Afghanistan news – live: Taliban enter Kabul as government prepares for ‘peaceful transition of power’


© AFP via Getty Images Kabul.jpg

Taliban fighters have officially entered Kabul, with negotiators for the militant group now thought to be in the presidential palace preparing for a “peaceful transfer of power”.

Afghanistan’s president Ashraf Ghani is reportedly in the process of relinquishing power before an interim government, led by the Taliban, is formed, an official told the AP news agency.

It comes as Taliban militants released a statement on Sunday to say they did not have any plans to take the Afghan capital by force. “No one’s life, property and dignity will be harmed and the lives of the citizens of Kabul will not be at risk,” Suhail Shaheen, a Taliban spokesman, said.

Meanwhile, arrangements are said to be in the making for Sir Laurie Bristow, the British ambassador to Afghanistan, to be airlifted out of the country by Monday evening. The diplomat had been rumoured to stay put in Kabul International Airport but, according to a report in The Sunday Telegraph, officials decided Sir Laurie should return to the UK.

Key points

  • Taliban head to presidential palace for ‘peaceful transfer of power’
  • British ambassador ‘to be airlifted out of Afghanistan’…
  • …as militants enter Kabul
  • Militants ‘will respect rights of women,’ says Taliban spokesman
  • Parliament to be recalled as Tories criticise government silence
  • UK cannot prevent Taliban regime, warns defence secretary

Taliban spokesman unable to confirm if harsh punishments will be exercised

12:18 , Sam HancockThe Taliban’s Suhail Shaheen said it was “up to the courts” to decide if policies around punishments such as executions, stonings and amputations would be allowed under this Taliban regime.

Asked when the transition of power would happen, he added militants wanted it “as soon as possible”.

Taliban ‘will respect rights of women,’ says spokesman

12:11 , Sam HancockA Taliban spokesman has said the militant group “will respect rights of women” when it takes control of Afghanistan.

Speaking to BBC News right now, Suhail Shaheen said: “We will respect rights of women…our policy is that women will have access to education and work, to wear the hijab.”

He restated the Taliban’s position that “no one should leave the country … we need all the talents and capacity, we need all of us to stay in the country and participate”.

It comes after reports yesterday that women were sent home from their jobs in fallen provinces, and told to leave universities in some instances.

Asked what the current situation is, Shaheen added: “We are awaiting a peaceful transition of power…we seek inclusive Afghan government where all Afghans will have participation.”

Ali Ahmad Jalali expected to be named Afghan interim leader

11:58 , Sam HancockA US-based academic is likely to be named the head of an interim administration in Kabul, three diplomatic sources told Reuters on Sunday.

Ali Ahmad Jalali was formerly Afghanistan’s interior minister, between 2003 and 2005.

It was not immediately clear whether the Taliban had given their final agreement to Mr Jalali’s appointment but he was seen as a potentially acceptable compromise figure to oversee the transition of power, the sources said.

Earlier, acting interior minister Abdul Sattar Mirzakwal said in a televised address that a peaceful transition would take place but no details have as yet been confirmed.

© Provided by The Independent Jalali is currently based in Washington (AFP via Getty Images)

Biden to pull all personnel from US embassy in Kabul – report

11:41 , Sam HancockCNN’s national security correspondent, Kylie Atwood, reports the following:

Tory MP repeats calls for Johnson to prevent humanitarian crisis

11:30 , Sam HancockAfghanistan faces a “catastrophic” humanitarian disaster if action is not taken to prevent the country’s collapse, the chairman of the Commons Defence Committee has warned.

Tory MP Tobias Ellwood told Times Radio: “This is completely humiliating for the West. We assembled the most incredible, technologically advanced alliance the world has ever seen and we are being defeated by an insurgency that’s armed with AK47s and RPGs.

“This will be the biggest own goal made by the West so far this century.”

He added: “The humanitarian disaster that is about to unfold will be catastrophic, the migration challenges will be huge. We will see further terrorist attacks.”

