As Taliban fighters retook the Afghan capital of Kabul in a lightning offensive earlier this month, insurgents offered to allow the US to hold the city — and senior leaders turned it down, according to a new report.
On Aug. 15, Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani fled the country as Taliban forces made their way into the capital city. When reports of gangs moving onto the streets emerged, senior US military leaders in Doha, Qatar, and Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban’s political leader, arranged an in-person meeting, according to the Washington Post, which cited a US official.
At the meeting, Baradar reportedly said, “We have a problem. We have two options to deal with it: You [the United States military] take responsibility for securing Kabul or you have to allow us to do it.”
Marine Gen. Kenneth “Frank” McKenzie, head of US Central Command, was reportedly a part of the meeting and told Baradar that the US’ mission was to evacuate American citizens, Afghan allies and all others at risk. The Biden administration’s plan to withdraw US troops by Aug. 31 was still to move forward. By Sunday evening, the Taliban had taken control of Kabul.
According to the report, an understanding came about that the Taliban would control the city and the US would have control of the airport through the withdrawal deadline. The Taliban have said they will consider that date a “red line,” and that there will be “consequences” if the withdrawal goes past the end of August.
Insurgents reportedly weren’t planning on taking Kabul that day, and were surprised to see the lack of soldiers and police in the city.
Muhammad Nasir Haqqani, a Taliban commander, allegedly received a message on his phone saying that “government has left all of their ministries; you have to enter the city to prevent further disorder and protect public property and services from chaos.”
Haqqani and his forces then entered the city gates and reached the palace by late afternoon.
“We couldn’t control our emotions, we were so happy,” he said. “Most of our fighters were crying. We never thought we would take Kabul so quickly.”
Since the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan, the US has been scrambling to evacuate as many Americans and Afghan allies as possible before Tuesday.
US troops have evacuated approximately 116,700 people since Aug. 14, including 1,200 within the 24 hours ending Monday morning. Five thousand five hundred American citizens have been evacuated so far and Biden administration officials believe around 300 remain in the country.
The evacuation efforts were briefly paused Thursday when a suicide bomb attack occurred near the Kabul airport, killing 13 US military personnel and nearly 200 Afghans. Evacuation flights resumed Friday morning.
ISIS-K, the group also known as the Islamic State Khorasan, took credit for the deadly bombing. In retaliation, the US launched an airstrike Saturday on individuals allegedly involved in the attack, allegedly killing two people with ties to the Islamic State and injuring another.
The same day, President Biden warned that another attack could be imminent — within the next 24 to 48 hours.