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Taliban Seizes Control of Afghanistan; Chaos at Kabul Airport as Thousands Attempt to Flee

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We go to Kabul, Afghanistan, for an update as thousands of Afghans have fled to the Kabul airport in an attempt to leave the country a day after the Taliban seized control of the country. Taliban fighters entered the gates of Kabul Sunday and quickly took control of the presidential palace, and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled the country for Tajikistan. Over the past 10 days, the Taliban has captured 26 out of the country’s 34 provincial capitals, some of which fell without a fight after the Taliban reached deals with local warlords. The Taliban offensive came as the United States withdraws its troops from Afghanistan after nearly 20 years of war. Ali Latifi, a freelance journalist based in Kabul, says the capital is calm so far, as residents venture out a day after the Taliban takeover. “It’s not anything like people were fearing yet,” Latifi says. We also speak with reporter Ahmed Rashid, who says the collapse of the Afghan government shows how poorly the Biden administration prepared its withdrawal. “You’re extracting these American troops, expecting the Afghan government to stand firm, and there was absolutely no 'Plan B,'” Rashid says.

Transcript
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: ​​Thousands of Afghans have fled to the Kabul airport in an attempt to leave Afghanistan a day after the Taliban seized control of the country. On Sunday, Taliban fighters entered the gates of Kabul and quickly took control of the presidential palace, just hours after Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled Afghanistan, flying to Tajikistan, saying he left to, quote, “prevent a flood of bloodshed.” Just hours after Ghani left, Al Jazeera aired video of the head of the Afghan presidential security guard shaking hands with a Taliban commander inside the presidential palace.

One of the Taliban fighters inside the palace said he was a former prisoner at Guantánamo. Kabul fell a day after the Taliban seized the key northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif. Over the past 10 days, the Taliban has captured 26 out of Afghanistan’s 34 provincial capitals. Some fell without a fight as the Taliban reached deals with local warlords.

The Taliban offensive came as the United States is withdrawing its troops from Afghanistan after nearly two decades of war and occupation. The Biden administration is now rushing to send an additional 1,000 troops to Afghanistan to help evacuate U.S. citizens and allies. The total size of the U.S. force will soon be 6,000.

U.S. troops have taken control of the international airport in Kabul. While thousands of Afghan civilians are hoping to flee Taliban rule, the U.S. has canceled all commercial flights. Video went viral this morning of hundreds of Afghans running alongside and trying to grab onto a U.S. Air Force jet as it attempted to take off. At least three people died after falling to their deaths while clinging onto a U.S. plane. Another died on the tarmac.

Over 60 nations, including the United States, have joined together to urge the Taliban to protect foreign nationals and Afghans who want to leave Afghanistan out of fear the Taliban will again brutally control the country like it did between 1996 and 2001, before the U.S. invasion.

We go now to Afghanistan, where we are joined by Ali Latifi, freelance journalist based in Kabul. We’re also joined by the award-winning journalist Ahmed Rashid, author of many books, including Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia.

Ali Latifi, let’s begin with you. You are in Kabul. Describe the state of the capital, which has fallen without the Taliban firing — well, it is unknown, but hardly a bullet.

ALI LATIFI: Right now it’s pretty calm. It’s pretty quiet. Just now, you know, the streets are starting to pick up. A few more people are going out. A few more stores and restaurants and the like are starting to open back up. It’s slowly going back to normal. And as you said, right now things are — you know, not a bullet has been fired. It’s pretty calm. It’s pretty normal. It’s the exact opposite of the airport. The airport is chaotic and just looks like a scene out of a movie, whereas the city of Kabul itself, right now it’s just pretty calm and quiet and just people going about their business, Taliban driving around or, you know, sitting around in different places, posing for pictures with people, talking to people. You know, it’s not anything like people were fearing yet. It seems, in some ways, similar to the stories of 1996, the first few days. But the other difference is that, you know, slowly, like, women are coming out. Most are dressing as [inaudible] with long scarves and loose-fitting clothing. Some are wearing the chadaree, or what the West calls the burqa. But, generally, it’s pretty normal.

AMY GOODMAN: So, can you talk about the significance of the Taliban — of Kabul falling, the place where the U.S. had said there would be the most resistance, 4 million population? Of course, it’s the heart of the Afghan government of Ghani, who fled, and I’d like you to talk about that. But what does it mean that they hardly fired a shot? Is this indicating some support or enormous fear? I mean, over the weekend, as we called guests to be on the show, one guest after another, who we’ve not had trouble reaching in the past, we reached them, but they were absolutely terrified to come on. They refused.

ALI LATIFI: I think because over the weekend we had no idea what was going to happen. You know, I mean, even yesterday, early in the day, everybody was terrified. Everybody was scared. We all had no — we didn’t know if they would come storming in and firing and, you know, committing massacres and just pulling people over and pulling them out of their houses and if it would be chaos. There was a lot of fear of that.

And what sort of eased it was when the Taliban put out a statement saying, “We have no intention of storming the city of Kabul. We will only send our people in once some kind of a settlement is made. And even then, we’re sending them to sort of act as, basically, a security force,” because most of the police — or, actually, all of the police, as far as I’ve seen, have essentially just absconded. They’re not on the streets anymore.

