The day after the Taliban installed themselves in the presidential palace in Kabul, seizing control over Afghanistan two decades after being toppled from power by the U.S. military, fears intensified on Monday about a return to the Taliban’s brutal rule and the threat of reprisal killings.
Kabul’s international airport was under the protection of foreign forces, including thousands of U.S. soldiers sent to the country to assist in a hasty evacuation. The Pentagon said on Monday evening in Kabul that all flights had been suspended, military or civilian, into Hamid Karzai International Airport. A U.S. military official who was not authorized to speak publicly said U.S. armed forces were not involved in the president’s departure.
It was a scene of desperation, sadness and panic.
Thousands of Afghans flooded the tarmac on Monday morning, at one point swarming around a departing U.S. military plane as it taxied down the runway. U.S. Marines worked to secure the civilian side of the airport, with the help of Turkish troops, after security was breached there on Monday, John F. Kirby, the chief Pentagon spokesman, said.
Images of people clinging to the hulking aircraft even as it left the ground quickly circulated around the world. It seemed to capture the moment more vividly than words: a symbol of America’s military might, flying out of the country even as Afghans hung on against all hope.
A U.S. military official confirmed that some Afghans were killed in the airplane incident. However, the official could not confirm how many died.
The U.S. forces on site used helicopters to help clear the runway in the military section of the airport. American troops fatally shot at least two armed men who approached the Americans at the airport security perimeter and brandished their weapons, according to a U.S. military official.
President Biden defended his decision on Monday to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, arguing that the U.S. mission there was complete and that nation building was never the initial goal.
“I’ve learned the hard way, there was never a good time to withdraw U.S. forces,’’ he said from the White House after cutting short a visit to Camp David. “This did unfold more quickly than we anticipated.”
In July, Mr. Biden said that “the Taliban overrunning everything and owning the whole country is highly unlikely.”
Worries pervaded Kabul, the capital, about the potential for violence as the Taliban filled the city and the Afghan government crumbled. President Ashraf Ghani fled the country as the insurgents entered the city on Sunday.
In remarkable scenes broadcast on Al Jazeera, Taliban leaders ensconced themselves in the palace only hours after Mr. Ghani fled — taking control over what was once one of the most secure locations in the country and a symbol of the nation that the United States spent so much money and sacrificed so much blood to uphold.
Though not a formal surrender, it might as well have been.
In the video, the head of the Afghan presidential security guard shook hands with a Taliban commander in one of the palace buildings and said he had accompanied the Taliban commander at the request of the senior Afghan government negotiator.
“I say welcome to them, and I congratulate them,” the official said.
Afghan officials in other cities were filmed handing over power to insurgent leaders. Former President Hamid Karzai said he had formed a council with other political leaders to coordinate a peaceful transition to a new Taliban government. Mr. Karzai also asked the head of the Presidential Protection Service to remain at his post and ensure that the palace was not looted.
Early Taliban actions in other cities under their control offered a glimpse of what the future might hold. In Kunduz, which fell on Aug. 8, they set up checkpoints and went door to door in search of absentee civil servants, warning that any who did not return to work would be punished.
The change in atmosphere in Kabul was as swift as it was frightening for many who thought that they could build a life under the protection of their American allies.
Some in the city said the Taliban had already visited government officials’ homes. They entered the home of one former official in western Kabul and removed his cars and took over the home of a former governor in another part of town.
In other parts of the country, there were reports that fighters were searching for people they consider collaborators of the Americans and the fallen government.
Residents of Kabul began tearing down advertisements that showed women without head scarves for fear of upsetting the Taliban, whose ideology excludes women from much of public life.
Some police officers were taken into custody by Taliban fighters, while others were seen changing into civilian clothes and trying to flee.
The Taliban said their forces had entered Kabul to ensure order and public safety.
A member of the Taliban’s negotiating team in Qatar told the BBC that “there will be no revenge” on civilians. “We assure the people in Afghanistan, particularly in the city of Kabul, that their properties, their lives are safe,” Suhail Shaheen said on Sunday night. “There will be no revenge on anyone.”
The crowds outside Kabul’s international airport swelled on Monday morning, leaving the fences and security forces straining to contain the mass of people desperate to escape Afghanistan as the Taliban took control.
They rushed through the perimeter of the airport’s civilian section and swarmed the tarmac. Soldiers stood guard, many with weapons drawn.
As flights prepared to depart, people clung dangerously to the sides of military planes even as one taxied down the runway. A U.S. military official confirmed that some Afghans were killed in the airplane incident. However, the official could not confirm how many died.
As the chaos spread, U.S. troops took control of the airport’s civilian section, while people rushed through the boarding gates and tried to push their way onto two commercial planes that were parked beside the terminal.
With civilian air travel temporarily halted, the arriving and departing military planes underscored the stark divide between foreign nationals and some Afghans who were a flight away from safety, and many more who would have no escape.
Evacuation flights resumed on Monday evening, the Pentagon said, after suspending them during the day.
The U.S. government said that in the coming days it would evacuate thousands of American citizens, embassy employees and their families, and “particularly vulnerable Afghan nationals.”
The desperation was evident as some people broke down in tears, recognizing that their chance of escape was slim. Reports of gunfire also circulated throughout the morning.
Although the Taliban has seized control of the country, there is no government in any real sense. That made it hard to get reliable information, both for people inside the country and the wider world watching the events unfold.
