Kabul: The Taliban readied its forces on outskirts of the Afghan capital from all sides Sunday as panicked civilians prepared for the armed group’s takeover of Kabul, nearly 20 years after it relinquishing power in an American-led assault.
Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen said fighters were remaining on the capital’s outskirts as negotiations took place.
“Our forces have not entered Kabul city, and we just issued a statement saying that our forces will not enter Kabul city,” Shaheen told Al Jazeera from Doha where peace talks are taking place.
“We are talking and awaiting a peaceful transfer – a transition of the capital city.”
Sirens could be heard along with sporadic gunfire in Kabul. Multiple helicopters were flying above the city centre dropping flares.
The Taliban said it has no plans to take the Afghan capital “by force”.
“Negotiations are under way to ensure that the transition process is completed safely and securely, without compromising the lives, property and honour of anyone, and without compromising the lives of Kabulis,” a Taliban statement said.
“The Islamic Emirate instructs all its forces to stand at the gates of Kabul, not to try to enter the city,” a spokesman for the Taliban tweeted, although some residents reported fighters peacefully entered some outer suburbs.
Panicked workers fled government offices. Thousands of civilians now live in parks and open spaces in Kabul itself, fearing the future.
The chief of staff to President Ashraf Ghani on Twitter urged the people of Kabul: “Please don’t worry. There is no problem. The situation of Kabul is under control.”
Afghan Interior Minister Abdul Sattar Mirzakwal said there would be a “peaceful transfer of power” to a transitional government after the Taliban ordered its fighters to hold back from entering Kabul.
“The Afghan people should not worry… There will be no attack on the city and there will be a peaceful transfer of power to the transitional government,” he said in a recorded speech.
There was no immediate word on the situation from Ghani. A palace official said he was in emergency talks with US peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and top NATO officials.