A year later, ex-Afghan leader defends role in Taliban takeover

ISLAMA BAD — On the eve of the anniversary of the Taliban takeover of Kabul, the former president of Afghanistan defended what he said was split-second flight on Sunday, saying he wanted to avoid the humiliation of surrendering to the insurgents.

Ashraf Ghani also told CNN that on the morning of August 15, 2021, with the Taliban at the gates of the Afghan capital, he was the last one at the presidential palace after his guards disappeared. He said the defense minister had told him earlier that day that Kabul could not be defended.

Ghani had previously tried to justify his actions on the day Kabul fell, but gave more details on Sunday. He claimed that one of the cooks at the palace had been given $100,000 to poison him and that he felt his immediate environment was no longer safe.

“The reason I left was because I didn’t want to give the Taliban and their supporters the pleasure of humiliating another Afghan president and making him sign the government’s legitimacy,” he said. “I’ve never been afraid.”

Critics say Ghani’s sudden and secret departure on August 15 left the city rudderless as US and NATO forces entered the final stages of their chaotic withdrawal from the country after 20 years.

Ghani also denied continued allegations that he was carrying tens of millions of dollars in cash when he and other officials fled in helicopters.

In a report released last week, a Congressional watchdog said it is unlikely that Ghani and his senior advisers transported that much money on the breakout helicopters.

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“The rushed nature of their departure, the emphasis on passengers over cargo, the helicopter’s payload and performance limitations, and the consistent alignment in detailed accounts of ground and air witnesses all suggest that no more than $500,000 in cash on board the helicopters,” wrote the office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, which has tried to control the vast US spending in the country over the years.

The agency added that “it remains a high possibility that significant amounts of US currency have disappeared from Afghan government property in the chaos of the Taliban takeover, including millions from the presidential palace” and the vault of the National Directorate of Security. However, the report said the watchdog was unable to determine how much money had been stolen and by whom.

Finally, last August, the Taliban captured the capital without significant fighting, repulsing a weeks-long military strike in which they quickly captured provincial capitals without much resistance from the increasingly demoralized Afghan security forces.

In the year since the takeover, the former insurgents have imposed significant restrictions on girls and women, limiting their access to education and work, despite initial promises to the contrary. The Taliban have remained internationally isolated and largely cut off from the flow of international aid enjoyed by the Ghanaian government. The Taliban have struggled to rule and stop the sharp economic downturn that has pushed millions more Afghans into poverty and even starvation.

Despite those challenges, the Taliban-led government has planned several events on Monday to mark the anniversary, including speeches by Taliban officials and several sporting events.

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