Former Afghan President Says He Had No Choice Except To Flee Kabul
Afghanistan’s former president claims that he had no choice other than to abruptly leave Kabul as the Taliban closed in and denied an agreement was possible for a peaceful takeover, disputing the accounts of former Afghan and U.S. officials.
Former President Ashraf Ghani said Thursday that an adviser gave him only minutes to decide whether to abandon the capital city. He also denied accusations that he left Afghanistan with millions in stolen money.
Ghani’s sudden and secret departure on Aug. 15 left the city without leadership as U.S. and NATO forces were in the final stages of their chaotic withdrawal from the country after 20 years.
“On the morning of that day, I had no inkling that by late afternoon I would be leaving,” Ghani said.
Ghani’s statement is in conflict with many other statements.
Former President Hamid Karzai said in an interview earlier this month that Ghani’s departure hastened the chance for government negotiators, including himself and peace council chairman Abdullah Abdullah, to reach an 11th-hour agreement with the Taliban, who had vowed to stay outside the capital.
After calling the government defense minister Bismillah Khan, the interior minister, and police chief and learning all had fled the capital, Karzai said he invited the Taliban into Kabul “ to protect the population so that the country, the city doesn’t fall into chaos and the unwanted elements who would probably loot the country, loot shops.”
But Ghani said he fled “to prevent the destruction of Kabul,” claiming two rival Taliban factions were closing in on the city and were prepared to enter and wage a bitter battle for control. There was no evidence upon the Taliban entry of the rival factions Ghani had referred to.
The insurgent force swiftly took control of the palace and according to humanitarian aid workers, who wished to remain anonymous and who were there at the time, the Taliban moved to protect their compounds.
Regardless, the Taliban’s entry into the capital was met with widespread terror and the desire for many to flee their impoverished homeland despite billions in international money over the 20 years the U.S.-backed governments had been in power.
Ghani denied widespread accusations that he left Afghanistan with a cache of stolen money. The U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction John Sopko has been charged with investigating those allegations.
Successive Afghan governments, as well as independent foreign and Afghan contractors, have been accused of widespread corruption over the last 20 years with dozens of reports by Sopko documenting the most grievous incidents of misconduct. Washington has spent $146 billion on reconstruction in Afghanistan since the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001, yet even before the insurgents returned in August, the poverty level in Afghanistan was at 54 percent.
Earlier this week Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, an investigative reporting organization with 150 journalists in more than 30 countries, listed Ghani among the world’s most unscrupulous leaders. Belarus President Aleksandr Lukashenko was named the most corrupt with Ghani, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and former Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz among the finalists for the title of most corrupt.
After being told by his national security adviser Hamdullah Mohib that his personal protection force was not capable of defending him, Ghani said, he decided to leave. Saying Mohib, who “was literally terrified,” gave him just two minutes to decide whether to leave, Ghani claimed he was not sure where he would be taken even after he was on the helicopter preparing to evacuate Kabul.
Ghani did not address the rapid and swift collapse of the Afghan military in the weeks leading up to the Taliban’s final arrival in Kabul but he did blame an agreement the U.S. signed with the Taliban in 2020 for the ultimate collapse of his government. That agreement laid out conditions for the final withdrawal of the remaining U.S. and NATO forces ending America’s longest war. ‘It also provided for the release of 5,000 Taliban prisoners, which Ghani said strengthened the insurgent force.