Taliban return to power in Afghanistan, say real test begins now

One of the Taliban's most senior officials on Sunday declared that the movement's swift victory over the Afghan government was an unrivaled feat but the real test of governing effectively would begin now that it had won power.

Taliban fighters take control of the Afghan presidential palace after President Ashraf Ghani fled the country, in Kabul, Afghanistan, August 15, 2021. /CFP

In a brief video statement, Abdul Ghani Baradar, the head of the Taliban's political bureau, said the victory, which saw all of the country's major cities fall in a week, was unexpectedly swift and had no match in the world.

However, he said the real test would begin now with meeting the expectations of the people and serving them by resolving their problems.

The Taliban returned to power in Kabul on Monday after a military advance across Afghanistan as U.S-led forces departed and Western nations stepped up efforts to evacuate their embassy staffs and other citizens from the capital.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled the country on Sunday as Taliban fighters closed in on the capital, saying he wanted to avoid bloodshed.

A Taliban spokesman said the war is over and the Afghan people will soon learn what form the new government will take.

Taliban: No danger to embassies, foreign nationals

Muhammad Naeem, a spokesman for the Taliban's political office in Qatar's capital Doha, stressed on Sunday evening that there is no danger to embassies, diplomatic missions and foreign nationals in Kabul, pledging that the Taliban will maintain security across the country.

"We assure all embassies, diplomatic missions, institutions and residences of foreign nationals in Kabul that there is no danger to them," Naeem said on his Twitter account.

He stressed that the forces of the Taliban movement are tasked with maintaining security in Kabul and other cities in the country.

The Taliban on Sunday announced taking control of the presidential palace in Kabul, and will announce the establishment of the "Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan" soon, according to media reports.

Naeem told Al Jazeera TV that the war was over in Afghanistan and called for peaceful relations with the international community.

The Taliban did not want to live in isolation and the type of rule and the form of government would be clear soon, he said. The group respected women's and minorities' rights and freedom of expression within the Sharia law, he added.

The Taliban were seeing the fruits of their efforts and sacrifices for 20 years, he said, and would adopt a policy of non-interference in others' affairs in return for non-interference in Afghanistan.

"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."

People rush to their homes after Taliban entered Kabul, Afghanistan, August 15, 2021. /CFP

Ghani: Taliban have won

President Ghani said Sunday after fleeing Afghanistan that the Taliban have won. He left Kabul as Taliban fighters closed in and entered the capital, sealing a nationwide military victory in just 10 days.

"The Taliban have won with the judgement of their swords and guns, and are now responsible for the honor, property and self-preservation of their countrymen," Ghani said in a statement posted to Facebook, his first since fleeing.

"They are now facing a new historical test. Either they will preserve the name and honor of Afghanistan or they will give priority to other places and networks," he added, saying he left to prevent a "flood of bloodshed."

Ghani did not say where he had traveled to, but leading Afghan media group Tolo news suggested he had gone to Tajikistan.

US President Joe Biden on Sunday authorized the deployment of another 1,000 American troops to Kabul to aid the ongoing effort to evacuate thousands of US and Afghan civilians, a Pentagon official said.

In all, 6,000 US soldiers will be in Kabul "in the coming days," the official said on condition of anonymity, as those seeking safe passage out of Afghanistan converged on the airport.

US President Joe Biden is seen during a meeting on the ongoing security situation in Kabul, Afghanistan, August 16, 2021. /Reuters via CGTN

The United States lowered the flag on its embassy in Kabul and has relocated all staff to the airport, where US forces are taking over air traffic control, officials said Sunday.

"We are completing a series of steps to secure the Hamid Karzai International Airport to enable the safe departure of US and allied personnel from Afghanistan via civilian and military flights," the Pentagon and State Department said in a joint statement.

The State Department said late Sunday that all American embassy personnel in Kabul had been safely evacuated and were at the airport.

State Department spokesman Ned Price in a statement added that the airport's "perimeter is secured by the US military."

"The American flag has been lowered from the US embassy compound and is now securely located with embassy staff," the spokesperson said earlier.

The shuttering of the US embassy comes nearly 20 years after US forces toppled the Taliban-led government in late 2001.

China's special envoy for Afghan affairs, Yue Xiaoyong, said on Friday that the US bears an "inescapable responsibility" for the escalated conflict in Afghanistan, criticizing the "hasty and irresponsible" withdrawal of US troops.

Yue said the current situation in Afghanistan is a military, political and reputational "fiasco" for the United States.

The United Nations Security Council will hold an emergency meeting on Afghanistan at 2 p.m. on Monday.

(With input from agencies)