Kabul Falls to Taliban; Blow to American Pride

The Taliban has claimed victory in Afghanistan after taking over the capital Kabul, bringing to a swift end almost 20 years of a US-led coalition's presence in the country.

Fighters have seized the presidential palace. The government has collapsed, with President Ashraf Ghani fleeing.

A spokesman for the group has told news network Al Jazeera: "The war is over."

Kabul has descended into chaos, and residents and foreign nationals have been trying to escape. At the capital's international airport, an eyewitness told the BBC that staff had abandoned their desks and people were running to planes.

The US has moved all of its embassy staff to the airport. The US military has secured the perimeter and is in the process of taking over air traffic control to evacuate American and allied personnel from the country, said the State Department.

Kabul was the last major city in Afghanistan to hold out against the Taliban offensive, which began months ago but has accelerated in the space of days as they rapidly gained control of territories, shocking many observers. The militants were able to seize control after most foreign troops pulled out.

US President Joe Biden has defended the withdrawal of American troops, saying he could not justify an "endless American presence in the middle of another country's civil conflict".

More than 60 countries, including the US and the UK, have issued a joint statement saying the Afghan people "deserve to live in safety, security and dignity", and that security and civil order should be immediately restored. They also called on the Taliban to allow anyone who wishes to depart to do so, and to keep roads, airports and border crossings open.

'People are running and hiding'

The Taliban ordered their fighters to enter Kabul on Sunday, after earlier holding them back at the outskirts of the city. They said they were going in to prevent chaos and looting after security forces left parts of the capital. Footage broadcast by television network Al Jazeera showed fighters inside the presidential palace, brandishing guns.

The fall of the U.S.-backed government in Afghanistan to the Taliban happened faster than almost anyone in Washington - or Kabul - could have imagined.

It's a stunning turn of events, all taking place just weeks before the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks that precipitated America's offensive into Afghanistan. And it adds yet another issue to the mounting Republican attacks against Biden a year before congressional Democrats stand for reelection with a tenuous hold on power in Washington.

Republican hawks are once again circling after years of dormancy under the Trump presidency. Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Tom Cotton, R-Ark. said the Biden administration was warned that things would be this bad. Cotton said the withdrawal has "humiliated America." Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., charged that Biden had "turned his back on our allies."

The truth, of course, is never so black and white, or blue and red.

A full withdrawal of U.S. forces from an unpopular war, America's longest, in a country where more than 172,000 people have been killed, including thousands of U.S. service members, and $1 trillion spent, was always going to be messy - and a blow to American pride.

The critics are out in full force, comparing this to the fall of Saigon after the conflict in Vietnam or the slaughter of Srebrenica in the Balkans in the 1990s. But Afghanistan has been its own unique conundrum for a long time.

It's a country other powerful outside nations have previously been unsuccessful in. Its infrastructure and economy have long been in shambles, in no small part because of rampant corruption in the American-backed government. And after the U.S. chased out the Taliban, gaining the trust of the local populace, some of whom saw the U.S. as foreign invaders, was always going to be difficult.

That's especially true considering 90% of the world's heroin comes from poppies grown in Afghanistan. Farmers felt pressure to keep growing the crop, and seeing no economic alternative to poppy - and no guarantees of long-term security from the U.S. military or the Kabul government - many made the hard choice to continue to do so.  /Compiled from wires – argumentum.al