On Saturday, Mr Ellwood retweeted a post about Afghanistan by secretary of state Antony Blinken and told him to “wake up and smell the coffee”.

Taliban seize former US air base housing IS fighters

11:22 , Sam HancockForces at Bagram air base, which is home to a prison housing 5,000 inmates, have surrendered to the Taliban, an Afghan official has told the AP news agency.

Bagram district chief Darwaish Raufi said on Sunday that the surrender handed the one-time American base over to the insurgents.

The prison housed both Taliban and Islamic State group fighters and was considered an inevitable target for the militants.

© Provided by The Independent An Afghan National Army (ANA) soldier stands guard inside the Bagram air base (AFP via Getty Images)

Parliament to be recalled amid Tory criticism of government silence

11:11 , Sam HancockParliament is set to be recalled this week, amid growing criticism of the failure of Western governments to halt the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan.

MPs will be brought back from their summer holidays, with the exact timing dependent on discussions with the Commons Speaker, a Downing Street source said.

Follow our deputy political editor Rob Merrick’s breaking report:

© Provided by The IndependentParliament to be recalled amid Tory criticism of government silence on Afghanistan

Starmer uges PM to recall parliament over Afghanistan

11:07 , Sam HancockThe leader of the Labour Party has joined the ranks of MPs demanding parliament is recalled so MPs can discuss the worsening crisis in Afghanistan.

Sir Keir Starmer said in a statement:

“The situation in Afghanistan is deeply shocking and seems to be worsening by the hour. The immediate priority now must be to get all British personnel and support staff safely out of Kabul.

The Government has been silent while Afghanistan collapses, which let’s be clear will have ramifications for us here in the UK.

We need Parliament recalled so the Government can update MPs on how it plans to work with allies to avoid a humanitarian crisis and a return to the days of Afghanistan being a base for extremists whose purpose will be to threaten our interests, values and national security.”

© Provided by The Independent (Reuters TV)

Afghan president ‘relinquishing power’ – report

10:40 , Sam HancockMiddle East Eye’s Ragip Soylu reports the following:

Video: Defiant Afghan woman ‘not scared’ of Taliban

10:37 , Sam Hancock

Taliban head to presidential palace for transfer of power – report

10:36 , Sam HancockTaliban negotiators are reportedly heading to the presidential palace to prepare for a “transfer” of power, an Afghan official has told the Associated Press.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of fear of reprisals, said that the goal was a peaceful handing over of the government to the Taliban.

It comes after the Taliban reassured Afghan residents that they were not planning to take the capital by force.

Albania to shelter dozens of Afghan refugees, PM announces

10:30 , Sam HancockAlbania’s prime minister says his country will temporarily shelter hundreds of Afghans who worked with the Western peacekeeping military forces and are now threatened by the Taliban.

On his Facebook page, Edi Rama said the US government had asked Albania to serve as a “transit place for a certain number of Afghan political emigrants who have the United States as their final destination.”

“No doubt we shall not say no,” he said.

Mr Rama added that his country stands alongside the US “not only when we need them for our problems … but even when they need us, any time”.

How quickly did Taliban advance across Afghanistan?

10:20 , Sam HancockTaliban insurgents began entering Kabul on Sunday after taking control of all of Afghanistan’s major cities apart from the capital.

Reuters has constructed a timeline of some of the major milestones in the Islamist militant movement’s advance in recent months.

Take a look here:

© Provided by The IndependentTimeline: How quickly did Taliban advance across Afghanistan?

Afghanistan ‘biggest policy disaster since Suez,’ says Tory MP

10:09 , Sam HancockTory MP Tom Tugendhat has described the collapse of Afghanistan as “the biggest single policy disaster since Suez” and questioned why Dominic Raab remained silent on the issue.

The chairman of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee said the priority should be to get as many people out of Kabul as possible while there was still time.

