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how Kabul fell to the Taliban

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US soldiers crept out of Bagram Airfield in the dead of night on July 1st. As they departed, they shut off the electricity in the fortified military base that had been the heart of America’s war against the Taliban and their al-Qaeda allies for two decades.

It was not just the air base the Americans left in the dark but also Afghan troops. Washington was determined to withdraw all US soldiers from Afghanistan by September 11th, the anniversary of the al-Qaeda-led attacks on the US that prompted the invasion of the landlocked central Asian country in 2001. Bagram was to be taken over by the local armed forces, tasked under the leadership of President Ashraf Ghani with picking up the fight against a resurgent Taliban.

Mistrustful of their Afghan counterparts, US commanders chose not to disclose the precise time of their departure. “For operational security reasons, we didn’t go into the exact hour at which all US forces would leave Bagram,” John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman, would confirm later.

When the Afghan commander discovered the US troops had left hours earlier, Bagram had already been looted.

An Afghan National Army soldier in Bagram Airfield four days after it was abandoned by US troops on July 1st. Photograph: Wakil Kohsar/AFP via Getty Images
An Afghan National Army soldier in Bagram Airfield four days after it was abandoned by US troops on July 1st. Photograph: Wakil Kohsar/AFP via Getty Images

The tactical decision would reverberate long after. Afghan ground forces were already anxious about operating without protective US air cover and intelligence. The Bagram desertion reinforced the sense of abandonment growing within Ghani’s administration ever since February 2020, when then-president Donald Trump struck a deal with the Taliban over the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan.

“The February 2020 deal was an exit deal, not peace deal, and the hasty manner in which it was conducted destroyed the remaining psychological security that Afghan forces felt from their 20-year partnership with the US forces,” said Mike Martin, a former British army officer who served in Afghanistan and author of An Intimate War, a book on the conflict.

“That was symbolised by leaving Bagram in the middle of the night – without telling the Afghans – which gave the Taliban a perfect propaganda message.”

Within weeks, most of Afghanistan’s US-equipped and trained army units would surrender with little resistance to motorbike-riding, Kalashnikov-wielding fighters – allowing the Taliban to seize Kabul in an offensive whose speed stunned Washington, Nato allies and the Islamist group itself.

The capture of Zaranj

Over the past year, the Taliban expanded its influence over Afghanistan’s sparsely populated rural areas, moving in people and equipment. They used intimidation – via targeted killings of civil society figures and threats on social media – but also local diplomacy to strike deals with tribal leaders in anticipation of the US withdrawal.

In late July, US officials estimated that the Taliban controlled half of Afghanistan’s 420 rural districts, up from just a fifth a month earlier. By then, the group intent on establishing a radical Islamist emirate in Afghanistan had set its sights on the country’s cities, all under government control.

The Taliban’s initial attacks last month on three key cities – Kandahar and Lashkar Gah in the south, and Herat in the west – were initially repelled by the western trained commandos of the Afghan special forces.

But on August 6th, the Taliban captured Zaranj, the dusty capital of south-western Nimroz province, with little resistance. With no special forces present to assist them, Afghan troops and officials fled to neighbouring Iran, setting off alarm bells in Washington, which had not expected the Taliban to immediately mount frontal attacks on cities.

People in Zaranj on August 7th, the day after it was captured by the Taliban. Photograph: AFP via Getty Images
People in Zaranj on August 7th, the day after it was captured by the Taliban. Photograph: AFP via Getty Images

The next day, the Taliban captured a second provincial capital, Sheberghan, the northern stronghold of Abdul Rashid Dostum, the 67-year-old ethnic Uzbek warlord and former Afghan vice-president who had returned to Afghanistan days before after staying several months in Turkey for medical treatment.

In videos circulating on social media, Taliban fighters appeared open-mouthed inside Dostum’s opulent palace with its baroque gold-painted furniture and dazzling red and blue neon disco lights, later trying on his ceremonial military uniforms and ethnic dress pulled from his closet.

