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Former Afghan president says he had no choice but to flee the country as Taliban approached

Former Afghan President Ashraf Ghani
Former Afghan President Ashraf Ghani in a BBC interview denied widespread accusations that he left Afghanistan with millions of dollars in stolen money.
(Alex Brandon / Associated Press)

Afghanistan’s former president said that he had no choice but to flee Kabul as the Taliban closed in and denied that an agreement for a peaceful takeover had been in the works, disputing the accounts of former Afghan and U.S. officials.

Former President Ashraf Ghani told the BBC in an interview broadcast Thursday that an advisor gave him just minutes to decide whether to abandon the capital. He denied widespread accusations that he left Afghanistan with millions of dollars in stolen money.

Ghani’s sudden and secret departure Aug. 15 left the city rudderless as U.S. and NATO forces were in the final stages of their chaotic withdrawal from the country after 20 years.

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“On the morning of that day, I had no inkling that by late afternoon I would be leaving,” Ghani told BBC radio. His remarks conflicted with other accounts.

Former President Hamid Karzai, Ghani’s predecessor, told the Associated Press this month that Ghani’s departure scuttled the opportunity for government negotiators, including himself and Afghan peace council chairman Abdullah Abdullah, to reach an agreement with the Taliban, who had committed to staying outside the capital.

After calling Defense Minister Bismillah Khan, the interior minister and police chief and discovering 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 in his BBC interview, Ghani said he fled “to prevent the destruction of Kabul,” claiming that two rival Taliban factions were ready to enter the city and battle for control.

There was no evidence, upon the Taliban’s entry, of the rival factions Ghani referred to.

The militants, who in the days prior to the push into Kabul had swept over much of the country as Afghan government forces melted away or surrendered, quickly took control of the presidential palace. According to humanitarian aid workers, who spoke on condition of anonymity in order to speak privately, the Taliban moved to protect its compounds.

Still, the Taliban takeover was met with widespread fear and a deep longing by many to flee their poor homeland despite the billions of dollars in international aid over the 20 years that the U.S.-backed governments had been in power.

In the BBC interview, Ghani denied widespread accusations that he left Afghanistan with a cache of stolen money. U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction John Sopko has been tasked with investigating those allegations.

Successive Afghan governments, as well as independent foreign and Afghan contractors, have been accused of widespread corruption, with dozens of reports by Sopko documenting the most egregious incidents.

Washington spent $146 billion on reconstruction in Afghanistan since the 2001 overthrow of the Taliban government, who had harbored Al Qaeda and its leader, Osama bin Laden. Yet even before the militants returned to power in August this year, the country’s poverty level was 54%.

Earlier this week, the 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 corrupt leaders.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko was named the most corrupt. Finalists for the title of most corrupt included Ghani, Syrian President Bashar Assad, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and former Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz.

Ghani said he decided to leave after being told by his national security advisor, Hamdullah Mohib, that his personal protection force was not capable of defending him.

Mohib, who “was literally terrified,” gave him just two minutes to decide, said Ghani, who said that he was not sure where he would be taken even after he was on the helicopter getting ready to take off.

Ghani did not address the rapid and swift collapse of the Afghan military in the weeks leading up to the Taliban takeover, but he did blame an agreement that the Trump administration signed with the Taliban in 2020 for the eventual 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 militant force.


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