Video from journalists recorded sounds of gunfire at the airport as people ran across the tarmac and approached gates from outside. The local news media aired video of young Afghans clinging to a plane as it taxied. Apache helicopters flew low over the crowds to clear the way for military planes.
The Afghan Civil Aviation Authority said on Monday that all civilian flights in and out of the Kabul airport had been suspended because of the chaos. The agency urged people to not travel to the airport.
But the tracking site Flightradar24 reported that a Boeing 777-300 from Turkish Airlines had departed for Istanbul after five hours on the ground.
Twenty years after the United States invaded Afghanistan, the airport was the nation’s final redoubt, one of the last places in the capital not controlled by the Taliban. The State Department said all embassy personnel had been evacuated to the airport, where they were being defended by the U.S. military.
But for the thousands of others hoping to find refuge, there was no escape.
Witnesses said they saw a growing number of Taliban around the civilian side of the airport. They appeared to be clearing groups of people away, sometimes shooting into the air to get them moving.
Several witnesses said that the Taliban were now controlling access to entrances on the civilian side — allowing groups of people and vehicles to leave the airport but turning people away if they were trying to get in.
One international worker for a humanitarian group who was trying to get to the airport was told that no one would be allowed to leave the country now without permission from the “new government.”
Flights of U.S. military planes bringing thousands of Marine and Army reinforcements to Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul were delayed for a few hours on Monday because of crowds of civilians on the runway, a military official said.
The official said the flights had eventually resumed when the runways were cleared. But later in the day, the Pentagon said that all flights were suspended again because of a security breach on the civilian side of the airport.
About 3,000 U.S. Marines and soldiers were expected to be on the ground at the airport by Monday morning, with another 3,000 troops en route, Pentagon officials said.
A day after the fall of Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital, U.S. warplanes and armed drones flew cover over the airport but did not carry out airstrikes, the official said.
The military official disclosed for the first time that Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., the head of the Pentagon’s Central Command, had met in Doha, Qatar, on Sunday with senior Taliban representatives.
In a 45-minute meeting, General McKenzie told the Taliban officials that the United States would defend itself during the evacuations of American personnel and Afghan civilians at the airport, and warned the insurgents not to interfere in the operation, the official said.
General McKenzie, who assumed command last month of the residual U.S. military operation in Afghanistan, flew to Qatar over the weekend to oversee the mission.
U.S. troops fatally shot at least two armed men who approached the Americans at the airport security perimeter and brandished their weapons, the military official said. But otherwise Taliban fighters did not appear to be interfering with the frenzied evacuation at the airport.
With thousands desperate to escape the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan, other countries are bracing for a flood of people seeking refuge.
Five Mediterranean countries on the forefront of mass migration to Europe — Cyprus, Greece, Italy, Malta and Spain — have requested European Union-level talks on Wednesday about how to respond, according Greece’s migration ministry.
There are also concerns about refugees flowing to Iran, Pakistan and Turkey.
Canada said last week that it would resettle more than 20,000 Afghan citizens from groups that it considers likely targets of the Taliban, including leading women, rights workers and L.G.B.T.Q. people.
“We will continue to work to get as many Afghan interpreters and their families out as quickly as possible as long as the security situation holds,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters on Sunday, “and we will continue to work over the coming months to resettle refugees.”
In Australia, Prime Minister Scott Morrison told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation on Monday that more than 430 embassy employees and their families had been resettled there since April and that the government was working to evacuate more.
In New Zealand, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern called on the Taliban “to acknowledge what the international community has called for: human rights and the safety of their people.”
She declined to say whether New Zealand would recognize a Taliban-led government.
“What we want to see is human rights upheld. We want to see women and girls being able to access work and education,” she said at a news conference. “These are things that traditionally have not been available to them when there has been governance by the Taliban.”
WASHINGTON — President Biden offered a defiant defense on Monday of his decision to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, returning to the White House from a weekend at Camp David amid chaotic scenes at the Kabul airport following the collapse of the Afghanistan government to the Taliban.
Speaking to the American people from the ornate East Room, Mr. Biden stood by his decision to end the longest war in United States history and rejected criticism from allies and adversaries about the events of the weekend that left hundreds of Afghans desperately running after military planes as they ferried Americans to safety out of the country’s capital.
“The choice I had to make as your president was either to follow through on the agreement to drawdown our forces,” Mr. Biden said, “or escalating the conflict and sending thousands more American troops back into combat and lurching into the third decade of conflict.”
He added: “I stand squarely behind my decision.”
Mr. Biden acknowledged the truth told by dramatic images over the past 72 hours: a frantic scramble to evacuate the American embassy in Kabul in the face of advancing Taliban fighters, which has drawn grim comparisons to the country’s defeated retreat from Saigon at the end of the Vietnam War.
But he rejected the analogy, insisting that the administration had planned for the possibility of a rapid Taliban takeover and expressed pride that diplomats and other Americans had been evacuated to relative safety at the Kabul airport, which aides said was in the process of being secured by several thousand American troops. And he blamed the fall of the Afghan regime on the failure of the country’s military and political leaders to stand up for themselves.
“Afghanistan political leaders gave up and fled the country,” he said, accusing the military of laying down their arms after two decades of U.S. training and hundreds of billions of dollars in equipment and resources. “If anything, the developments of the past week reinforce that ending U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan now was the right decision.”
