Kabul (dpa) – In a swift campaign, the Taliban almost completely conquered Afghanistan within a week. President Ashraf Ghani fled the country on Sunday.

Just hours after the president fled, militant Islamist Taliban fighters took over the presidential palace in the capital, Kabul. Surrounded by gunmen, leaders of the group turned to journalists, televised images showed Sunday evening.

The federal government closed its embassy in Kabul on Sunday and moved the employees to the military section of the airport there. The US also began to evacuate their embassy.

The chairman of the National Council for Reconciliation, Abdullah Abdullah, said in a video message that “ex-president” Ghani had left the country in this situation, may God hold him responsible. The people will also condemn him. Abdullah gave no information about where Ghani left. Local media reported that he flew to Tajikistan. Abdullah asked the Taliban not to enter Kabul just yet, but to await talks. Perhaps he was referring to peace talks.

The Taliban had taken almost all provincial capitals in the past week and a half. Many had fallen on her without a fight. They captured Masar-i-Sharif in the north (local time) on Saturday night and Jalalabad in the east on Sunday morning. Until a few weeks ago there was a large military camp in Mazar-i-Sharif and the German soldiers did not withdraw there until the end of June. The Bundeswehr recently trained Afghan security forces as part of NATO’s “Resolute Support” mission.

Jalalabad was the penultimate city still under government control. Moments later, Taliban fighters gathered at the gates of the capital Kabul. However, they were initially ordered not to enter the city.

Incumbent Interior Minister Abdul Sattar Mirsakwal said that morning that there was an agreement with the Taliban for a peaceful transition of power. Defense Minister Bismillah Chan Mohammadi said in a video address that as a representative of the armed forces, he ensured the security of Kabul. People should not panic.

The Taliban also tried to allay fears of a battle over Kabul. Suhail Shahin, a negotiator during talks with the Afghan government in Qatar, told the BBC: “We assure the people (…) in the city of Kabul that their assets and their lives are safe.” There will be no revenge on anyone. Taliban fighters have been ordered not to enter Kabul. “We are waiting for a peaceful transfer of power.” Since the capital, Kabul, is a large and densely populated city, the Taliban had no intention of entering it by force.

In a further statement that evening, the Taliban said they had received reports that police stations and ministries had been abandoned. The security forces have fled. To avoid looting or harming other people, the Taliban leadership instructed its fighters to enter the areas from which the enemy had fled.

In view of the advance of the Taliban, the Bundeswehr wants to evacuate German civilians and Afghan local employees from Kabul as soon as possible. Bundeswehr paratroopers are scheduled to fly to Kabul in military transporters this Monday. According to information from security circles, a crisis support team (KuT) consisting of experts from different ministries will arrive on the same day. In the Uzbek capital Tashkent, a second KuT has to organize a hub for saving people. It is the largest evacuation operation of the Bundeswehr to date. Federal Foreign Minister Heiko Maas (SPD) wrote on Twitter that these were “immediate measures to endanger German workers and other people from Afghanistan”.

Vice Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) said in the afternoon when the summer interview was being taped for the ARD program “Report from Berlin” that the evacuation was underway. Now it’s about speed. All things are “on the way”.

The US also began to evict their embassy and move their personnel to an airport location, as confirmed by Secretary of State Antony Blinken. They want to ensure that the staff can work safely and that more people can be flown out, Blinken tells the American broadcaster ABC. Russia, on the other hand, does not want to leave its embassy for the time being, as Afghan foreign ministry representative Samir Kabulov told Interfax.

When asked on Sunday, NATO said: “We are helping to keep the Kabul airport running so that Afghanistan stays connected to the world. We also maintain our diplomatic presence in Kabul.”

Chaotic scenes unfolded in Kabul on Sunday. There was a shooting in front of a bank, a resident of the city said. Many people tried to withdraw their savings and run errands. A soldier from Kabul said his entire unit had taken off their uniforms.

Pope Francis on Sunday called for a peaceful solution to the conflict. “I agree with the general concern about the situation in Afghanistan. I ask you to pray with me to the God of Peace, so that the roar of arms ceases and solutions can be found at the negotiating table,” the head of the Catholic Church said after the Angelus prayer in Rome.