He told BBC News that Afghans who helped the British now faced reprisals if they fell into the hands of the Taliban.

“This isn’t just about interpreters or guards. This is about those people who we trained in special forces to serve alongside us, those who helped us to understand the territory through our agencies and our diplomats,” he said. “This is the people who, on our encouragement, set up schools for girls. These people are all at risk now.

He added: “The real danger is that we are going to see every female MP murdered, we are going to see ministers strung up on street lamps.”

Mr Tugendhat said he did not know what the government was planning and called out the foreign secretary for his lack of communication. “I don’t know what is in the works because we haven’t heard from the foreign secretary in about a week despite this being the biggest single policy disaster since Suez,” he told the broadcaster.

What does the Taliban want in Afghanistan?

09:57 , Sam HancockThe Taliban have now entered Kabul, after days of a series of stunning territorial advances across the country.

It comes nearly 20 years after the US invasion of Afghanistan following the 9/11 attacks forced the Taliban out of power.

The US is now withdrawing US diplomats by helicopter, but the Taliban said on Sunday morning they are in talks with the Afghan government over a “peaceful surrender” of the capital.

But what do the insurgents actually hope to achieve? Conrad Duncan takes a closer look.

© Provided by The IndependentWhat does the Taliban want in Afghanistan?

Taliban will not ‘take revenge’ on Afghan soldiers, spokesman says

09:55 , Sam HancockA Taliban spokesman has said the militant group does not intend to “take revenge on anyone” and assures those who have served for the government and military will be “forgiven”.

“No one’s life, property and dignity will be harmed and the lives of the citizens of Kabul will not be at risk,” the insurgents said.

The spokesman also called on Afghan civilians to remain in the country, not to flee as thousands are attempting to do.

© Provided by The Independent The picture, taken on Sunday morning, shows a general view of the Kabul city (AFP via Getty Images)

Anger as Afghan students with UK university scholarships have places withdrawn

09:44 , Sam HancockAfghan students promised scholarships at UK universities have had their places withdrawn, in a decision condemned by two former Conservative cabinet ministers.

The Foreign Office says the crisis in the country means the British Embassy is no longer able to process visas for the Chevening Scholarships programme – affecting about 35 students, reports our deputy political editor Rob Merrick.

Rory Stewart, the former international development secretary, called the decision “deeply disappointing”, while David Lidington, the former de-facto deputy prime minister branded it “morally wrong”.

© Provided by The IndependentAnger as Afghan students promised scholarships at UK universities have places withdrawn

Tory MP urges Johnson to intervene in Afghanistan

09:35 , Sam HancockThe chairman of the Commons Defence Committee has urged Boris Johnson to intervene in Afghanistan, instructing the PM to deploy the Royal Navy’s HMS Queen Elizabeth carrier strike group to the region.

Tory MP Tobias Ellwood said it was still not too late to turn the situation around and called on the PM to convene an emergency conference of “like-minded nations” to see what could be done.

“I plead with the prime minister to think again. We have an ever-shrinking window of opportunity to recognise where this country is going as a failed state,” he told Times Radio. “We can turn this around but it requires political will and courage. This is our moment to step forward.”

He continued: “Just because the Americans won’t does not mean to say that we should be tied to the thinking, the political judgment – particularly when it is so wrong – of our closest security ally.

“We could prevent this, otherwise history will judge us very, very harshly in not steeping in when we could do and allowing the state to fail.”

Afghan govt responsible for Kabul’s security, say Taliban

09:32 , Sam HancockThe Taliban have issued a statement saying they have instructed their fighters to “stay at the gates of Kabul and not enter the city. Until the transition takes place , the Afghan government is responsible for the security of Kabul”.

Local journalist Bilal Sarwary shared the following statement:

Afghan soldiers seek amnesty from Taliban

09:30 , Sam HancockThousands of Afghan soldiers, fearing “violent reprisals”, are seeking amnesty from the Taliban in the large, western city of Herat.

