The contents of this article report the escape of Ashraf Ghani from the citadel on the afternoon of August 15, 2021, based on my interviews with a key PPS official, a national security official, and a PPS soldier. I did my interviews in person. The interviewees spoke on the condition of anonymity. It is the first time that security officials close to Ashraf Ghani have spoken out about his escape.
Afghan President Protective Service (PPS) Official
At 7:30 a.m. on Sunday, August 15, he drove his private car to the Ghazni Gate via the Shash Darak route. Army soldiers, who were guarding the gate, stopped his car. “You do not know me?” He asked. “what is going on? As I always go, you know that no one can impose restrictions on us.”
“Today, no government or private vehicle is allowed to enter the citadel,” replied the army unite commander at the Ghazni Gate.
He was surprised and asked why?
“We do not know,” said the army commander. General Kochi was the commander-in-chief of the Special Forces for the Protection of the President and the Citadel. This force was known as PPS.
He goes a little farther in his car, calls the intelligence director of PPS, a unit that also has comrades, asking: “Mr. Wahidi, the soldiers do not allow me entrance, what is the reason? what should I do?”
“Maybe you also want to run away,” says Baryali Wahidi sarcastically.
“Where should I run to? You do not know me? what’s the matter? What happened?”
“If you are not running away, stop your car and come to the office,” replied Wahidi.
He hurries to the Shahr-e-Naw, but the stations are inactive. People are in a hurry. Some stores are closed. He walks to the Timani Crossroads, stops his car, takes a taxi to the Zanbaq Crossroads, from where he walks, and enters the citadel.
“The Taliban have entered Kabul,” he was told at the citadel by some PPS forces. In response, he said: “It does not matter. We, who are five to six thousand people, have a lot of equipment, the Battalion B, the 10th Division, the garrison support brigade, and the directorates that cooperate with us are all, and we can survive a six-month siege. We have the ability to defend, we have enough force, we have the equipment, what should we be afraid of? We have everything and, we will fight.” Saying these things to inspire his colleagues.
He goes to his office inside the branch of PPS-16. Here, too, there is panic, he goes down the stairs, goes to the “National Center of Unity,” seeing the president’s daily schedule. Unlike in previous days, the president has only one meeting.
“Wow,” he says to himself. “Why is the president having only one meeting today?”
The president will meet with Hamdullah Mohib, national security adviser, Fazl Mahmoud Fazli, head of the administrative office of the president, and Wahid Omar, the citadel’s strategic liaison, from 10 a.m. to 10:45 p.m. He leaves the “National Center,” lighting a cigarette in the yard. Wahid Omar leaves the media office. Omar is his father’s friend and has a friendly relationship with him.
“What happened?” Why is the disorder? “People are upset,” he started talking to Wahid Omar.
Wahid Omar says: “No, no, there is nothing, we have no problem. I talked to the president, there is nothing, everything is normal.” He goes back to his office, gets more calls and text messages, and receives contradictory news such as “Pul-e-Charkhi Prison Fails,” “Taliban Arrive at the Company area,” and “A traffic officer fled from Kota-e Sangi.”
From ten to eleven o’clock in the morning, General Qaher Kochi, the head of the PPS, leads a big Arab guy to the harem building alone. Soldiers look at each other in surprise, the guidance of the guests is not the job of the commander of the special forces. No one knows about the arrival of this guest, no one knows the identity of this guest. Contrary to the principles and rules of PPS, Kochi takes the Arab man in a long white dress to the harem to the president.
Moments later, Wahid Omar rushes out of a mansion with a box under his armpit. Its color is red. “Is there any problem?” he asks Omar.
“I think everything in Afghanistan is over,” Wahid Omar replied. “Where are you going now?” He asks again. “Everyone goes to one side, there is nothing left,” says Omar.
Ten to fifteen minutes after the drive, a voice is heard on the radio: “Two cars are coming from the Ghazni gate and the Zanbaq crossroads, it’s money [the cars are carrying money]. Allow as many people as there are in the cars.” After this sound, all the staff of the presidential office, the administrative office of the president, and the media office started to flee, and consequently, unprecedented chaos and disorder began in the citadel.