He directed his ire at Afghanistan’s political leaders, saying he urged them to engage in real diplomacy.
“This advice was flatly refused,” he said.
Mr. Biden vowed again to rescue thousands of Afghans who had helped Americans during the two-decade conflict, but the fate of many who remained in Kabul and other parts of Afghanistan was uncertain Monday. And thousands of Afghans with dual American citizenship remained unaccounted for amid reports of revenge attacks by the Taliban as they seized control.
The political impact of the weekend’s dramatic collapse of the Afghan government caught the White House off guard throughout the fast-moving events, even as howls of criticism poured in from Republican and Democratic lawmakers, Afghan activists, former President Donald Trump, foreign policy experts and officials from previous administrations.
Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the top Republican in the Senate, called it a “monumental collapse” in Afghanistan and said responsibility rests squarely with Mr. Biden. Seth Moulton, a Democratic lawmaker and former Marine captain said the administration had made “not just a national security mistake, but a political mistake too.” The American Civil Liberties Union said the president is “failing at the fundamentally important task of humanitarian protection.”
Mr. Trump, who himself sought a withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan with an even earlier deadline of May 2021, issued repeated denunciations of his successor.
“The outcome in Afghanistan, including the withdrawal, would have been totally different if the Trump administration had been in charge,” Mr. Trump said Monday morning. “Who or what will Joe Biden surrender to next? Someone should ask him, if they can find him.”
Mr. Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr., tweeted out a hashtag: #WheresBiden?
Mr. Biden had been scheduled to remain on vacation through the week, including heading to Wilmington for several days. Previous presidents have chosen to cut vacations short to be seen as dealing with developing crises at the White House.
Over the weekend, Mr. Biden chose to remain with his family at the presidential retreat in the Maryland mountains while the situation in Afghanistan worsened rather than quickly return to the White House. In addition a long written statement on Saturday, the White House released a photo of Mr. Biden, sitting alone at a conference room table at Camp David, as he conducted a virtual meeting with his foreign policy advisers on a large television monitor.
This morning, the President and Vice President met with their national security team and senior officials to hear updates on the draw down of our civilian personnel in Afghanistan, evacuations of SIV applicants and other Afghan allies, and the ongoing security situation in Kabul. pic.twitter.com/U7IpK3Hyj8
— The White House (@WhiteHouse) August 15, 2021
White House officials described several hours of meetings throughout the weekend and said the president was briefed numerous times by top intelligence, diplomatic and military aides as the administration raced to keep up with a reality in Afghanistan that was changing by the hour.
Thursday evening, officials urged reporters not to call the activities in Kabul an “evacuation.” By the next day, that admonition was gone as the president ordered new military deployments to protect embassy workers as they fled from the arriving Taliban fighters.
White House officials said there were “active discussions” throughout the weekend about when Mr. Biden should publicly address the situation, and what he would say when he did. Officials said they did not want the president to speak before the situation on the ground in Kabul was stable.
But by Monday, officials had settled on a message in which the president and his top aides would acknowledge that the Taliban takeover was more rapid than they expected, but that the situation was under control and in line with Mr. Biden’s goal of finally removing the United States from a never-ending war.
Jake Sullivan, the president’s national security adviser, said on NBC’s “Today” program on Monday morning that the administration was in the process of executing what he called a “successful drawdown of our embassy” even as he acknowledged that “the speed with which cities fell was much greater than anyone anticipated, including the Afghans.”
In July, in response to questions from reporters, Mr. Biden said he thought the fall of the Afghan government was not inevitable because the country’s army was 300,000 strong and as well equipped as any in the world.
On Sunday, the national Republican Party posted a link of Mr. Biden’s response on Twitter, adding: “This was just 38 days ago.”
So far, Mr. Biden had left it to Mr. Sullivan, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and other aides to try to explain how the president’s prediction proved so wrong.
White House officials, finding few defenders of their efforts in Afghanistan, even among Democrats on Capitol Hill, on Monday distributed talking points to allies to bolster Mr. Biden’s position.
The talking points, distributed by the office of Speaker Nancy Pelosi, include the “topline” assertion that “the president was not willing to enter a third decade of conflict and surge in thousands of troops to fight in a civil war that Afghanistan wouldn’t fight for themselves.”
The administration said the collapse of the Afghan government and ensuing chaos were not indictments of U.S. policy but proof that the only way to forestall disaster would have been to ramp up America’s troop presence.
Answering critics who say the president was caught flat-footed, the talking points assert, “The administration knew that there was a distinct possibility that Kabul would fall to the Taliban. It was not an inevitability. It was a possibility.”
The document also says that the administration “had contingency plans in place for any eventuality — including a quick fall of Kabul. That’s why we had troops pre-positioned in the region to deploy as they have done.”
The lengthy talking points may give allies something to say, but asserting that plans existed may not be much of a defense when televised images show those plans have not been carried out effectively.
Having sent thousands of troops to Afghanistan during two decades of conflict, Britain is one of the biggest losers from a Taliban takeover that has humiliated the United States and its allies and left thousands stranded.
Estimates vary, but about 3,000 Britons are thought to be in Afghanistan. Officials say they are confident that the citizens can be evacuated as part of an airlift expected to involve hundreds each day. They are less sure about being able to provide a safe exit to all of the Afghans who aided the British and whose lives could now be at risk.
