Afghanistan's embattled President Ashraf Ghani fled the country Sunday as the Taliban moved further into Kabul, officials said. His countrymen and foreigners alike raced for the exit, signalling the end of a 20-year Western experiment aimed at remaking Afghanistan.
Ghani flew out of the country, two officials told The Associated Press, speaking on condition of anonymity as they weren't authorized to brief journalists. Abdullah Abdullah, the head of the Afghan National Reconciliation Council, later confirmed Ghani had left in an online video.
“He left Afghanistan in a hard time, God hold him accountable,” Abdullah said.
Civilians fearing that the Taliban could reimpose the kind of brutal rule that all but eliminated women's rights rushed to leave the country, lining up at cash machines to withdraw their life savings.
Helicopters buzzed overhead to evacuate personnel from the U.S. Embassy, while smoke rose near the compound as staff destroyed important documents. Several other Western missions also prepared to pull their people out.
In a stunning rout, the Taliban seized nearly all of Afghanistan in just over a week, despite the billions of dollars spent by the U.S. and NATO over nearly two decades to build up Afghan security forces. Just days earlier, an American military assessment estimated it would be a month before the capital would come under insurgent pressure.
Instead, the Taliban swiftly defeated, co-opted or sent Afghan security forces fleeing from wide swaths of the country, even though they had some air support from the U.S. military.