The Taliban entered Afghanistan’s capital Kabul on Sunday as the US evacuated diplomats from its embassy by helicopter and a government minister said power would be handed over to an interim administration.
The developments capped a lightning advance by the extremist group, who was ousted from Kabul 20 years ago by US-led forces after the September 11 attacks on the US.
A senior Afghan interior ministry official told Reuters the Taliban were coming “from all sides” into the capital but gave no further details. There were no reports of fighting.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in a statement that the group was in talks with the government for a peaceful surrender of Kabul.
“Taliban fighters are to be on standby on all entrances of Kabul until a peaceful and satisfactory transfer of power is agreed,” the statement said.
Ali Ahmad Jalali, a US-based academic and former Afghan interior minister, is likely to be named head of an interim administration in Kabul, three diplomatic sources said as Taliban fighters gathered around the city.
No major Taliban movement into Kabul had been detected yet, a senior US official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The collapse of the Afghan government defense has stunned diplomats - just last week, a US intelligence estimate said Kabul could hold out for at least three months.
There was no immediate word on the situation from President Ashraf Ghani. A palace official said he was in emergency talks with US peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and top officials from the NATO transatlantic alliance.
Power would be handed over to a transitional administration, the government’s acting interior minister, Abdul Sattar Mirzakawal, said in a tweet on the Tolo news channel. “There won’t be an attack on the city, it is agreed that there will be a peaceful handover,” he said without elaborating.
The head of the Taliban’s political bureau, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, is heading to Kabul from Doha, a Taliban source in the Qatari capital said.
A tweet from the Afghan presidential palace account said firing had been heard at a number of points around Kabul but that security forces, in coordination with international partners, had control of the city.