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Last president of Afghanistan said he only had 2 minutes to decide whether to flee Kabul, and didn’t realize he was flying into exile until after takeoff

Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani at the White House in June 2021, two months before his government collapsed.

hoto by Pete Marovich-Pool/Getty Images

  • Afghanistan’s last president told the BBC of his “sudden” decision to flee the country on August 15.
  • Ashraf Ghani said that he only had two minutes to decide whether he would leave Kabul.
  • He said that he didn’t know he was flying into exile until the moment his plane took off.

Afghanistan’s former president has described making a “sudden” decision to flee the country as the Taliban closed in on Kabul this summer, BBC News reported.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s “Today” program, Ashraf Ghani said that he only had two minutes to decide whether he should escape the capital.

And when he made the decision to flee, he said, he had no idea where he was going, first thinking he would head to the Afghan city of Khost.

Ghani described how Taliban fighters surrounded the city on August 15. He said they agreed not to enter the city, but went back on that within two hours.

Ghani said his security chief warned him that if he stood to fight then his troops could not resist and they would all be killed.

—BBC Radio 4 Today (@BBCr4today) December 30, 2021

The Washington Post reported in August that Ghani fled the country quickly, without notifying his aides and allies, as he feared Taliban militants had gained entry to the presidential palace and planned to execute him.

“He did not give me more than two minutes,” the former president told the BBC. “My instructions had been to prepare for departure for [the city of] Khost. He told me that Khost had fallen and so had Jalalabad.”

Ghani said that he was not aware he was flying into exile until his plane took off. “I did not know where we will go,” he told the BBC. “Only when we took off, it became clear that we were leaving [Afghanistan]. So this really was sudden.”

The former president is now living in exile in the United Arab Emirates.

Ghani was criticized for his decision to flee Afghanistan. His former vice-president, Amrullah Saleh, told BBC News in late August that the decision was “disgraceful.”

Ghani told the BBC that he is willing to take partial blame for the events that led to the fall of Kabul. He said one mistake was trusting in “our international partnership,” an apparent reference to the US and its allies, who withdrew their troops before the Taliban takeover.

He added, however, that he has been made a “scapegoat” and his “life work has been destroyed.”

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