Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled Kabul so quickly fearing execution by the Taliban that aides who returned from a lunch break wondered where he’d gone

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Ashraf Ghani

Afghan president Mohammad Ashraf Ghani speaks in a televised address in Kabul, capital of Afghanistan, Aug. 14, 2021. Alizadah/Xinhua via Getty Images

  • A chaotic picture has emerged of the Afghan government’s last days as the Taliban seizing power. 

  • President Ashraf Ghani fled when aides were on a lunch break, believing militants had entered the presidential palace. 

  • The collapse of the Afghan government sparked chaos, as hundreds of thousands attempted to flee Kabul. 

  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Former Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled the country without notifying aides and allies as he feared Taliban militants had gained entry to the presidential palace and planned to execute him, The Washington Post reported.

The Post on Sunday reported on the chaos that engulfed the Afghan government in Kabul as militants swept into the outskirts of the city on August 15. 

Video: Thousands try to flee Afghanistan after Taliban takes control

In Kabul and Washington DC, top officials had believed that there were weeks before the Taliban was likely to attempt to seize the capital.

But following the fall of the key provincial city of Jalalabad to Taliban militants on August 14, militants rushed the capital largely unopposed. 

The report paints a surreal picture of events in the presidential palace, where officials believed Ghani would remain in power until August 31, the date of the full US military withdrawal, and would help negotiate a transitional government.

Officials told the Post that aides had gone for their lunch break when a top aide to Ghani told him, falsely, that Taliban militants had entered the palace and were searching for him room by room.

“It will either be your palace guards or the Taliban,” the president was told, a senior advisor told the Post, “but if you stay you’ll be killed.”

Ghani reportedly asked if he could return home to collect some belongings, but was told there wasn’t time and along with his wife and top aides boarded a helicopter that took off for Uzbekistan, where a plane took him to the United Arab Emirates.

When officials returned from lunch, they found he was gone and his office empty.

In fact, Taliban militants had not entered the palace but were honoring an agreement to remain on the outskirts of Kabul while an interim government could be negotiated. 

Ghani was reportedly terrified of repeating the fate of the Afghan president when the Taliban last seized power in 1996, who was executed and strung up on a traffic-control post.

Ghani did not inform top government officials or US allies of his departure, according to the report, with the government then collapsing. A huge exodus of officials and Afghans who had worked for western organizations then attempted to flee the country, flooding into Kabul airport where scenes of terror and chaos have played out since. 

Only the night before fleeing, Ghani had told Afghans in a televised national address that his main focus was to “prevent further instability, violence, and displacement of my people” and that he was seeking to regroup the Afghan military.”

Taliban fighters take control of Afghan presidential palace after the Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled the country, in Kabul, Afghanistan, Sunday, Aug. 15, 2021.Taliban fighters take control of Afghan presidential palace after the Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled the country, in Kabul, Afghanistan, Sunday, Aug. 15, 2021.

Taliban fighters take control of Afghan presidential palace after the Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled the country, in Kabul, Afghanistan, Sunday, Aug. 15, 2021. AP Photo/Zabi Karimi

A group of Taliban militants later on August 15 entered the abandoned presidential palace, where they gave a media interview. 

Ghani in a message posted on Facebook later defended his decision to flee, saying he left the country “in order to prevent bloodshed.”

He denied claims he had left the country with a suitcase full of cash.

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