Time is critical, because once the U.S. withdraws the remainder of its forces, there will be no way of safely having planes land and take off.
One option to speed up the process is to initially fly people leaving Kabul to a safe Middle Eastern country rather than repatriating them directly to Britain.
On Monday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson chaired a meeting of an emergency committee in Downing Street after cutting short his vacation. Britain’s Parliament is also being recalled from its summer recess to discuss the crisis in Afghanistan on Wednesday amid growing alarm about the humanitarian and strategic consequences of the Taliban’s advances.
The last time Parliament was recalled for an emergency session to discuss a similar foreign policy question was in 2014, during a crisis in Iraq.
In the past two decades, 150,000 British military personnel have served in Afghanistan, mainly in Helmand Province, though combat missions ended in 2014, leaving behind a small contingent for support work.
In all, 457 British personnel died in Afghanistan, and on Monday, amid the chaotic scenes in Afghanistan, the front-page headline of one tabloid newspaper, the Daily Mail, read: “What the hell did they all die for?”
Last month, Britain announced the withdrawal of its remaining forces from Afghanistan to coincide with the American military’s pullout, though it said last week that it was sending an additional 600 military personnel to help with the evacuation.
This weekend, about 370 embassy employees and British citizens were flown out of the country, the British defense ministry said.
Britain’s defense secretary, Ben Wallace, acknowledged on Monday that some of those who aided the United States and its allies in the last two decades in Afghanistan risked being abandoned to their fate under the Taliban.
“It’s a really deep part of the regret for me that some people won’t get back,” he told LBC Radio, his voice breaking with emotion. “Some people won’t get back, and we will have to do our best in third countries to process those people.”
Asked why he felt it so personally, Mr. Wallace started his reply by saying that it was because of his experience as a soldier. But he then added: “Because it’s sad, and because the West has done what it has done and we have to do our best to get people and stand by our obligations and 20 years of sacrifice is what it is.”
The United Nations’ leader and the Security Council appealed on Monday for an end to hostilities in Afghanistan, humanitarian aid to the country and the creation of a representative government that will protect the rights of women, prevent human rights abuses and keep the country from once again becoming a haven for global terrorist plots.
At an emergency meeting of the 15-member Security Council about the rapidly escalating chaos in Afghanistan, Secretary General António Guterres said the U.N. remained committed to providing aid and other services in Afghanistan. About 18 million people in the country, half of its population, currently need humanitarian assistance.
The statements by Mr. Guterres and the council tacitly acknowledged that the Taliban were effectively in control of Afghanistan, and referred to its history of brutality and repression of women. They came a day after the fall of the government and the capital, Kabul, with the U.S. military still scrambling to airlift Americans and their Afghan allies out of the country after two decades of war.
“At this grave hour, I urge all parties, especially the Taliban, to exercise utmost restraint to protect lives and to ensure that humanitarian needs are met,” Mr. Guterres said in his prepared remarks. He urged all other countries “to be willing to receive Afghan refugees and refrain from any deportations.”
The secretary general also conveyed alarm at “accounts of mounting human rights violations against the women and girls of Afghanistan, who fear a return to the darkest days” under the Taliban, who severely restricted women’s rights and gave Qaeda extremists sanctuary there to plot attacks on the United States and elsewhere.
In a statement released later, the Security Council called for “a new government that is united, inclusive and representative — including the full, equal and meaningful participation of women.” Afghan leaders who have remained in the country, including Hamid Karzai, a former president, say they want to negotiate formation of a government with the Taliban, but it is not clear that the victorious insurgents have any interest in compromise.
Afghanistan surged toward the top of U.N. humanitarian priorities over the past few weeks as it became increasingly clear that the Afghan government was collapsing. On Friday, Mr. Guterres said the country was “spinning out of control.”
It remains unclear how the United Nations will regard the Taliban should the militant movement declare itself the legitimate power in Afghanistan and demand a seat in the 193-member organization. Many countries have condemned the Taliban’s brutality and would probably not recognize such a declaration.
The United Nations employs roughly 3,000 employees who are Afghan and about 720 international staff members in Afghanistan, although roughly half of the international employees have been working outside the country since the coronavirus pandemic started. U.N. officials have said that there are no plans to evacuate any staff members from the country.
The Taliban have pledged not to interfere in U.N. aid operations, but they attacked a U.N. office in the western city of Herat on July 30, and a local security official guarding the office was killed.
A high school student in Kabul, Afghanistan’s war-scarred capital, worries that she now will not be allowed to graduate.
The girl, Wahida Sadeqi, 17, like many Afghan civilians in the wake of the U.S. troop withdrawal and ahead of a Taliban victory, keeps asking the same question: What will happen to me?
The American withdrawal, which effectively ends the longest war on foreign soil in United States history, is also likely to be the start of another difficult chapter for Afghanistan’s people.
“I am so worried about my future. It seems so murky. If the Taliban take over, I lose my identity,” said Ms. Sadeqi, an 11th grader at Pardis High School in Kabul. “It is about my existence. It is not about their withdrawal. I was born in 2004, and I have no idea what the Taliban did to women, but I know women were banned from everything.”
Uncertainty hangs over virtually every facet of life in Afghanistan. It is unclear what the future holds and whether the fighting will ever stop. For two decades, American leaders have pledged peace, prosperity, democracy, the end of terrorism and rights for women.
