Ghani almost forced to flee Afghanistan barefoot: US official report
Kabul, Aug 10 (EFE).- Barefoot, without the millions of dollars that he was reported to be carrying and secretly, this is how former Afghan president Ashraf Ghani fled Kabul on Aug. 15 last year as the capital fell to the Taliban.
The latest report by the United States’ Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction cites at least 30 testimonies from the period immediately preceding the fall of Kabul while trying to trace the millions of dollars that were kept in cash at the presidential palace.
As per the report, Ghani agreed to leave the country only when his national security advisor Hamdullah Mohib and the chief of Presidential Protective Service Qaher Kochai pressurized him, believing that he would be killed otherwise.
“The departure was so sudden that the president was barefoot, forcing Kochai to find the president’s shoes,” an Afghan official told SIGAR.
US troops had begun the final phase of their withdrawal from Afghanistan in early May of 2021, with the chaotic pullout leaving Afghan forces without key support.
This was followed by Afghan provinces falling to the Taliban at a speed unprecedented in the two decades of the conflict.
On Aug. 13, Ghani held a meeting at his office with vice president Amrullah Saleh and the ministers of interior, defense and other high-level personnel to discuss the fall of Herat, which had become the 11th provincial capital captured by the Taliban a day earlier.
In the meeting, the leaders were concerned about Afghan forces abandoning their posts, but even “up to that point, no one had taken the defense of Kabul very seriously,” said a former official present at the encounter.
The next day, Logar and Nangarhar also capitulated and “we were basically witnessing the disintegration of the ANDSF (Afghan National Defense and Security Forces),” said another official, with it becoming clear that the capital’s collapse was imminent.
As reports of the Taliban entering Kabul poured in on the morning of Aug. 15, hundreds of government and palace officials begin to flee and only a dozen remained, including Ghani’s security detail.
The palace failed to contact the defense minister or the chief of joint staff, after which Ghani told the interior minister and the chief of national security to send personnel to maintain order in the city.
However, they did not have anybody as “that day the police had come to work wearing their regular clothes underneath their uniforms,” a former senior official told SIGAR.
Around noon, Ghani agreed to the evacuation of the first lady, Rula Ghani, but refused to accompany her.
It was only after Rula and a few associates had boarded the four helicopters ready to take off that Kochai and Mohib decided to return to convince the president, who was evacuated and taken secretly to the choppers.
As the helicopters could not accommodate the entire security detail, a presidential guard pointed his rifle towards one of the coppers and shouted “Allahu Akbar!” before being overpowered, even as the aircrafts took off, another witness said in the report.
The four helicopters carrying Ghani and around 50 associates were unable to access the airport and instead flew to Uzbekistan before the passengers eventually traveled to the United Arab Emirates for asylum.
The SIGAR tried to trace the millions of dollars in cash that were allegedly kept in the presidential palace, apart from other large amounts of currency in the hands of the officials who fled Kabul last year.
The Russian embassy in Kabul had told reporters that the helicopters had fled with $169 million in cash onboard, a claim refuted by Ghani and his associates. The SIGAs has insisted that the sum carried was close to $500,000.
As per the witnesses interviewed by the US agency, there was very little luggage onboard the aircrafts and some carried personnel belongings, apart from the cash.
As per SIGAR calculations, the distance traveled by the helicopters, the required fuel reserves and the passenger overload make it practically impossible for them to have carried the amount of money implied.