Afghanistan’s former president said he had no choice but to abruptly leave Kabul as the Taliban closed in and denied an agreement was in the works for a peaceful takeover, disputing the accounts of former Afghan and U.S. officials.
Ashraf Ghani said Thursday that an adviser gave him just minutes to decide to abandon the capital, Kabul. He also denied widespread accusations that he left Afghanistan with millions 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.
“On the morning of that day, I had no inkling that by late afternoon I would be leaving,” Ghani told BBC radio.
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His remarks conflicted with other accounts.
Former President Hamid Karzai told The Associated Press in an interview earlier this month that Ghani's departure scuttled the opportunity for government negotiators, including himself and peace council chairman Abdullah Abdullah, to reach an 11th-hour agreement with the Taliban, who had committed to staying outside the capital.
After calling the government 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 Ghani in his radio interview with British Gen. Sir Nick Carter, former chief of defense staff, said he fled “to prevent the destruction of Kabul,” claiming two rival Taliban factions were bearing down on the city and were ready to enter and wage a bitter battle for control. There was no evidence upon the Taliban entry of the rival factions Ghani referred to.
The insurgents, 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 palace.
Still, the Taliban takeover was met with widespread fear and a deep longing by many to flee their desperately poor homeland despite billions of international money over the 20 years 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. The U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction John Sopko has been tasked with investigating those allegations.
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. Mohib, who “was literally terrified,” gave him just two minutes to decide whether to leave, Ghani said, insisting he was not sure where he would be taken even after he was on the helicopter getting ready to take off.