WASHINGTON – Taliban fighters marched into Afghanistan’s capital city on Sunday, signaling a collapse of the Afghan government two decades after the U.S. invaded the country in the “war on terrorism.”
The swift fall of the capital city came as the Taliban seized nearly all of Afghanistan, despite the billions of dollars spent by the U.S. and NATO to build up Afghan security forces.
Helicopters evacuating U.S. and allied personnel swarmed over Kabul Sunday evening. The U.S. Embassy reported that the airport was under fire and encouraged remaining U.S. citizens to shelter in place.
“The security situation in Kabul is changing quickly,” the U.S. Embassy notice said. “There are reports of the airport taking fire; therefore we are instructing U.S. citizens to shelter in place.”
Chaotic images of panicked crowds and triumphant Taliban fighters throughout Kabul cemented a picture of government collapse and American retreat.
Kabul’s collapse had been expected, but the speed in which it happened stunned U.S. officials. Just last week, an American military assessment estimated it would be a month before the capital would come under insurgent pressure.
Here’s what we know:
Taliban enters Kabul
Taliban fighters marched into the Afghan capital on Sunday and sought the unconditional surrender of the central government. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled the country as the Taliban said it would move further into Kabul.
Taliban negotiators were in Kabul to discuss the transfer of power, said an Afghan official who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals. It remained unclear when that transfer would take place and who among the Taliban was negotiating.
The Al-Jazeera network broadcast footage of Taliban fighters inside the presidential palace, sitting behind a desk that the network presumed was Ghani’s and placing their guns on it.
On Sunday evening, a joint statement from the State and Defense departments said the U.S. is working to secure Kabul’s airport to allow for departures, and would take over air traffic control with added troops on the ground.
“Tomorrow and over the coming days, we will be transferring out of the country thousands of American citizens who have been resident in Afghanistan, as well as locally employed staff of the U.S. mission in Kabul and their families and other particularly vulnerable Afghan nationals. And we will accelerate the evacuation of thousands of Afghans eligible for U.S. Special Immigrant Visas, nearly 2,000 of whom have already arrived in the United States over the past two weeks,” the statement said.