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    Afghan president flees country as Taliban move into Kabul


    Kabul, Afghanistan –  Afghanistan’s embattled president left the country Sunday, joining thousands of his fellow citizens and foreigners in a stampede fleeing the advancing Taliban and signaling the end of a 20-year Western experiment aimed at remaking the country.

    The Taliban fanned out across the capital, and an official with the militant group said it would soon announce the creation of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan from the presidential palace in Kabul. That was the name of the country under Taliban rule before the militants were ousted by U.S.-led forces after the 9/11 attacks. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief the media.

    The Al-Jazeera news network later aired footage showing a group of Taliban fighters inside the presidential palace.

    The city was gripped by panic, with helicopters racing overhead throughout the day to evacuate personnel from the U.S. Embassy. Smoke rose near the compound as staff destroyed important documents, and the American flag was lowered. Several other Western missions also prepared to pull their people out.

    Afghans fearing that the Taliban could reimpose the kind of brutal rule that all but eliminated women’s rights rushed to leave the country, lining up at cash machines to withdraw their life savings. The desperately poor – who had left homes in the countryside for the presumed safety of the capital – remained in parks and open spaces throughout the city.

    Passengers walk to the departures terminal of Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, Saturday, Aug. 14, 2021.

    Though the Taliban had promised a peaceful transition, the U.S. Embassy suspended operations and warned Americans late in the day to shelter in place and not try to get to the airport.

    Commercial flights were suspended after sporadic gunfire erupted at the airport, according to two senior U.S. military officials who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss ongoing operations. Evacuations continued on military flights, but the halt to commercial traffic closed off one of the last routes available for Afghans fleeing the country.

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