Within two days, the Taliban was in control of five of Afghanistan’s 34 provincial capitals, four of which were in the north – historically a bastion of warlords’ resistance to Taliban rule. They also laid siege to Kandahar and Herat, Afghanistan’s second- and third-largest cities. This prompted the US and the UK to request their citizens to leave the country immediately.

In Washington, President Joe Biden remarked the US had spent $1 trillion in Afghanistan, including on training and equipping the armed forces.

“They have got to want to fight,” he said.

Ghani swallows his pride

Ghani, a former World Bank official and author of a book on fixing failed states, was elected president in 2014. But as Washington sought to extricate itself from Afghanistan, he grew isolated.

Foreign officials say Ghani – whose resignation the Taliban demanded as a precondition for talks with Kabul – was in denial. They describe a leader who was convinced that Biden would abandon his predecessor’s withdrawal plans, and contemptuous of the battle-hardened northern warlords who could help him rally resistance to a Taliban onslaught.

As the Taliban advanced, Ghani first remained aloof. That changed last Wednesday when he flew to the northern provincial capital of Mazar-i-Sharif to rally warlords he despised to defend the city. There, he met Dostum, who arrived separately from Kabul on a commercial flight filled with loyal commandos.

Then presidential candidate Ashraf Ghani (right) with his vice-presidential candidate, Abdul Rashid Dostum, in 2014. Photograph: Shah Marai/AFP via Getty Images
Then presidential candidate Ashraf Ghani (right) with his vice-presidential candidate, Abdul Rashid Dostum, in 2014. Photograph: Shah Marai/AFP via Getty Images

“He has had to swallow his pride and actually deal with them,” said Ahmed Rashid, author of several books on central Asia. The warlords were “the only people putting up resistance”, he added.

The talks between Ghani, Dostum and local strongman Atta Mohammad Noor, governor of Balkh province, were overshadowed by the mass surrender that same day of hundreds of Afghan soldiers in nearby Kunduz. By the time Ghani flew back to Kabul, the Taliban was in control of nine of the country’s 34 provincial capitals.

Denial in Washington

In Washington, Biden met his national security advisers to discuss the deteriorating security situation. The Pentagon had been conducting evacuation drills for months, and carried out a tabletop exercise to evacuate US citizens from Kabul 10 days earlier.

But only last Thursday, as a 12th provincial capital fell, did Biden give the order to implement an embassy evacuation plan involving the deployment of 3,000 troops. On Saturday, Biden sent another 1,000 troops.

That Thursday evening Adela Raz, Afghanistan’s ambassador to the US, tried to alert senior Biden administration officials and other senior congressional Democrats, seeking an urgent increase in US support for the Afghan armed forces.

“She spent the entirety of Thursday night and Friday trying to speak to everybody,” said an official at the Afghan embassy. But she could not raise all the officials. And though some congressional leaders expressed sympathy, Raz’s calls for action fell on deaf ears.

The US ambassador to Afghanistan, Adela Raz, at an event in late June. Photograph: Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images
The US ambassador to Afghanistan, Adela Raz, at an event in late June. Photograph: Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

A US defence official admitted the evacuation plan “looked haphazard”. It offered contingencies for different scenarios and ground conditions, but was initially underpinned by the assumption of “a permissive” environment – namely that Kabul would not be subjected to any Taliban threat during the operation.

A veteran warlord surrenders

Near the Iranian border, veteran warlord Mohammad Ismail Khan had for weeks resumed the fight against the old enemy. He and his militia were to defend Herat, his hometown and the cradle of Afghanistan’s Sufi tradition, far removed from the Taliban’s austere Wahabism.

Khan’s troops were expanded by disgruntled Afghan soldiers, unhappy with the army’s ineffectiveness and alleged failure to pay their salaries.

But by Friday, the 70-year-old warlord had laid down his arms and was posing for photographs on a plush sofa with members of the same Islamist organisation he had fought as part of the northern alliance in the 1990s. One of them wrapped his arm around his shoulders.

