U.S. President Joe Biden has decried as "gut wrenching" the chaotic scenes under way in Afghanistan and the events around the Taliban's lightning-fast seizure of power in the war-torn country, but reiterated that he stands behind his decision to withdraw American troops as Washington had given the Afghan military "every chance" to succeed against the militants.
In his first public comments since the Taliban took power, Biden said on August 16 that the U.S. national interest in Afghanistan was always principally about preventing terrorist attacks on the U.S. homeland.
"The mission in Afghanistan was never supposed to be nation-building," he said.
"I stand squarely behind my decision. After 20 years, I've learned the hard way that there was never a good time to withdraw U.S. forces," he added in a televised address from the White House.
The Afghan government collapsed with President Ashraf Ghani fleeing abroad on August 15 as the Taliban captured Kabul -- the last major city in Afghanistan to hold out against a Taliban offensive that accelerated in the space of days as they rapidly gained control of territories across the country.
“American troops cannot and should not be fighting the war, and dying in a war that Afghan forces are not willing to fight for themselves," Biden said, as he vented his criticism at Ghani and the Afghan politicians who failed to rally and motivate an Afghan army that the United States paid for and equipped. The Afghan army, Biden said, was more numerous and better equipped than some of America's NATO allies.
Chaos erupted at Kabul airport on August 16 with thousands of Afghans swarming the airfield in a desperate attempt to catch a flight out of the country after Taliban militants seized control of the country.
At least seven people were reported killed in the mayhem. The pandemonium forced the U.S. military to suspend evacuation flights to restore order and clear the airfield of people. Flights resumed early on August 17 local time.
Biden had a stark warning for the Taliban, saying that the U.S. response will be "swift and forceful" if the Taliban attacks American personnel or disrupts the evacuation operations under way at Kabul airport.
At an extraordinary meeting, the United Nations Security Council said in its first statement since the Taliban takeover that “institutional continuity and adherence to Afghanistan’s international obligations, as well as the safety and security of all Afghan and international citizens, must be ensured.”
The statement, drafted by Estonia and Norway, was approved by all 15 council members.
In sharp contrast to the situation at the airport, streets in the capital itself were mainly calm as Taliban soldiers patrolled the capital. The heavily fortified diplomatic "Green Zone" in Kabul appeared to be a ghost town with countries rushing to evacuate their embassies.
Dozens of governments called for calm to allow for the departure of hundreds of foreign nationals and Afghans seeking to leave the country after the militants toppled the Western-backed government.
Meanwhile, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged the Taliban and all other parties to exercise “utmost restraint” in order to protect the lives of Afghans and ensure the delivery of humanitarian aid.
"The world is following events in Afghanistan with a heavy heart and deep disquiet about what lies ahead," Guterres said, noting the Taliban had so far respected the safety of UN personnel in the country.
With reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP
This story also includes reporting by Radio Azadi correspondents on the ground in Afghanistan. Their names are being withheld for their protection.