AFP reports:

“Afghanistan’s third-biggest city fell without a fight on Thursday as government forces retreated and Herat’s famous warlord Ismail Khan was detained by the insurgents.

With fears of violent reprisals growing as the Taliban get closer to a full takeover of the country, Afghan soldiers in Herat – nearly all of them in civilian clothes – gathered Saturday to try and get a letter of amnesty.

Inside the office that once housed the Herat governor, Taliban members sat on couches – some cradling American military rifles – as they jotted down names and reviewed lists spread on a glass-top coffee table.

On stationery with the Taliban letterhead, one wrote amnesty notes – some long-term, some valid for just a few days.

One Afghan soldier at the compound told AFP that his unit was surrounded by the Taliban before the fall of the city.

Now he just wanted security.

“I have come here to get an amnesty letter to go out of the city,” said Ahmed Shahidi.

“Until I find a place where I can stay safe in the future.”

Taliban member Najeebullah Karokhi said around 3,000 people were given amnesty.

“Those who are from other provinces will be provided a three-day temporary amnesty letter so they can get to their home provinces, where they need to get another long-term amnesty letter from our officials,” he said.

In the shaded part of a courtyard on the compound, hundreds sat patiently as a man holding amnesty slips shouted names one by one for them to be collected.

The banal bureaucratic process belied the shocking speed and efficiency of the Taliban’s victories across Afghanistan.

The fear of Taliban revenge is not unfounded: the insurgents have imposed brutal punishments on opponents, and anyone who violated their harsh brand of Islamic law when they were in power from 1996 to 2001.

They have recently been accused of committing war crimes, including massacres of civilians and soldiers outside combat but the insurgents deny committing such atrocities.”

Taliban has ‘no plans to take Kabul by force’

09:17 , Sam HancockThe Taliban has said it does not plan to take Kabul, the Afghan capital, “by force”, according to militants.

They issued the statement on Sunday amid reports they had officially entered the outskirts of Kabul.

Panicked workers reportedly fled government offices and helicopters began landing at the US embassy.

Taliban enter outskirts of Kabul

09:00 , Sam HancockThe Taliban have entered the outskirts of Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul, three officials have told Associated Press.

Speaking on the condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorised to release the information, the officials said there hadn’t been any fighting yet.

The Taliban fighters were in the districts of Kalakan, Qarabagh and Paghman, AP reports, as military helicopters reportedly buzzed overhead and government offices began sending workers home.

The BBC’s Yalda Hakim gave the following update:

Stewart calls out Biden for distancing himself from Afghanistan

08:47 , Sam HancockRory Stewart, the UK’s former international development secretary, has criticised Joe Biden’s handling of Afghanistan – again.

He described Afghanistan as a place the US presidents has “just broken through reckless and precipitate withdrawal”.

On Friday, Mr Stewart described the Taliban advance as “our fault” and told CNN that the county’s collapse was a “shameful” humanitarian catastrophe.

Militants take largest city in southeast Afghanistan

08:37 , Sam HancockTaliban militants have seized the provincial capital of Khost, the largest city in Afghanistan’s southeast.

At just 93 miles from capital city Kabul, Khost’s seizure shows the insurgents are showing no sign of slowing down.

The latest gain was revealed by Afghan officials and the Taliban itself.

08:27 , Sam HancockNBC’s Richard Engel and The New York Times’ Sharif Hassan report the following:

Taliban seize last major city outside of Kabul

08:25 , Sam HancockInsurgents have taken the last major city outside of Afghanistan’s capital held by the country’s central government, cutting off the capital to the east.The collapse of Jalalabad, near a major border crossing with Pakistan, leaves Afghanistan’s central government in control of just Kabul and six other provincial capitals out of the country’s 34.

In a nationwide offensive that has taken just over a week, the Taliban has defeated, co-opted or sent Afghan security forces fleeing from wide swathes of the country.

