Taliban militants enter Afghan capital, say they’re waiting at Kabul gates
The Taliban have reportedly entered the Afghan capital but the group said its militants have been ordered to wait at the city's gates and that they are not planning to capture Kabul “by force” shortly after they seized control of a strategic eastern city without any resistance.
Afghanistan’s interior ministry announced on Sunday that the Taliban had started entering the capital “from all sides.”
After advancing on the capital, the Taliban reportedly ordered the militants to refrain from violence, allow safe passage to anyone seeking to leave, and urged women to head to protected areas.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in a statement that the group was in talks with the Afghan government for a peaceful surrender of Kabul.
"Taliban fighters are to be on standby on all entrances of Kabul until a peaceful and satisfactory transfer of power is agreed," the statement said.
A tweet from the Afghan Presidential office, however, said gunshots had been heard at a number of locations around Kabul, but that security forces were still in control of the city.
As the Taliban closed in on Kabul, local media reports said the United States had started evacuating diplomats from its embassy by helicopter. Several EU staff were also moved to a safer, undisclosed location in the capital.
The militants earlier in the day captured Afghanistan’s key eastern city of Jalalabad, effectively making Kabul the only major city remaining under the government's control.
The militants took control of the strategic city, the capital of the eastern Afghan province of Nangarhar, on Sunday, following an escalating offensive that also put them in charge of the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif hours earlier.
Local media reports said the militants captured Jalalabad without a fight, with Afghan officials based in the city saying, "Allowing passage to the Taliban was the only way to save civilian lives."
The fall of Jalalabad secures roads connecting Afghanistan to Pakistan for the militants.
The Taliban currently hold all of Afghanistan's border crossings, according to media reports.
The Associated Press quoted Pakistan's Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid as saying that the militants had seized the Torkham border crossing, the last post still under government control.
The Taliban said late on Saturday that all key locations across Mazar-i-Sharif had been “completely conquered,” and that the group had also seized “a large number of vehicles, weapons, and equipment.”
The Taliban claimed in a statement that the rapid gains showed the group was popularly accepted by the Afghan people and reassured both Afghans and foreigners that they would be safe.
Media reports said the militants entered the capital city of Balkh province virtually unopposed as security forces had escaped to neighboring Uzbekistan.
Atta Mohammad Noor and Abdul Rashid Dostum, two influential resistance leaders supporting the Afghan government, were forced to flee, with the former saying on social media that the militants had been handed control of Balkh province due to a "conspiracy."