Few of those promises have materialized in vast areas of Afghanistan, but now even in the cities where real progress occurred, there is fear that everything will be lost when the Americans leave.
The Taliban, the extremist group that once controlled most of the country and continues to fight the government, insist that the elected president step down. Militias are increasing in prominence and power, and there is talk of a lengthy civil war.
Over two decades, the American mission evolved from hunting terrorists to helping the government build the institutions of a functioning government, dismantle the Taliban and empower women. But the U.S. and Afghan militaries were never able to effectively destroy the Taliban, who sought refuge in Pakistan, allowing the insurgents to stage a comeback.
The Taliban never recognized Afghanistan’s democratic government. And they appear closer than ever to achieving the goal of their insurgency: to return to power and establish a government based on their extremist view of Islam.
Women would be most at risk under Taliban rule. When the group controlled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, it barred women from taking most jobs or receiving educations and practically made them prisoners in their own homes — though this was already custom for many women in rural parts of the country.
“It is too early to comment on the subject. We need to know much more,” Fatima Gailani, an Afghan government negotiator who is involved in the continuing peace talks with the Taliban, said in April. “One thing is certain: It is about time that we learn how to rely on ourselves. Women of Afghanistan are totally different now. They are a force in our country — no one can deny them their rights or status.”
DUSHANBE, Tajikistan — The U.S.-supplied Afghan Air Force took to the skies for a final flight overnight Sunday to Monday — not to attack the Taliban, as it had so many times before, but to save some of its planes and pilots from capture as the insurgents took control of the country.
At least six military aircraft departed Afghanistan in a flight for safety in former Soviet states to the north. Five landed in Tajikistan, Tajik authorities said. One plane was shot down in Uzbekistan, but its two pilots reportedly parachuted and survived.
The departure of some of the Afghan Air Force’s planes, once the jewels of the American aid program to the Afghan military, kept them and their airmen out of Taliban hands.
It also added to the chaos in the skies in and around Afghanistan. Dozens of passenger planes that have taken off from Hamid Karzai International Airport, also flew to Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, neighboring countries with strong cultural ties to Afghanistan. A total of 46 airliners had departed by Monday morning, carrying asylum seekers, many of whom were employees of the airport, Tolo News, an Afghan news agency, reported.
A spokesman for the Uzbek military confirmed it had shot down an airplane that traveled without permission into the country’s airspace. It did not specify the type of plane, but pictures of the wreckage suggested it was a Super Tucano, a turboprop light attack aircraft made by the Brazilian company Embraer and provided by the United States to Afghanistan, according to Paul Hayes, director of Ascend, a U.K.-based aviation safety consultancy.
Uzbek media posted videos showing a pilot in a green flight suit, lying on the ground and receiving medical care.
In Tajikistan, the Ministry of Emergency Situations said three Afghan military airplanes and two military helicopters carrying 143 soldiers and airmen were allowed to land after transmitting distress signals.
“Tajikistan received an SOS signal, and after this in accordance with international obligations the country decided to allow landings,” a spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said, Interfax reported.
It was unclear what would happen to the aircraft now in Tajikistan. Afghan pilots had been targets of particular hatred by the Taliban and risked assassination.
The shoot-down in Uzbekistan and the Tajik authorities’ emphasis on their neutrality in allowing landings reflected the hard response that Central Asian nations, worried about antagonizing the Taliban, have had to fleeing Afghan soldiers.
Uzbekistan last week allowed 84 soldiers to cross a bridge to safety but left many more behind. Tajikistan in June and July allowed fleeing soldiers to enter the country but deported nearly all of them back to Afghanistan.
An Uzbek think tank close to the government has argued that what matters in Afghanistan is stability and economic development, whoever is charge.
“They say, ‘we are ready to accept any centralized force that can help Afghanistan,’” Daniel Kiselyov, the editor of Fergana, a Russian-language news site focused on Central Asia, said in a telephone interview. “If the Taliban provides that, they are willing to work with the group,” he said.
European leaders should prevent mass migration of Afghans into the continent following the Taliban’s return to power, President Emmanuel Macron of France said on Monday, reflecting a hardening European view on a volatile political issue.
“Europe alone cannot assume the consequences of the current situation,” Mr. Macron said in a broadcast statement. He called on the European Union to prevent a major flow of asylum-seekers.
His statement came a few days after six E.U. countries — Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Greece and the Netherlands — called jointly for a policy of deporting migrants back to Afghanistan, despite the growing Taliban control of the country, and for talks with the Afghan government on taking them back. That Afghan government has since evaporated, but there has been no indication that European views have softened.
Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany was the leading voice for accepting refugees during the 2015-16 migrant crisis, when Germany accepted far more people than any other country, more than one million, primarily from Syria.
But on Monday, she said that Germany should support Afghanistan’s neighbors so those fleeing would remain there rather than try to reach Europe.
That earlier crisis became a flashpoint in Europe and continues to shape its politics today. Right-wing nationalists across Europe painted the wave of people from the Middle East and Africa as a threat to European identity and culture, and capitalized on it in elections.
Mr. Macron has staked out conservative positions ahead of an election next year, and analysts say he is trying to cede as little room as possible to a leading challenger, the far-right, anti-immigrant politician Marine Le Pen.
The flow of migrants into Europe has slowed to a fraction of what it was five to six years ago, and the main burden shifted to Turkey, which has been sheltering millions of asylum seekers, preventing them from moving on to Europe.
