In statement, insurgents say they will seek to takeover capital through negotiated agreement, assure civilians they will come to no harm
Taliban militants have reportedly reached the outskirts of Afghan capital Kabul, weeks ahead of U.S. intelligence estimates that the insurgents may require up to 90 days to supplant the elected government of Afghanistan led by President Ashraf Ghani.
Authorities in Afghanistan have confirmed reports from various news agencies that the Taliban had reached the outskirts of Kabul, but stressed that they had yet to enter the city. Citing local residents, news agencies have reported that citizens and government employees are in a state of panic. “Please don’t worry,” appealed Ghani’s chief of staff in a posting on Twitter. “There is no problem. The situation of Kabul is under control.”
Meanwhile, the Taliban have issued a statement from their political office in Doha, urging citizens to avoid panic, as no harm would come to them. “Negotiations are under way 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,” read the statement, which stressed that the capital city would not be taken by force.
“The Islamic Emirate instructs all its forces to stand at the gates of Kabul, not to try to enter the city,” the statement continued in directives for its fighters. It also urged citizens to avoid trying to flee the country in a panic, vowing that no harm would befall them.
According to Afghan and Arab media, Ghani is set to resign “within hours,” prompting the installation of an interim setup that would oversee the installation of a new government that would include the Taliban.
The Reuters news agency reported that the U.S. had started to evacuate its embassy in Kabul. “We have a small batch of people leaving now as we speak, a majority of the staff are ready to leave,” one official told Reuters early on Sunday. “The embassy continues to function,” they added. Similarly, NATO authorities said that European Union embassy staffers and envoys have been shifted to a “safe” location.
The Afghan government currently controls only Kabul and five other provincial capitals out of the country’s 34, following a major advance by the Taliban in just a little more than a week. The Taliban offensive sped up as the U.S. and its allies withdrew all forces from the war-torn state, starting with border areas before expanding to major urban centers.
Taliban fighters met little resistance in many areas, with government forces often reporting a lack of support and laying down their arms before the insurgents.
On Sunday, the Taliban also captured the key eastern city of Jalalabad, giving the insurgents control of a road leading to Peshawar, a main highway into landlocked Afghanistan. A day earlier, they had seized the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif. On Thursday, Taliban had seized Kandahar and Herat, the second and third-largest cities of Afghanistan.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has been holding talks with local leaders and international partners, including U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in recent days. Ghani and Blinken discussed urgent efforts to reduce violence in Afghanistan, the State Department said. Qatar, which has been hosting so-far inconclusive peace talks, said it had urged the insurgents to agree to a ceasefire.