All the employees run away, trying to get out of the citadel as soon as possible. The PPS office declared a state of 600 or emergency, and everyone is instructed to control the situation, not to take anything out of the citadel, not to be in anyone’s premises, and to begin inspecting the staff. All PPS soldiers are on standby.
“Where are you?” someone asked him.
“Right here, out of the office,” he replies. “I think the president will run away,” the manager writes again.
In response to the manager, he writes: “I do not think he will run away, where are you?”
The manager writes again: “When the two dirty cars came, they were standing under the greenhouse and, we were told to be ready. We moved towards the square, next to Delgosha Palace.” “If there is other news, tell him he will not run away,” he wrote in response to the Director of Immunity.
Moments later, an unusual caravan of about 7 to 8 vehicles headed for the square.
He sends a message to the “immunity manager” again: “Why are there so many cars. There should be four cars in total.” The manager replies, “Ha ha ha, the rest is full of money.”
Three helicopters were waiting in the yard. Pilots and other staff boarded the money on two helicopters. The president, Fazl Mahmoud Fazli, Hamdullah Muhib, General Qaher Kochi, Dr. Yadegari, the president’s doctor, Wahid Omar, Mohammad Rafi Fazel, Seyyed Moqim Abdul Rahimzai, and several others also boarded. Twelve members of the “imminent immunity management” sat in the helicopters.
The helicopters turned on, but Rahmatullah Osuli, the commander of the citadel’s air battalion, who was also the pilot of the president’s helicopter, turned off the helicopter halfway, telling the president that it was so heavy and, we cannot fly with this weight.
“Fly to the airport,” shouts someone, most likely General Kochi, commander-in-chief of PPS. “Flying this time is not possible, I cannot accept this risk,” Osuli insists.
They were forced to take some money out of the helicopters with eight soldiers.
Fazli is very unhappy. “Maybe this flight will not happen and that flight too,” he says.
“It must be reduced many times, the weight of the helicopter has not been reduced,” said Rahmatullah Osuli, commander of the air battalion. Soldiers again called for soldiers standing in the square next to vehicles.
Soldiers took the money out of the helicopters, about “one-half of the money” is put in the cars, and then the helicopters flew. The soldiers and drivers of the president’s cars, who were left in the square frustrated, upset and angry, decided to distribute the money among themselves. From the square, they return to the special parking lot for the president’s cars, locked the gates of the parking from the inside, and started distributing money.
One in the car, one in the box, one in the clothes, one on the map, they moved their shares, and then opened the gates of the parking. The president’s special land cruisers were speeding towards the citadel gates at the intersection of Zanbaq and Ghazni gates.
The administration realizes that someone has taken something out of the citadel. But it’s too late.
Someone from the citadel informs former President Hamid Karzai that Mohammad Ashraf Ghani and General Qaher Kochi have fled and that the Afghan government is left without a leader. Hamid Karzai calls Abdul Ahmad Mohammadi, PPS’s deputy chief of operations, telling him to take over the PPS until he clarifies the situation. “The president, Muhib, Fazli, and Kochi left, I am in charge, you and I are doing our job normally to see what they will lead next,” Mohammadi told the soldiers.
However, control of the citadel was impossible. Those who remained in the citadel began looting the remaining money in various presidential offices.
200,000 to 250,000 of operative money was taken to the gate by Kochi’s aides in the hands of his assistant. $500,000 was taken from Hamdullah Muhib’s office. The ATMs of several banks broke down and money was spilled. Several soldiers tried to collect the money again; They were able to raise nearly $100,000, moving them all in a Humvee, which was there with the money until the Taliban entered the citadel and fell into their hands.
At four o’clock in the afternoon, some gunmen came to the Ghazni gate and told the soldiers to surrender and lay down their weapons. The soldiers wanted to guide the administration in the broadcast, there was no one to guide the soldiers. Mohammadi’s telecommunication was turned off, General Ashraf Nabizada, one of the PPS officers, called to the telecommunication system: “Do not let anyone in, I think Mohammadi is gone.”
