Afghanistan's beleaguered president left the country on Sunday, joining tens of thousands of Afghans and foreigners fleeing the Taliban's advance and signaling the end of a 20-year Western experiment aimed at remaking the country.

The Taliban spread across the capital, and a Taliban official claimed that the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan would be announced soon from the presidential palace in Kabul.

According to an interior ministry official, Taliban insurgents entered Kabul, Afghanistan's capital, as the US embassy's diplomats were evacuated by helicopter.

According to the senior official, the Taliban were approaching "from all sides," according to the senior official, who did not elaborate.

The fire was heard at several locations around Kabul, according to a tweet from the Afghan Presidential palace account, but security forces, working with international partners, had control of the city.

Afghans rushed to leave the country, lining up at cash machines to withdraw their life savings, fearful that the Taliban would reimpose the kind of brutal rule that had all but eliminated women's rights.

The desperate poor remained in parks and open spaces throughout the city, having "left their homes in the countryside for the presumed safety of the capital."

Despite the Taliban's promises of a peaceful transition, the US Embassy suspended operations and advised Americans to shelter in place rather than try to get to the airport late in the day.

According to two senior US military officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss ongoing operations, commercial flights were halted after sporadic gunfire erupted at the airport.

Military evacuations continued, but the halt in commercial traffic cut off one of the last options for Afghans fleeing the country.

Despite this, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken dismissed comparisons to the US withdrawal from Vietnam, as many people stared in awe as helicopters landed in the embassy compound to transport diplomats to a new outpost at Kabul International Airport.

Abdullah Abdullah, the head of the Afghan National Reconciliation Council, said, "The former president of Afghanistan left Afghanistan, leaving the country in this difficult situation." “God has the right to hold him accountable.”

Ghani later announced on Facebook that he had left the country to avoid bloodshed in the capital, but he did not specify where he had gone.

Taliban fighters descended on Kabul as night fell, taking over abandoned police stations and promising to maintain law and order during the transition.

Residents reported looting in various parts of the city, including the upscale diplomatic district, and social media messages urged people to stay inside and lock their doors.

Despite billions of dollars spent by the US and NATO over nearly two decades to build up Afghan security forces, the Taliban seized nearly all of Afghanistan in just over a week in a stunning rout.

A few days ago, an American military assessment predicted that the capital would be under an insurgent attack in a month.

The fall of Kabul marks the end of America's longest war, which began after al-Osama Qaida's bin Laden, who was then harbored by the Taliban government, masterminded the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

According to an Afghan official, Taliban negotiators discussed a power transfer after the insurgents entered Kabul. The official, who requested anonymity in order to discuss the details of the closed-door talks, described them as "tense."

When that transfer would take place and who among the Taliban was negotiating remained unknown.

Former President Hamid Karzai, leader of the Hizb-e-Islami political and paramilitary group Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, and Abdullah, who has been a vocal critic of Ghani, were among the government negotiators.


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