Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani attends a security meeting in Kabul, Afghanistan August 14, 2021.
Afghan Presidential Palace | Reuters
More than three weeks after fleeing Kabul by helicopter as the Taliban swept through the capital, former Afghan President Ashraf Ghani issued a statement late Wednesday in apology to his fellow countrymen.
“I owe the Afghan people an explanation for leaving Kabul abruptly on August 15 after Taliban unexpectedly entered the city,” Ghani began, in a letter posted to his Twitter account that was written only in English.
Three days after his speedy departure and amid apocalyptic scenes of panic at Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport as desperate Afghans tried to flee the country, Ghani resurfaced in the United Arab Emirates, whose government confirmed it had welcomed him and his family on humanitarian grounds.
“I left at the urging of the palace security who advised me that to remain risked setting off the same horrific street to street fighting the city had suffered during the Civil War of the 1990s. Leaving Kabul was the most difficult decision of my life, but I believed it was the only way to keep the guns silent and save Kabul and her 6 million citizens,” the former academic and World Bank official, who had been Afghanistan’s president since 2014, wrote.
In what some are seeing as an attempt to avoid accountability, Ghani said, “Now is not the moment for a long assessment of the events leading to my departure,” adding that “I will address them in the near future.”
Taliban forces had made a series of stunning advances across the country of 39 million in the wake of the Biden administration and NATO announcing a full departure of U.S. and coalition forces by the end of August.
Amid the exodus of foreign troops, the Taliban were able to declare near complete control of the country within 10 days of seizing their first provincial capital. This was despite being vastly outnumbered by the Afghan military, which has been assisted by U.S. and coalition forces for the last 20 years.
Ghani has been accused of engaging in and profiting from rampant corruption. Rumors abounded among Afghans and analysts that the 72-year-old took millions of dollars in cash with him when he left, and Russian state media reported the same. Ghani in his letter denied the accusations.
“I must now address baseless allegations that as I left Kabul I took with me millions of dollars belonging to the Afghan people. These charges are completely and categorically false. Corruption is a plague that has crippled our country for decades and fighting corruption has been a central focus in my efforts as president.”
U.S. and former Afghan officials, including those who worked closely with Ghani, allege numerous instances of corruption and bribery within Ghani’s office and family, and independent investigations have concluded that Ghani gave lucrative contracts to immediate family members. Ghani has denied the accusations.
“I welcome an official audit or financial investigation under UN auspices or any other appropriate independent body to prove the veracity of my statements here,” Ghani wrote in his Sept. 8 statement.
Analysts and many U.S. veterans of the war in Afghanistan note that the corruption in the Afghan government and in its military’s leadership often meant that money meant for soldiers’ salaries instead went to lining the pockets of senior officials. They told CNBC that the Afghan military’s rapid surrenders to the Taliban stemmed in part from a total lack of confidence that Ghani and the government in Kabul would support them.
“I offer my profound appreciate and respect for the sacrifice of all Afghans, especially our Afghan soldiers and their families, through the last forty years,” Ghani wrote in his letter’s closing paragraph.
“It is with deep and profound regret that my own chapter ended in similar tragedy to my predecessors — without ensuring stability and prosperity. I apologize to the Afghan people that I could not make it end differently. My commitment to the Afghan people has never wavered and will guide me for the rest of my life.”