So, that really — and then, that, and also there were all these rumors of what a potential political structure would look like, and it included famous political figures from the last 20 years, from the last 40 years, some even left over from the kingdom times. So, that kind of eased people’s minds, thinking that if that comes true, then these other people can sort of, hopefully, counterbalance the Taliban so that they don’t end up acting like they did in 1996, so that some of the changes that have come to society, some of the things that have been regained or gained over the last 20 years, that they don’t go away just because the Taliban are somehow [inaudible] power.

AMY GOODMAN: You keep referring to 1996. Ali, a history lesson, please. Explain what was happening in Afghanistan at that time, a quarter of a century ago, 25 years ago, five years before the U.S. occupied and invaded.

ALI LATIFI: When the Taliban first came to power in 1996, Afghanistan was in the throes of a civil war, especially the city of Kabul. The city of Kabul was full of commanders left over from the jihad against the Soviet occupation who, once they defeated the Soviets and took down the communist government, essentially turned their guns on themselves because they couldn’t agree to something like a unity government, where each one would be given a different post. And they all essentially took different sides. Different commanders allied with others, and, you know, one commander would fire rockets at the other. And that would end up essentially leveling the entire city of Kabul, because, you know, you can’t control where a rocket hits. And their forces were also accused of all kinds of abuses. They were accused of land grabs. They were accused of rapes. They were accused of abductions. They were accused of theft. They were accused of physical violence, of all kinds of things. And the Taliban, seeing that, you know, they sort of portrayed themselves as the counter to that, saying, “Don’t worry. We’ll deliver you from these warlords, and we’ll deliver you from this civil war.”

AMY GOODMAN: In —

ALI LATIFI: And then — yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: In a moment we’re going to talk more with Ahmed Rashid about that situation, but I wanted to go back to President Biden, just to July 8th, talking about the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.

REPORTER: Is the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan now inevitable?

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: No, it is not.

REPORTER: Why?

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Because you have the Afghan troops, have 300,000, well equipped, as well equipped as any army in the world, and an air force, against something like 75,000 Taliban. It is not inevitable. … But the likelihood there’s going to be the Taliban overrunning everything and owning the whole country is highly unlikely.

AMY GOODMAN: “Highly unlikely,” but exactly what happened. Ahmed Rashid, you’re speaking to us from Madrid, Spain, writer, award-winning journalist, author of a number of books, including Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia. You’ve covered the Taliban extensively. Talk about the reaction — or, the prediction of Biden. And again, what, in fact, is happening with the Taliban. The media, describing the scenes at the airport, the thousands of troops moved in, sounds like to protect the people from the Taliban, but apparently this is done with full Taliban cooperation, Ahmed Rashid.

AHMED RASHID: Well, I think President Biden really was suffering from overextensive briefings, but from the intelligence and other parts of the government, which were absolutely wrong. I think the U.S. military got it right when they battled with Biden to try to keep troops, more troops, in for a longer period of time.

The crux of the issue simply was that there was no preparation for this withdrawal. And, you know, military and CIA and intelligence people, they plan for contingencies. What happens if this goes wrong, if this doesn’t work out? Where is “Plan B,” “Plan C”? And there was none of this, this time around. You were extracting these American troops, expecting the Afghan government to stand firm, and there was absolutely no “Plan B.” So, I think, you know, this has been one of the horrors. It’s going to go down as one of the really big mistakes of U.S. policy in the — not just in the region, but in the world. And so, I think that’s the first thing.

The other thing is that the U.S. was not supposed to withdraw without some kind of political settlement, or at least movement towards a political settlement, between Kabul, the Kabul government, and the Taliban. And the U.S. was actually pulling out when there was no such settlement. Kabul and the Taliban had barely spoken to each other about — of the plan, any plan for an interim government, a coalition government. And — sorry — there was complete chaos. There was no understanding of what could happen, and which did happen.

AMY GOODMAN: Before we go to break, I wanted to go back to Ali and ask about this agreement between the U.S. and Taliban at the airport and the significance of this massive rush to the airport of Americans, of Afghans who worked with the U.S. occupation, like the thousands of interpreters and their families, but also those who worked with the Afghan government. And also, was the fleeing of the Afghan president, who said he did this to avoid bloodshed, a shock to most people?

ALI LATIFI: It was an absolute shock. It was completely unexpected, because if you look at the way Ashraf Ghani has presented himself throughout his presidency, it’s always been as a fighter, as someone bold. You know, during his inauguration in 2019, there were rockets that were fired into the palace grounds, and he famously sort of lifted open his vest to show that he had no Kevlar, no bulletproof vest or anything underneath that, and it became sort of a rallying cry for weeks. That clip went viral. There were car decals of it. So, it really seemed like the exact opposite of the way Ashraf Ghani was billing himself.

But, unfortunately, the way that things were going in the last couple weeks, it kind of seemed to fit with the narrative of the last two or three weeks, when provinces kept falling, when districts kept falling, and the government was largely silent — not so much on the districts, but on the provinces. Over the last — what? — like nine or 10 days, they were completely silent about it. They never confirmed a single province falling. So, in that case, in the short term, it very much allied with everything that was going on at the time. But in the long term, it seemed to be the exact opposite of everything Ashraf Ghani billed himself as.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to go to break. Ali Latifi, freelance journalist, speaking to us from Kabul, and Ahmed Rashid, award-winning journalist, we’ll be back with them in a moment.

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Journalist Ahmed Rashid on the Taliban’s Return to Power & What Comes Next for Afghanistan

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