Veteran Afghanwarlord Mohammad Ismail Khan in March, 2014. Photograph: Aref Karimi/AFP via Getty Images
Veteran Afghanwarlord Mohammad Ismail Khan in March, 2014. Photograph: Aref Karimi/AFP via Getty Images

“Very, very complex local dynamics hard to comprehend for anyone,” Kabul-based Afghan journalist Bilal Sarwary said in a tweet.

Mazar-i-Sharif fell on Saturday morning, sending Dostum and Noor scurrying to neighbouring Uzbekistan. Noor hinted that the Taliban’s blitz had been facilitated. “Despite our firm resistance, all the government and [security forces] equipment were handed over to the Taliban as the result of a big organised and cowardly plot,” he said in a tweet from his refuge. “I have a lot of untold stories that I will share in due course.”

That afternoon, the value of the Afghani, the national currency, plunged 20 per cent against the US dollar. As government officials boarded commercial flights out of the country, Ghani belatedly released a brief pre-recorded message on television, vowing to “remobilise the armed forces”.

Taliban at the gates

By Sunday morning, Kabul was encircled by Taliban fighters. Helicopters flew US embassy officials to the airport. Another 1,000 American troops were ordered to secure the airport and assist the evacuation after Afghan forces vanished. Any assault on US citizens would be met with a “swift and strong military response”, Biden warned.

In the Qatari capital of Doha, US commander Gen Frank McKenzie met Taliban leaders to agree a deconfliction arrangement during the US evacuation in Kabul. The Taliban would not hinder the US evacuation effort at the airport, but would be able to walk into the presidential palace.

At 7pm, Afghans learned that Ghani had fled. Islamist militants poured into Kabul and took over abandoned police posts. They were even given a tour of the presidential palace by security personnel.

Members of theTaliban inthe presidential palace in Kabul on Monday. Photograph: Al Jazeera/AFP via Getty Images
Members of theTaliban inthe presidential palace in Kabul on Monday. Photograph: Al Jazeera/AFP via Getty Images

Over the weekend, 22 Afghan military aircraft and 24 Afghan helicopters carrying 585 Afghan servicemen flew to Uzbekistan. Planes evacuating at least 100 Afghan troops also landed in Bokhtar in Tajikistan.

On Monday, Kabul woke up to Taliban occupation. In the airport, pandemonium erupted as mobs of desperate Afghans overran the tarmac and tried to push their way on to planes flying out. The day before, one US flight had taken 640 Afghans on the floor of a single military plane. Now, US military helicopters buzzed the crowds to clear the runways for take-off.

Some among those staying behind clung to the landing gear of a US military plane, only to fall to their deaths shortly after take-off. The air force found human remains in the wheel base after it landed.

Meanwhile, in the capital, whose squares filled with families fleeing the Taliban, conspiracy theories were running wild as lives – in and out of the country – were shaken up.

“There were multiple rumours that directions not to fight were somehow coming from above,” Ajmal Ahmady, the Harvard-educated governor of the Afghan central bank, said in a tweet on Monday after going into exile.

“Seems difficult to believe but there remains a suspicion about why the [Afghan National Security Forces] left their posts so quickly. There is something unexplained.” – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2021

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Oscar-winning La La Land star Emma Stone places three-bedroom Malibu home up for sale for $4.2M

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Oscar-winning La La Land star Emma Stone places three-bedroom Malibu home up for sale for $4.2 million

  • Stone, 33, purchased the oceanfront property for $3.25 in 2018
  • The home spans more than 1,700 sq. feet over 3.2 acres of property in the luxe Southern California area 
  • The home includes exquisite views of the Los Angeles cityscape, Pacific Ocean and Catalina Island 
  • Stone also owns houses in Los Angeles and Austin, Texas; and an apartment in Manhattan 

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Emma Stone is looking to sell her three-bedroom, two-bathroom home in Malibu, California for $4.2 million.

The 33-year-old actress has listed the mid-century bungalow home on the real estate market, about four years after she purchased the oceanfront property for $3.25 in 2018, The Wall Street Journal reported.

