Former Afghan President Ashraf Ghani reportedly fled in a helicopter with $169 million in cash and has been given asylum on humanitarian grounds in Dubai, the most populous city in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
The UAE is one of three nations, including Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, which recognized the previous Taliban regime, which governed Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001.
The Emirati government confirmed that he has been given political asylum and will stay there for an unknown period of time.
Ghani, 72, had fled Afghanistan on Sunday evening, with no clear announcement, saying in a Facebook post that he fled to prevent “a flood of bloodshed.”
Speaking from exile, Ghani denied reports he took large sums of money with him as he departed the presidential palace.
“If I had stayed, I would be witnessing bloodshed in Kabul,” said Ghani, who claimed that he left on the advice of government officials. “Kabul should not be turned into another Yemen or Syria over power struggles so I was forced to leave.”
The runaway president has been bitterly criticized by former ministers for leaving the country suddenly as Taliban forces entered Kabul on Sunday.
“I left with just a waistcoat and some clothes. The personality assassination against me has been ongoing, saying that I have taken money with me,” said Ghani. “The accusations are baseless lies. You can even ask customs officials – they are baseless.”
The United Arab Emirates confirmed that the Gulf nation was hosting the former president and his family “on humanitarian grounds” but Afghanistan’s ambassador to Tajikistan, Mohammad Zahir Aghbar, accused Ghani of stealing $169 million from state funds and called on international police to arrest him.
The Russian embassy in Kabul also alleged that Ghani fled from Kabul with four cars and a helicopter full of cash.
Russia’s state news agency RIA Novosti quoted embassy spokesman Nikita Ishchenko saying that “the collapse of the regime … is most eloquently characterized by how Ghani escaped from Afghanistan: four cars were filled with money, they tried to shove another part of the money into a helicopter, but not everything fit. And some of the money was left lying on the tarmac.”
Moscow fought a 10-year war in Afghanistan that ended with Soviet troops’ withdrawal in 1989 and it has jockeyed with the U.S. for influence in the country by trying to make a diplomatic comeback as a mediator among feuding factions.
“I support the government initiative of ongoing negotiations with Abdullah Abdullah and former president Hamid Karzai. I want the success of this process,” Ghani said.
The war between the Taliban and Afghan forces intensified as foreign troops commenced their withdrawal from the country by September 11, the 20th anniversary of the attacks that led to the US invasion.
The Trump administration in February 2020 negotiated a withdrawal agreement with the Taliban that excluded the Afghan government, freed 5,000 imprisoned Taliban soldiers and set a date of May 1, 2021, for the final withdrawal.
President Donald Trump kept to the pact, reducing U.S. troop levels from about 13,000 to 2,500, even though the Taliban continued to attack Afghan government forces and welcomed al-Qaeda terrorists into it’s leadership.
President Joe Biden pushed back the exit date, but was also eager to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan and end what he referred to as “America’s longest war.”
Congressional Republicans, responding to news reports that the Trump administration will rapidly reduce forces in Afghanistan, warn of what Sen. Marco Rubio called “a Saigon-type of situation” in Afghanistan.
“A rapid withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan now would hurt our allies and delight the people who wish us harm,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, but a week before Biden took office, Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller announced that “U.S. force levels in Afghanistan have reached 2,500. Directed by President Trump, and as I announced on November 17, this drawdown brings U.S. forces in the country to their lowest levels since 2001.”