predecessor, Donald Trump, to end the US military mission in Afghanistan by Aug. 31.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell blamed Biden for what he called a "shameful failure of American leadership".

"Terrorists and major competitors like China are watching the embarrassment of a superpower laid low," McConnell said.

Naeem said the Taliban would adopt an international policy of two-way non-interference.

"We do not think that foreign forces will repeat their failed experience in Afghanistan once again."

Timeline: Key dates in Afghanistan since 2001

With the Taliban back in control of Afghanistan, here is a recap of landmark events in the war-torn country since the group's first regime was toppled in the 2001 US-led invasion:

2001: 9/11 and 'War on Terror'

President George W. Bush launches his "war on terror" in response to the September 11 attacks that killed around 3,000 people, with air strikes on Afghanistan on October 7, 2001.

The Taliban government had sheltered Osama bin Laden and his Al-Qaeda movement, which masterminded 9/11.

In power since 1996, the Taliban are soon defeated and flee the Afghan capital Kabul on December 6.

Hamid Karzai is appointed to lead an interim government and NATO begins to deploy its International Security Assistance Force.

2004: First presidential election

Afghanistan's first election under a new system is held on October 9, 2004 with an enthusiastic turnout of 70 percent. Karzai wins 55 percent of the vote.

The Taliban regroup in the south and east, as well as across the border in Pakistan, and launch an insurgency.

2008-2011: US reinforcements

As attacks multiply, the US command in 2008 asks for more troops and the first reinforcements are sent.

Karzai is re-elected on August 20, 2009 in elections that are marred by massive fraud, low turnout and Taliban attacks.

In 2009, President Barack Obama, who had campaigned on a pledge to end the Afghanistan war, doubles the number of US troops to 68,000. In 2010, it reaches around 100,000.

Osama bin Laden is killed on May 2, 2011 in a US special forces operation in Pakistan.

On June 22, Obama announces the beginning of a troop withdrawal, with the departure by mid-2012 of 33,000 soldiers.

2014: NATO exit

In June 2014, Ashraf Ghani is elected president but voting is marred by violence and a bitter dispute over claims of fraud.

In December, NATO ends its 13-year combat mission but a number of troops remain to train the Afghan military.

The following year, the Taliban make their greatest military advances since being ousted.

The Islamic State jihadist group also becomes active in the region. Bloody attacks multiply, notably in Kabul.

2020: US-Taliban deal, disputed election

Ghani is declared victorious for a second term on February 18, 2020, an announcement rejected by his rival and former minister Abdullah Abdullah, who vows to form his own parallel government.

On February 29, the United States and the Taliban sign a historic deal in Doha under which all foreign forces would leave Afghanistan by May 2021, provided the insurgents start talks with Kabul and adhere to other security guarantees.

A power-sharing deal ends the bitter Ghani-Abdullah feud in May. Abdullah takes the role of leading the peace negotiations.

Talks begin in September but violence surges and the Taliban are blamed for a wave of targeted killings.

May 2021: Foreign troops withdrawal

On May 1, 2021 the United States and NATO start withdrawing their 9,500 soldiers, of which 2,500 are American.

In May, the Americans withdraw from the Kandahar air base.

On July 2, Bagram air base - Afghanistan's biggest, and the nerve centre of the US-led coalition's operations - is handed over to Afghan forces.

President Joe Biden says that the US troop withdrawal will be completed by August 31, before the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

May-August 2021: Taliban blitz

The insurgents launch lightning attacks across Afghanistan, capturing vast stretches of the hinterland as the final foreign troops begin their withdrawal.

The Taliban capture their first provincial capital, Zaranj in the southwest, on August 6.

Other major cities fall within days, including Kandahar and Herat - Afghanistan's second- and third-biggest cities respectively.

Most of the north, west and south is under Taliban control by August 13.

The Pentagon says Kabul does not appear to face an "imminent threat".

August 2021: Fall of Kabul

The insurgents fully encircle the capital on August 15 with the capture of Jalalabad in the east.

It leaves Kabul as the only city under government control.

Diplomatic missions scramble to evacuate officials and local staff who fear reprisals from the Taliban.

Ghani flees the country, reportedly to Tajikistan, and the Taliban enter Kabul, eventually taking position in the presidential palace.

In a statement, Ghani admits the insurgents have "won".