As a result, rapid shuttle-run flights were seen operating near the US embassy. Wisps of smoke could be seen near the embassy’s roof, two American military officials told Associated Press.The Czech Republic also approved a plan to begin withdrawing their Afghan staff from their embassy after earlier taking their diplomats to Kabul International Airport, the news agency reports.

Taliban ‘now hold all of Afghanistan’s border crossings’

08:19 , Sam HancockOfficials say the Taliban now hold all of Afghanistan’s border crossings, leaving Kabul airport as the only route out of the country, according to Associated Press.

Pakistan’s interior minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed announced on Sunday that the insurgents had taken the Torkham border crossing. He told local broadcaster Geo TV that Pakistan halted cross-border traffic there because of it.Torkham represented the last post still under government control, he added.

© Provided by The Independent Kabul airport is thought to be the only remaining route out (AFP via Getty Images)

Former Afghan president helps with Taliban negotiations

08:13 , Sam HancockFormer Afghan president Hamid Karzai has tweeted that he met Abdullah Abdullah, head of the Afghan reconciliation committee, on Sunday to decide who should be sent to negotiate with the Taliban.

Biden authorises 5,000 troops to Afghanistan for ‘orderly drawdown’

08:10 , Sam HancockUS president Joe Biden has authorised the deployment of around 5,000 US troops to Afghanistan to ensure an “orderly and safe drawdown”.

The White House made the announcement on Saturday soon after it was announced that insurgents had captured Mazar-e-Sharif, the Afghan government’s last northern stronghold as city after city has toppled, writes Louise Boyle from New York.

Mr Biden said that he had ordered US military and intelligence forces “to ensure that we will maintain the capability and the vigilance to address future terrorist threats from Afghanistan”.

© Provided by The IndependentBiden authorizes 5,000 troops to Afghanistan for ‘orderly and safe drawdown’

British ambassador to be airlifted out of Kabul

08:07 , Sam HancockSir Laurie Bristow, the British ambassador to Afghanistan, is to be flown home by Monday evening, according to reports first published in The Sunday Telegraph.

The Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office (FCDO) had intended for Sir Laurie and a small team of officials to remain at the airport with other international diplomats.

But the newspaper reports that their departure was brought forward amid fears the airport could be overrun as the Taliban continue their lightning advance through the country.

With signs time is rapidly running out, a RAF Hercules was reported to have flown out of the airport on Saturday carrying diplomats and civilians.

The growing chaos – with the signs the government of President Ashraf Ghani is close to collapse – was met with anger and frustration among MPs and British military veterans who served in the country.

© Provided by The Independent Sir Laurie Bristow was appointed the UK’s ambassador to Afghanistan in June (Wikimedia Commons)

UK cannot prevent Taliban regime, warns Wallace

07:57 , Sam HancockBen Wallace has said it is “arrogant” to think the UK can unilaterally prevent Afghanistan from falling back into the grip of the Talib

Writing in The Sunday Telegraph, Mr Wallace rejected claims that the UK’s departure from Kabul represented “a failure of leadership and a betrayal of Afghanistan”.

He said that when the US announced its plan he had tried, without success, to find other allies who would take their place and without them, the UK could not “go it alone”.

“A unilateral force would very quickly be viewed as an occupying force and, no matter how powerful the country that sends it, history shows us what happens to them in Afghanistan,” he said.

“It would be arrogant to think we could solve Afghanistan unilaterally. The solution can only come if the force is multinational and the nations involved bring to bear all the tools of nation building – hard power, soft power, foreign aid, and political alliances.

“And from the outset we need to be realistic that you have to manage these types of problems for decades, not fix them overnight.”

He said the position had been made more difficult by a deal which “wrongly suggested to the Taliban that they had won”.

07:45 , Sam HancockGood morning, and welcome to The Independent’s rolling coverage of the situation in Afghanistan. Stay tuned for the latest updates.