On Monday, Ben Wallace, the British defense secretary, told Sky News that with the Taliban victory, “I suspect we will see significant migrant flows around the world.” Turkey, Iran and Pakistan are already being affected, he said.
E.U. foreign ministers will meet to discuss Afghanistan on Tuesday, and the issue is all but certain to come up in the European Commission’s biweekly news conference.
The people of Kabul were given reassurances that they would be safe, that a deal had been struck to avoid a full-fledged attack by the Taliban on their city. But for many Afghans, the scenes now playing out around them in their capital tell another story.
It was not just that their president had fled the country on Sunday. There were innumerable smaller signs that their world was changing.
Police posts had been abandoned, and the officers had shed their uniforms in favor of civilian garb. Posters of women at beauty salons were painted over — presumably to avoid retribution from Afghanistan’s new fundamentalist rulers. And on the east side of the city, inmates at Kabul’s main prison, many of them Taliban members, seized the opportunity to break out.
“This is the Day of Judgment,” declared one onlooker as he filmed the inmates carrying bundles of belongings away from the prison.
The Afghan interior minister, Abdul Sattar Mirzakwal, said in the early afternoon that an agreement had been made for a peaceful transfer of power for greater Kabul.
“We have ordered all Afghan National Security Forces divisions and members to stabilize Kabul,” he said in a video statement. “There will be no attack on the city. The agreement for greater Kabul city is that under an interim administration, God willing, power will be transferred.”
Residents seemed unconvinced.
Many had fled to Kabul as their own cities fell. The capital, if nowhere else in their country, seemed that it might provide a haven for at least the near future.
But the future was nearer than almost anyone knew, and on Sunday, with the Taliban in Kabul, many people — among them President Ashraf Ghani and other senior government officials — were looking for an exit from the country itself.
Afghans and non-Afghans alike headed to the airport, where the scene was chaotic. At the civilian domestic terminal, thousands of Afghans crammed in and swarmed around planes on the tarmac, desperately seeking flights out.
With the evacuation of U.S. diplomats and some civilians underway on Sunday, helicopter after helicopter could be seen ferrying passengers to Kabul’s airport. But many Afghans could do little more than look on in despair.
The Taliban themselves appeared to be trying to strike a tone of reassurance. “Our forces are entering Kabul city with all caution,” they said in a statement.
But as the sun set behind the mountains, the traffic was clogged as crowds grew bigger. More and more Taliban fighters appeared on motorbikes, police pickups and even a Humvee that once belonged to the Afghan security forces.
With rumors rife and reliable information hard to come by, the streets were filled with scenes of panic and desperation.
Sahraa Karimi, the head of Afghan Film, filmed her attempt to flee her neighborhood and posted it on Facebook. The video shows her fleeing on foot, out of breath and clutching at her head scarf as she urges people around her to get out while they can.
“Greetings,” she can be heard saying. “The Taliban have reached the city. We are escaping.”
The sight of gun-toting Taliban fighters behind President Ashraf Ghani’s ornate wooden desk, deep inside the Afghan presidential palace now under their control, served as visual confirmation that power in the country had fully shifted hands.
Few people imagined two decades ago — or even two weeks ago — that the heavily defended palace in a heavily defended capital would fall so swiftly. Just several days ago, Mr. Ghani addressed the nation from behind the same desk, in front of the same painting.
But hours after Mr. Ghani fled the country on Sunday, Taliban leaders were addressing the news media there, saying that they would use the palace to announce the restoration of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.
Their takeover of the palace, known as the Arg, was made peacefully. The head of the Presidential Protection Service, which has guarded it for most of the last two decades, shook hands with a Taliban commander and announced the handover.
The government official, Muhammadullah Amin, said he had been asked to meet and escort the Taliban commander, whom he addressed by the religious title Maulvi, into the palace by the government’s longtime chief negotiator with the Taliban.
“After a few contacts with Maulvi Saheb, I came here together and currently we are in the Gulkhana palace,” he said, referring to one of the palace buildings.
The Taliban commander stood and shook his hand. “I said, ‘We will take a selfie, and now we have taken it together,’” Mr. Amin said.
The encounter, filmed and aired by Al Jazeera on Sunday night, was widely shared on social media.
Mr. Amin said that Mr. Ghani had left from the palace via helicopter for Kabul’s international airport on Sunday afternoon and then boarded a flight out of the country. He did not say where the president had gone, but Mr. Ghani is thought to be in Tajikistan.
“In the beginning here, during the day, the situation was not good,” Mr. Amin said. “Everybody was frightened that, God forbid, something would happen here. Most of the officials left. I myself left.”
The peaceful seizing of the palace stood in contrast to past exchanges of power in Afghanistan, when the palace was the scene of violence and vandalism.
In 1978, rebel troops killed President Mohammad Daud inside the palace, which suffered severe damage during a daylong siege. The next year, President Noor Mohammad Taraki was mortally wounded in a gun battle inside the palace. His successor, Hafizullah Amin, was executed when Soviet troops invaded Afghanistan and stormed the palace in December 1979.
When the Taliban took control in 1996, fighters damaged parts of the buildings and much of the artwork, according to the government, but successive governments preserved artifacts and gold stored in underground vaults in the palace.