The one-story home belonging to the Oscar-winning La La Land star spans more than 1,700 sq. feet over 3.2 acres of property in the luxe Southern California area.

The latest: Emma Stone, 33, is looking to sell her three-bedroom, two-bathroom home in Malibu, California for $4.2 million. The Academy Award-winning actress was snapped in Athens, Greece earlier this month

The latest: Emma Stone, 33, is looking to sell her three-bedroom, two-bathroom home in Malibu, California for $4.2 million. The Academy Award-winning actress was snapped in Athens, Greece earlier this month 

Sotheby’s International Realty listing agent Eric Lavey, who is the listing agent on the property, described the home to the paper as ‘a classic 1958 California Midcentury hanging over the Pacific’ and ‘the Malibu beach house they would choose for a Nancy Meyers movie.’

The Scottsdale, Arizona-born beauty’s home includes exquisite views of the Los Angeles cityscape, Pacific Ocean and Catalina Island, and is within walking distance of nearby hiking trails and the beach.

The Cruella star’s house, which has been renovated in recent years, has a state-of-the-art kitchen with gold accents.

The living room of the abode is centered around a fireplace encased in a white brick column, as floor-to-ceiling windows in the home allow for sunlight to pour in.

The living room of the abode is centered around a fireplace encased in a white brick column

The living room of the abode is centered around a fireplace encased in a white brick column

The home boasts amazing views of the Pacific Ocean via multiple angles and vantage points

The home boasts amazing views of the Pacific Ocean via multiple angles and vantage points 

The home features a dining area outdoors which is sequestered by eucalyptus and yucca trees

The home features a dining area outdoors which is sequestered by eucalyptus and yucca trees

A dining room in the home sits adjacent to an outdoor patio

A dining room in the home sits adjacent to an outdoor patio 

A bathroom in the home has a standalone bathtub along with a rain shower.

The home features a dining area outdoors which is sequestered by eucalyptus and yucca trees, and a patio with a panoramic view of the coast.

Other amenities the home features includes a recreation room and art studio.

The Cruella star's house, which has been renovated in recent years, has a state-of-the-art kitchen

The Cruella star’s house, which has been renovated in recent years, has a state-of-the-art kitchen 

The home is made of white brick and wood with gold accents and state-of-the-art appliances

The home is made of white brick and wood with gold accents and state-of-the-art appliances 

A dine-in area sits adjacent to the kitchen in the stunning beach home

A dine-in area sits adjacent to the kitchen in the stunning beach home 

In the years since she acquired the home, Stone in 2020 wed writer Dave McCary, 36, and the couple welcomed a baby daughter in March of 2021.

According to the paper, Stone also owns houses in Los Angeles and Austin, Texas; and an apartment in Manhattan.

Lavey told the paper that he expected the house to sell quickly, as there is a scarcity of homes in that price range in Malibu, and residents of other well-heeled Los Angeles locales such as Beverly Hills or Holmby Hills are partial to purchasing smaller beach homes.

A master bedroom in the home outlooks a panoramic view of the Pacific Ocean

A master bedroom in the home outlooks a panoramic view of the Pacific Ocean 

Floor-to-ceiling windows in the home allow for sunlight to pour into the home

Floor-to-ceiling windows in the home allow for sunlight to pour into the home 

A bathroom in the home includes a rain shower and standalone tub

A bathroom in the home includes a rain shower and standalone tub

A shower in the bathroom has a glass door with gold fixtures

A shower in the bathroom has a glass door with gold fixtures 

A brick-lined patio area boasts a stunning view of the Pacific Ocean

A brick-lined patio area boasts a stunning view of the Pacific Ocean 

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More than 9,000 artists apply for universal basic income scheme

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More than 9,000 artists have applied for a new dedicated basic income scheme which will see successful applicants receive €325 a week.

Minister for the Arts Catherine Martin said there had been a “huge level of enthusiasm” for the scheme and described the plans as a “watershed moment” for the sector.

Assessment of the applications has started and the process will take a number of weeks given the high volume received.

