Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has confirmed he has left the country as the Taliban entered Kabul, saying he wanted to avoid bloodshed.
Reuters had earlier reported his departure for Tajikistan, citing a senior interior ministry official.
But in a Facebook post late on Sunday, Mr Ghani said he was faced with a “hard choice” between the “armed Taliban” or “leaving the dear country that I dedicated my life to protecting the past 20 years”.
Live updates on Afghanistan as Taliban enters Kabul
“If left unchecked, countless patriots would be martyred and the city of Kabul would be devastated, resulting in a major humanitarian catastrophe in the six-million-strong city,” he said.
“The Taliban had made it clear that they were ready to carry out a bloody attack on all of Kabul and the people of Kabul to oust me. In order to prevent a flood of bloodshed, I decided to leave.”
His post confirmed Taliban officials’ claims they have taken control of Afghanistan‘s presidential palace, alongside 11 districts of the capital.
It came amid reports of several explosions in city, despite the Taliban saying that they wanted a “peaceful transition of power”.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson chaired a COBRA meeting on the Afghan crisis this evening after requesting to recall parliament from its summer break on Wednesday.
He said the UK and its international partners should work to ensure “Afghanistan does not become a breeding ground for terror” once again.
Mr Johnson added that the “situation remains difficult” and the world is facing a “change of regime in Kabul”, but UK officials are working to get as many British nationals out of the country as it can “in the next few days”.
British troops from the 16 Air Assault Brigade landed in Kabul on Sunday, while British Airways ordered its pilots to stay away from Afghan airspace over security concerns.
The Home Office said it is working to “protect British nationals and help former UK staff and other eligible people travel to the UK”.
A Foreign Office spokesperson said the UK had “reduced” its diplomatic presence in Afghanistan, “but our ambassador remains in Kabul and UK government staff continue to work to provide assistance to British nationals and to our Afghan staff”.
According to The Sunday Telegraph, Britain’s ambassador to Afghanistan Sir Laurie Bristow is going to be flown out of the country by tonight.
The Taliban has made rapid gains over the past week, with Western countries urgently deploying troops to assist with the evacuation of diplomatic staff.
A spokesperson for the militant group in Doha, Qatar, said on Sunday: “We don’t want a single, innocent Afghan civilian to be injured or killed as we take charge. But we have not declared a ceasefire.”
The Islamists said there would be no fighting in Kabul and anyone who wants to leave the city should be able to do so peacefully, with women told to head for protected areas.
But Mr Ghani’s comments on Sunday painted a very different picture, with international observers fearing the worst.
US President Joe Biden announced he was sending 5,000 more troops to Kabul to help remove personnel – and the evacuation of the American embassy has now begun.
US diplomats have been urgently destroying sensitive documents, with helicopters seen flying over the US embassy.
The Biden administration has warned Taliban officials any actions that put American personnel at risk “will be met with a swift and strong US military response”.
The president has defended his decision to withdraw US troops from the country in the coming weeks, and said the task of fighting back against Taliban insurgents must fall to Afghan forces.
He warned that an indefinite American military presence in Afghanistan is not an option, and has vowed not to pass on the war to a fifth US president.
But the handling of the crisis has attracted criticism from some American politicians, with his predecessor Donald Trump claiming that Mr Biden “gets it wrong every time on foreign policy”.
In a strongly worded statement, Mr Trump said: “After I took out ISIS, I established a credible deterrent. That deterrent is now gone. The Taliban no longer has fear or respect for America, or America’s power.
“What a disgrace it will be when the Taliban raises their flag over America’s embassy in Kabul. This is complete failure through weakness, incompetence, and total strategic incoherence.”
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