Afghan ex-President Ghani defends decision to flee the country

Afghanistan’s former President Ashraf Ghani has 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 US officials.

Ghani said in a BBC interview that aired on 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 on August 15 left the city rudderless as US 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.

Former President Hamid Karzai told The Associated Press news agency 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 eleventh-hour agreement with the Taliban, who had committed to staying outside the capital.

After calling then-Defence Minister Bismillah Khan, the interior minister and the 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 General Sir Nick Carter, former chief of defence 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.

Ghani’s flight meant an orderly transfer of power was not possible, and allowed the Taliban to simply fill the security vacuum. Many Afghans now accuse Ghani, who is in the United Arab Emirates, of simply handing them over to the Taliban.

The Taliban, 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.

According to humanitarian aid workers, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they wanted to speak privately and who were there at the time, the Taliban moved to protect their compounds.