The basic income scheme was launched in April when the Government announced the payment would be made available to 2,000 applicants in total.

The Coalition has said the objective of the scheme is to address the earnings instability that can be associated with the intermittent and sometimes project-based nature of work in the arts.

The process for selecting successful applicants will be non-competitive, so once a person satisfies the eligibility criteria they will be included in a randomised selection process to pick the successful 2,000. It is understood unsuccessful but eligible applicants will be invited to participate in a control group to help with an appraisal of the pilot scheme.

A basic income for artists was the main recommendation of the Arts and Culture Recovery Taskforce set up in 2020 to examine how the sector could adapt and recover from the crisis caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The scheme opened for applications on April 12th and closed on Thursday, May 12th.

The Department of Arts said the highest number of applications came from those in the visual arts sector, followed by those involved in music, then film and then literature.

‘Watershed moment’

Speaking to The Irish Times, Ms Martin said it represented “a watershed moment in the funding of artistic practice in Ireland”.

“The new measure makes a statement about our values as a nation – that the voices of artists have been heard and that the arts matter. This is a unique opportunity to research the impact a basic income could have on the arts and to provide the evidence base for a permanent support.

“I am very pleased with the huge level of enthusiasm for the basic income for the arts pilot scheme and am delighted that over 9,000 artists and creative arts workers were willing to participate in this innovate research project.”

Mr Martin said the scheme “heralds a new approach to the way the State funds and recognises her artists and I look forward to seeing the data and findings of the research during the pilot”.

There had been significant interest in the new scheme for artists from other countries, media and practitioners, which indicated the enthusiasm in the arts globally for the move, the Minister added.

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Neinver begins construction of Alpes The Style Outlets (FR)

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NEINVER has resumed construction works at Alpes The Style Outlets, which once completed will mark the company’s 17th outlet centre across 6 European countries. The company broke ground last March and works are advancing on schedule, with the development of three platforms that will house the main building and car park all well underway. Alpes The Style Outlets, which will be NEINVER’s second outlet centre in France, boasts an exceptional location near the Swiss border, close to Geneva and next to key tourist destinations. It will feature 20,400m² of GLA, over 90 boutiques and restaurants providing both local and international cuisine.

 

“France is a strategic market for NEINVER. Our aim is to develop and operate this centre with the local community firmly involved, providing it with an exciting leisure option, while also contributing to improving the region’s economic and social development,” commented Daniel Losantos, NEINVER Chief Executive Officer. “Outlet centres have shown continued resilience, and this development is a clear vote of confidence in the sector and in the opportunity the site offers to brands to further grow their business.”

 

Located 25 minutes from Geneva, the scheme will offer 1,350 parking spaces and will have direct access to the A-40 motorway, a key transport link between France and Switzerland and to popular winter destinations. It will also be easily accessible by high-speed train thanks to the Paris to Geneva connection, with a TGV station located just 5 minutes from the future centre.

 

“We are seeing keen interest from our brand partners in this one-of-a-kind project due to its exciting retail proposition and its unique location, with great brands such as Adidas, Guess and Levi’s already joining the scheme”, said Joan Rouras, NEINVER Leasing and Retail Director. The centre is exceptionally well located in the Grand Genève area, which enjoys a strong purchasing power and high levels of tourism. The region has also seen a spike in population growth in recent years and is expected to continue increasing significantly in the coming years. To attract these customers, we are designing a destination that will feature an exclusive retail mix of sought-after international brands and the best of what the local area has to offer – a compelling offer for any fashion lover or avid sports fan.”

 

Finely tuned to the local landscape, Alpes The Style Outlets will offer an avant-garde atmosphere, combining natural materials such as wood and stone for a contemporary look. In this open mall concept designed in an “Alpine village” style with chalet-style shops and terraces, NEINVER plans to create a promenade destination and a relaxing day-out providing much more than just shopping. Lyon-based SEV Architectures will project monitor the construction under the coordination and supervision of Arcadis, leading global design and consultancy.

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