As the world reacts with a combination of shock, sadness and worry to the rapid collapse of Afghanistan’s government, it remains unclear which global powers might recognize a government led by the Taliban.
Almost five dozen countries, in a joint statement, called on all parties in Afghanistan to allow “the safe and orderly departure of foreign nationals and Afghans who wish to leave the country.”
“Those in positions of power and authority across Afghanistan bear responsibility — and accountability — for the protection of human life and property,” the statement said, “and for the immediate restoration of security and civil order.”
The Taliban got a somewhat warmer reception in China and Russia, both countries that the group’s leaders traveled to last month for diplomatic meetings. The Foreign Ministry in China, which shares a short border with Afghanistan, said Beijing hoped the Taliban would ensure a smooth transition of power and help the Afghan people avoid the chaos of war.
A spokeswoman for the ministry, Hua Chunying, said the Taliban had expressed a desire for good relations with China and said they looked forward to China’s participation in the rebuilding of Afghanistan.
In an editorial published on Sunday night, Global Times, a Chinese state-backed nationalist tabloid, said that recent events in Afghanistan illustrated the failure of the U.S. strategy there.
“The United States’ reckless withdrawal also showed how unreliable its commitments to allies are: When its interests require it to abandon its allies, it will not hesitate to find every excuse to do so,” it said.
Russia will decide whether to recognize the Taliban government based on its behavior in the coming days and weeks, Reuters reported, citing a radio interview on Monday by Zamir Kabulov, Russia’s special envoy to Afghanistan.
Russia’s ambassador to Afghanistan is set to meet with the Taliban in Kabul on Tuesday to discuss the security of the Russian Embassy there.
In Europe, Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain said on Sunday that no country should recognize a Taliban government without consulting others.
“We want a united position amongst all the like-minded, as far as we can get one, so that we do whatever we can to prevent Afghanistan lapsing back into being a breeding ground for terror,” he said.
President Emmanuel Macron of France was expected to speak publicly on Monday night after meeting with his advisers.
MOSCOW — Amid the chaos at Kabul’s airport on Monday, at least one country was not scrambling to get out: Russia.
The Taliban has guaranteed the security of the Russian Embassy in Kabul, a senior Russian official said Monday. The Russian ambassador, who plans to meet with Taliban representatives on Tuesday, said there was no reason for anyone to flee the country and that the Western media was exaggerating the danger of the situation.
“The situation is a good one, calm,” Dmitri Zhirnov, Russia’s ambassador to Kabul, said on Russian state television.
The Taliban fighters now guarding the Russian Embassy, he added, had pledged that they would keep it safe.
“Not a single hair will fall from Russian diplomats,” the Taliban told Russian officials, according to Mr. Zhirnov. “You can work in peace.”
It was a day when Russia, beyond official tut-tutting about the West’s latest failures, was reaping a payoff from the relentless pragmatism of its own Afghan strategy. Russia has spent years courting the Taliban, hosting the group for talks in Moscow even though the Taliban is officially banned in Russia as a terrorist organization.
“It is not for nothing that we have been establishing contacts with the Taliban movement the last seven years,” Zamir N. Kabulov, the special envoy to Afghanistan for President Vladimir V. Putin, said in a radio interview Monday. “We saw that this force would play a leading role in Afghanistan’s future, if not take power entirely.”
Underscoring Russia’s growing sway in Afghanistan, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken called his Russian counterpart, Sergey V. Lavrov, on Monday to discuss the evacuation of Americans from Kabul, the Russian Foreign Ministry said. Mr. Lavrov, his ministry said, described to Mr. Blinken Russia’s contacts “with representatives of all the main political forces in Afghanistan in the interest of helping to foster stability and rule of law.”
At Russia’s most recent round of talks with the Taliban in Moscow, in July, the group pledged that their military gains would not be a threat to Russia or its interests. Still, Mr. Kabulov said that Russia would not cease considering the Taliban a terrorist organization until all members of the U.N. Security Council, which includes the United States, agreed.
“All members of the Security Council must first make sure that the new government is ready to behave, as we say, in a civilized manner,” Mr. Kabulov said.
There was a hint of schadenfreude to be heard in Moscow, as Russian officials said they were stunned by how quickly Afghanistan’s security forces, trained by the United States and its allies, fell. They pointed out that the pro-American government in Afghanistan collapsed far more quickly than did the one the Soviet Union installed during its own failed war in the 1980s. The Soviet-backed government in Kabul lasted until 1992, three years after the Soviet military had left.
“That was an organized withdrawal” in 1989, Vladimir Dzhabarov, deputy head of the Foreign Affairs committee of Russia’s upper house of Parliament, told the state-run television network RT. “Whereas the Americans leave, and they haven’t even exited Afghan territory before the army they claimed to have prepared turned out to be totally demoralized.”
The fall of Kabul leaves the Biden administration facing the once-unthinkable prospect of whether, and how, to engage with a Taliban-led government in Afghanistan’s capital — or cede all influence in the country to an extremist group that brutalized Afghans and harbored Osama bin Laden as he planned attacks on America.
The sudden exile of President Ashraf Ghani of Afghanistan on Sunday, just hours after President Biden and Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken each assured him of full American support, gives the Taliban little incentive to negotiate a transitional government for a country in crisis, said two U.S. officials involved in discussions inside the administration.
The officials said Mr. Ghani had fled his country without telling his cabinet or leaving plans for a government handover. That has all but ensured the Taliban’s ascent to power — one that the Biden administration can only hope will be carried out as peacefully as possible.
