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Crowds have been filmed flocking to planes in Afghanistan as the Taliban declared “the war is over”.
Taliban insurgents entered the capital Kabul on Sunday as President Ashraf Ghani fled Afghanistan saying he wanted to avoid bloodshed, bringing the Islamist militants close to taking over the country two decades after they were overthrown by a US-led invasion.
In video captured on social media, thousands were seen fleeing the country on planes. Commercial flights were also suspended after gunfire erupted at the airport.
People were seen crowding the tarmac, desperately trying to leave Kabul.
Czech Republic Prime Minister Andrej Babis confirmed an evacuation flight was headed for Prague. The flight has 46 Czech and local embassy workers and their families on board.
A flight also flew Indian citizens to New Delhi. The British military also arrived in Kabul to help bring people back to the UK.
It came after Mr Ghani said in a statement he had no choice but to flee the country so he could “prevent this bloodshed”.
"I was faced with a difficult choice today: wait to face armed Taliban entering the Presidential Palace or exit the country," he said in a statement.
The Taliban did take the palace. Photos show the militant group, armed with rifles, seated inside.
— Ahmer Khan (@ahmermkhan) August 16, 2021
Kabul gripped by panic as ‘the war is over’
Kabul was gripped by panic, with helicopters racing overhead throughout the day to evacuate personnel from the US embassy.
Smoke rose near the compound as staff destroyed important documents. Several other Western missions also prepared to pull their people out.
Afghans fearing that the Taliban could reimpose the kind of brutal rule that all but eliminated women's rights rushed to leave the country. The desperately poor – who had left homes in the countryside for the presumed safety of the capital – remained in parks and open spaces throughout the city.
As night fell, Taliban fighters were deployed across Kabul, taking over abandoned police posts and pledging to maintain law and order during the transition.
Residents reported looting in parts of the city, including in the upscale diplomatic district, and messages circulating on social media advised people to stay inside and lock their gates.
The Taliban have seized nearly all of Afghanistan in just over a week, despite the billions of dollars spent by the US and NATO over nearly two decades to build up Afghan security forces.
The fall of Kabul marks the final chapter of America's longest war, which began after the September 11, 2001, terror attacks masterminded by al-Qaida's Osama bin Laden, then harboured by the Taliban government.
Taliban set to establish Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan
Mohammad Naeem, spokesman for the Taliban's political office, told Al-Jazeera Mubasher TV on Sunday that the war is over in Afghanistan and that the type of rule and the form of regime will be clear soon.
It is anticipated it will be called the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, which was the name of the country under Taliban rule before the militants were ousted by US-led forces after the 9/11 attacks.
Mr Naeem said that no diplomatic body or any of its headquarters was targeted, saying that the group assures everyone it will provide safety for citizens and diplomatic missions.
"We are ready to have a dialogue with all Afghan figures and will guarantee them the necessary protection," he said. He said the group takes every step responsibly and is keen on having peace with everyone.
He said the group today is seeing the fruits of its efforts and sacrifices for 20 years. "We have reached what we were seeking, which is the freedom of our country and the independence of our people."
"We will not allow anyone to use our lands to target anyone, and we do not want to harm others," Mr Naeem said.
"We do not think that foreign forces will repeat their failed experience in Afghanistan once again.”
‘US and NATO did almost everything wrong’
Former United Nations Deputy Special Forces Representative for Afghanistan Peter Galbraith said the Taliban forces were “significantly smaller” than the government’s.
Mr Galbraith added the US and NATO did “almost everything wrong” but put the blame squarely on the Afghan government which he called “corrupt and ineffective” in conducting a counterinsurgency. He added police and other areas of the military had not been paid for months, not given food or ammunition, and chose to flee instead of die against Taliban forces.
“The military commanders knew full well that they didn't have a local partner, but they persuaded themselves that they did and they persuaded the political leadership in the United States and in the NATO countries that they did, and that this strategy was working when in fact it wasn't working,” he said.
"Certainly, it is a colossal failure and it is a humiliation. It's a complete failure of a military, political strategy of 20 years duration — but that doesn't mean that it's going to affect in a significant way America's standing in the world. The same predictions were made about south Vietnam: if we abandon south Vietnam, nobody will rely on us and we won't be a superpower anymore."
Afghanistan's acting defence minister, Bismillah Khan Mohammadi, didn't hold back his criticism of the fleeing president.
"They tied our hands from behind and sold the country," he wrote on Twitter.
"Curse Ghani and his gang."
with AAP and Reuters