The Taliban and Afghanistan’s government are in negotiations for a transfer of power as the terrorist group’s fighters have encircled Kabul, the capital, after swift advances that took over numerous provincial capitals in about a week.
U.S. Embassy staff in Kabul, meanwhile, are attempting to evacuate via planes and military aircraft. Photos and video footage posted online show the workers fleeing as American military helicopters were seen landing at the building.
“Until the completion of the transition process, the responsibility for the security of Kabul is with the other side [the Afghan government],” the Taliban wrote in a statement posted online.
The group noted that Kabul is a large and densely populated city, and it won’t enter “by force or war,” suggesting that fighting to capture the capital would result in heavy losses and damage.
“Negotiations are underway to ensure that the transition process is completed safely and securely,” added the Taliban statement.
On Sunday, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, who has released few statements as the Taliban made swift advances across Afghanistan, relinquished power as the Taliban entered Kabul, according to Interior Minister Abdul Sattar Mirzakwal, who confirmed there would be a transfer of power. On Saturday, Ghani released a televised statement and said there would be no bloodshed in Kabul.
“The Afghan people should not worry … There will be no attack on the city and there will be a peaceful transfer of power to the transitional government,” Mirzakwal said in a pre-recorded speech, according to the AFP news agency. “The safety of the city is guaranteed, there will be no attack on the city, and the agreement is such that the transition of power will take place in a peaceful manner.”
And while the Taliban, which was designated as a terrorist group by the U.S. State Department decades ago, said it won’t exact revenge on Afghans who worked with the U.S. military, there is speculation that the group hasn’t changed much since it ruled Afghanistan with its harsh interpretation of Sharia law.
Reports said that in other areas of the country, women were forced to leave their jobs and return home. A video also surfaced online showing alleged thieves being punished by being dragged through the streets of Herat after being painted black.
But the Taliban on Sunday claimed the group wouldn’t enter people’s homes or interfere with businesses. The terror group also said they’d offer an “amnesty” to those who worked with the Afghan government or foreign forces.
Just outside Kabul, the Taliban also took over Bagram Airfield—formerly the largest American military base in the country—and released prisoners being held there, according to a spokesman.
“The most important prison at Bagram Airfield was also captured,” said another spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, in a Twitter post. “The latest information shows that all the prisoners have been transferred to a safe place.”
Also on Sunday, several other Afghan provincial capitals were taken by the Taliban, the group confirmed in a series of Twitter posts.
The Taliban’s all-but-certain victory in Afghanistan serves as a blow to the United States’ standing in the world after American forces spent nearly 20 years trying to beat back the terror group and help train the Afghan army. Despite spending decades and about $90 billion to raise an army, the Taliban took just a little more than a month to capture most of the country.
Richard Armitage, the former secretary of state under then-President George W. Bush when the United States invaded in 2001, claimed that the army’s collapse was, in part, due to wider failures on behalf of the Afghan government, which has long been known to be a hotbed of corruption.
“I hear people expressing frustration in the press that the Afghan army can’t fight a long fight,” he told Reuters. “I can assure you the Afghan army has fought, can fight, and if it’s got a trigger and something comes out of the barrel, they can use it.”
He added that the real question is actually whether the Afghan “government is worth fighting for?”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.