Hours later, the gate soldiers shouted again, “Gunmen are firing at us. What can we do?” There was no one to guide the soldiers. The soldiers said, “We will keep our weapons and go. Because there is no one to take responsibility.”
It was 7:40 pm when the supervisor said, “Six people should be in the citadel, others should wear civilian clothes, leave their weapons, and leave.”
With a world of grief and anger, without changing his military uniform and retaining his weapon, he walks towards the Zanbaq Crossroads, standing at the crossroads of several armed Taliban, expecting violence, to shoot. But they say go. He walks home.
Ashraf Ghani’s escape was pre-planned. Hamdullah Muhib and Fazl Mahmoud Fazli coordinated the escape plan. But the day and hour of the escape were not clear.
National Security had obtained information that a plane had been parked at Kabul Airport shortly before the collapse of the regime, and was being secured by soldiers of the President’s Special Security Forces. No one was allowed to approach it. The day of the escape was to first fly to the airport and fly out of Afghanistan on that pre-arranged plane, but the chaos at the airport prevented them from leaving Afghanistan on the plane.
At around 14:45, the president instructed the director of national security and the interior minister to stop the chaos, thieves, and opportunists in the city. He assured that contact had been made with the Taliban and that the Taliban would not enter Kabul for two weeks. But the unrest intensified in Kabul and on the other hand all the forces disintegrated, not even enough force was available to prevent a small disorder.
It was reported that the president had left the country. Ashraf Ghani did not raise any important issues with national security. For example, the details of his meeting with the Commander-in-Chief of the British and Pakistani Armed Forces on May 14 were not made available to national security, and the then head of national security was not present at the meeting and was not informed about anything. The former national security official believes that during the same meeting, the case of Afghanistan was closed and Ashraf Ghani’s escape was not unrelated to that meeting.
One of the soldiers close to the president, who was on leave, was called and told, “The president is going to the Ministry of Defense, come to the office soon.” He walked from the “Bagh-e Bala” area to the citadel.
He was instructed to go to the square, the president, the first lady, Hamdullah Muhib, Fazl Mahmoud Fazli, Sohrab, the president’s assistance, and Shams, Ashraf Ghani’s aide, boarded the helicopters. As the helicopters flew, the soldiers realized that the helicopters were not heading for the Ministry of Defense, but were fleeing the president.
Many PPS soldiers also boarded helicopters. But they were told that the weight was heavy and they had to get off. They also got out of necessity. After Ashraf Ghani escaped, some PPS soldiers stationed in the square went to the exit gates of the citadel to leave the presidential compound. The guards at the exit gates tried to block their exit by firing but were unable to do so. The soldiers told the guards that their job was to secure the president, and now that he is gone, their job is over and they have to go home. After leaving the citadel, a number of these soldiers went to the gate of the American embassy. But there was no one to talk to. These soldiers were forced to go to the city and make their way to their homes.
But some other PPS soldiers did not leave the citadel, but went directly from the square to Khyber and Mangal, Ashraf Ghani’s aides, who were still present in the citadel. “Everyone left, what should we do?” One of the soldiers told Ashraf Ghani’s aides. “Wait for the bell to ring from Karzai’s house,” one aide replied.
Taliban commander Abdul Qayyum Zakir called from Hamid Karzai’s office and said, “We have nothing to do with you. Before the war and bloodshed or looting, you lay down your weapons and hand over the citadel to us. We promise you that no one will bother you in the future.”
With a world of grief and tears in their eyes, the PPS soldiers dropped their rifles one by one into the rooms and left the presidential palace, which they had guarded like pupils for years. The Taliban took control of the citadel at 8 p.m.
Note: Mohammad Ashraf Ghani rejected the transfer of money from Afghanistan. The national security official, as well as the PPS soldier, did not say anything about the transfer of money during the interview. Mohammad Ashraf Ghani has called on international organizations, including the United Nations, to investigate allegations of money laundering. SIGAR has said it is investigating Ashraf Ghani’s money transfer. Its research is not yet complete.
Anisa Shahid, Hasht-e Subh