It also most likely extinguishes a long-stalled American effort for peace talks toward establishing a power-sharing system between the Taliban and Afghanistan’s elected leaders, and leaves U.S. officials hoping that a group that has defied nearly all pleas for moderation in recent months will protect some semblance of women’s and political rights and honor a pledge not to harbor Qaeda terrorists.
Mr. Blinken said the United States would support talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban “about the way forward.”
It was his first day as the Taliban-appointed mayor of Kunduz, and Gul Mohammad Elias was on a charm offensive.
Last Sunday, the insurgents seized control of the city in northern Afghanistan, which was in shambles after weeks of fighting. Power lines were down. The water supply, powered by generators, did not reach most residents. Trash and rubble littered the streets.
The civil servants who could fix those problems were hiding at home, terrified of the Taliban. So the insurgent-commander-turned-mayor summoned some to his new office, to persuade them to return to work.
But day by day, as municipal offices stayed mostly empty, Mr. Elias grew more frustrated — and his rhetoric grew harsher.
Taliban fighters began going door to door, searching for absentee city workers. Hundreds of armed men set up checkpoints across the city. At the entrance to the regional hospital, a new notice appeared on the wall: Employees must return to work or face punishment from the Taliban.
The experience of those in Kunduz offers a glimpse of how the Taliban may govern, and what may be in store for the rest of the country.
In just days, the insurgents, frustrated by their failed efforts to cajole civil servants back to work, began instilling terror, according to residents reached by telephone.
“I am afraid, because I do not know what will happen and what they will do,” said one, who asked not to be identified for fear of retaliation. “We have to smile at them because we are scared, but deeply we are unhappy.”
Nearly every shop in Kunduz was closed. Shopkeepers, fearing that their stores would be looted by Taliban fighters, had taken their goods home. Each afternoon, the streets emptied of residents, who feared airstrikes as government planes buzzed in the sky. And about 500 Taliban fighters were stationed around the city, staffing checkpoints on nearly every street corner.
At the regional hospital, armed Taliban members were keeping track of attendance. Out of fear, one health worker said, female staff members wore sky-blue burqas as they assisted in surgeries and tended to wounds from airstrikes, which still splintered the city each afternoon.
While Afghanistan’s future seems more and more uncertain, one thing is becoming exceedingly clear: The United States’ 20-year endeavor to rebuild Afghanistan’s military into a robust and independent fighting force has failed, and that failure is playing out in real time as the country slips into Taliban control.
The Afghan military’s disintegration first became apparent months ago, in an accumulation of losses that started even before President Biden’s announcement that the United States would withdraw by Sept. 11.
It began with outposts in rural areas where hungry and ammunition-depleted soldiers and police units were surrounded by Taliban fighters and promised safe passage if they surrendered and left behind their equipment. That gave the insurgents more and more control of roads, and then entire districts.
As positions collapsed, the complaint was almost always the same: There was no air support, or they had run out of supplies and food.
Even before that, the systemic weaknesses of the Afghan security forces were apparent.
And when the Taliban started building momentum after the United States’ announcement of its withdrawal, it only increased the belief that the security forces — fighting for President Ashraf Ghani’s government — weren’t worth dying for. In interview after interview, soldiers and police officers described moments of despair and feelings of abandonment.
In a chaotic retreat from the northern Afghan city of Mazar-i-Sharif in recent days, pro-government soldiers streamed onto the Friendship Bridge, seeking safety on the other bank in neighboring Uzbekistan.
The scene echoed an iconic moment from 32 years ago in the failed Soviet war in Afghanistan, when it was the final exit route out of the country for the defeated Soviet Army.
Then, red flags fixed to the armored vehicles flapped in a winter wind as the departing Soviet troops drove and marched across the bridge on Feb. 15, 1989. That movement was meant to signal an organized, dignified exit after a decade of occupation and defeats.
The Biden administration had made a point of avoiding a similar ceremonial scene for the U.S. Army in Afghanistan, a notion hardly imaginable now given the rapid collapse of the U.S.-backed government on Sunday.
And the retreat on Thursday over the Friendship Bridge of soldiers loyal to the American-backed Afghan government, which collapsed just three days later, was chaotic.
The Pentagon said Monday that at this time there were no flights coming or going, military or civilian, into Hamid Karzai International Airport.
John F. Kirby, the chief Pentagon spokesman, said that a security breach on the civilian side of the airport led the American Marines there — 2,500 as of Monday morning — to shut down flights until troops have secured the airport.
He said that by Tuesday morning the military expects around 3,000 Marines would be on the ground at the airport to aid the evacuation effort. Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III is sending an additional 1,000 troops from the 82nd Airborne to Kabul, instead of to Kuwait, to help secure the area.
Altogether by later this week there will be 6,000 American troops conducting security at the airport and helping the evacuation.
Mr. Kirby also said that there was a preliminary report that one American soldier had been injured.
“All the images coming out are of concern and troubling,” Mr. Kirby said, in reference to a video of an American transport plane taking off from Kabul’s airport with desperate Afghans hanging onto the wings. Those people were later seen falling from the airborne plane.
He said that all Americans and Afghan allies should continue to “shelter in place until security can be re-established at the airport.”
He said that the Turkish troops at the airport were helping the Marines to secure it.