Afghan President Ashraf Ghani promised this Saturday (14) to remobilize the Armed Forces, while the Taliban advances and approaches the capital Kabul, where residents do not hide their anguish for the future.
“Remobilizing our security and defense forces is our number one priority and serious steps are being taken to that end,” Ghani said in a speech to the Nation.
He did not, however, allude to a possible resignation, demanded by some, but specified that he had initiated “consultations” within the government, with political leaders and international partners, to find “a political solution in which peace and stability” are preserved .
“These consultations are advancing quickly and the result will be shared with our compatriots very soon”, he added.
The military situation is critical for the government. In just over a week, the Taliban took control of most of northern, western and southern Afghanistan and reached the outskirts of Kabul. The insurgents are just 50 km from the capital and show no signs of slowing down.
Violent fighting also took place this Saturday around Mazar-i-Sharif, capital of Balkh province, where the Afghan army carried out new air strikes. This commercial center is the only major city in the north of the country that the Taliban has not yet taken over.
Apart from Kabul and Mazar-i-Sharif, Jalalabad (east), Gardez and Khost (southeast) are the only other major cities still controlled by the government.
For Kabul residents and the tens of thousands of people who have fled their homes in recent weeks to seek refuge in the capital, fear prevails.
“I cry day and night when I see the Taliban forcing girls to marry their fighters,” 35-year-old Muzhda, a single woman who arrived in the capital with her two sisters after leaving Parwan province, told AFP.
“I’ve turned down marriage proposals in the past (…) If the Taliban come and force me to marry them, I’m going to kill myself,” he warns.
– Helicopter Ballet –
Dawood Hotak, 28, a merchant from Kabul, is also “concerned about the future” of his younger sisters and doesn’t know “what will happen to them.”
“If the situation gets really bad, we’re going to leave Afghanistan again, as we did in the early 1990s,” he says.
The capital’s streets are still busy, but long lines are forming outside the banks, and some men have told AFP they have started growing a beard in anticipation of the Taliban’s imminent arrival in the city.
Many Afghans – women in particular -, accustomed to the freedom they have enjoyed over the past 20 years, fear a return to Taliban power.
When it ruled the country between 1996 and 2001, before being ousted from power by an international coalition led by the United States, the Taliban imposed its ultra-strict version of Islamic law.
Women were prohibited from going out without a male companion and from working, and girls from going to school. Women accused of crimes such as adultery were flogged and stoned to death.
“It is particularly horrible and painful to see the hard-won rights of Afghan girls and women being taken away from them,” UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said on Friday.
On Saturday, a helicopter ballet flew in the sky over Kabul, between the airport and the US embassy, a gigantic complex located in the “green zone” in the center of the capital.
A first contingent of US Marines has arrived in the capital, where their role will be to ensure the evacuation of diplomatic personnel as well as Afghans who worked for the United States and who fear Taliban retaliation.
The United States intends to evacuate “thousands of people a day” and for this purpose the Pentagon will deploy 3,000 soldiers at the capital’s airport before the weekend, its spokesman, John Kirby, said on Friday.
– There is no “imminent threat” –
The US embassy in Kabul ordered its team to destroy confidential documents and American symbols that could be used by the Taliban “for propaganda purposes”.
London announced the redistribution of 600 soldiers to help the British depart.
Several countries – the Netherlands, Finland, Sweden, Italy and Spain – also announced on Friday the reduction of their presence in the country to a minimum, as well as repatriation programs for their Afghan employees.
Germany will also reduce its diplomatic staff “to the absolute minimum”.
Others, including Norway and Denmark, preferred to temporarily close their embassies.
Switzerland, which has no embassy in the country, has announced the repatriation of some Swiss officials and about forty local officials. And Italy said today that it is ready to withdraw its diplomats and citizens from Kabul.
The Taliban launched its offensive in May, when US President Joe Biden confirmed the withdrawal of the country’s last foreign troops, 20 years after his intervention to drive insurgents from power.
This withdrawal must be completed by August 31st. Biden said he does not regret his decision, although the speed with which the Afghan army disintegrated has surprised and disappointed Americans, who spent more than $1 billion to train and equip it.
Even so, the United States assured on Friday that Kabul does not face an “imminent threat” and that the Taliban’s takeover was not, in its eyes, an inevitable result.
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