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Deposed Afghan Leader Ghani Says He Fled Taliban To 'Save Kabul'

Ashraf Ghani addresses the Afghan people from exile in the United Arab Emirates on August 18.

Recently deposed Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has sought publicly to explain his sudden escape from Kabul as Taliban fighters entered the capital on August 15, a move that cemented the hard-line fundamentalist group's hold on most of the country.

Saying he "owe[s] the Afghan people an explanation," Ghani posted a statement on September 8 saying "it was never my intent to abandon the people."

But he said that "after Taliban unexpectedly entered the city," his palace security urged him to leave because "to remain risked setting off the same horrific street-to-street fighting the city had suffered during the Civil War of the 1990s."

Ghani eventually flew to the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.), where he received political asylum.

The Taliban has since declared a new government headed by the militant Islamist group's veterans in an Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, as some Afghans have protested against the imposition of harsh restrictions on freedoms and women's rights.

The leader of the National Resistance Front (NRFA), Ahmad Masud, son of the storied late mujahedin commander known as the "lion of Panjshir," Ahmad Shah Masud, has vowed to resist Taliban authority in the rugged Panjshir Valley, north of Kabul, with the help of thousands of dedicated fighters.

A former World Bank employee and Kabul University dean, the 72-year-old Ghani became president after a deeply contentious election in 2014 that required Western mediation to settle.

His government participated in mostly stalled intra-Afghan peace talks in Doha with Taliban representatives that began in late 2020, although the Taliban kept up its campaign of violence throughout much of the process.

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Western officials and analysts have expressed stunned surprise at the rapid Taliban advance capturing Afghan territory once the U.S.-led military withdrawal officially began in May.

U.S. President Joe Biden blamed Afghan forces' perceived unwillingness to fight for the collapse and said Ghani had discouraged earlier evacuations in order to avoid a mass exodus from Afghanistan.

After the withdrawal was declared complete on August 30, Biden said in a televised speech that he expected the Afghan government "to hold on for a period of time beyond military drawdown [but that] turned out not to be accurate."

Biden said "the people of Afghanistan watched their own government collapse and the president flee amid the corruption and malfeasance, handing over the country to their enemy the Taliban and significantly increasing the risk to U.S. personnel and our allies."

In his statement on September 8, Ghani said that "now is not the moment for a long assessment of the events leading up to my departure" but vowed to "address them in detail in the near future."

"Leaving Kabul was the most difficult decision of my life," Ghani said, "but I believed it was the only way to keep the guns silent and save Kabul and her 6 million citizens."

He added: "I have devoted 20 years of my life to helping the Afghan people work toward building a democratic, prosperous, and sovereign state -- it was never my intent to abandon the people or that vision."

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