Afghanistan's Taliban insurgents entered Kabul on Sunday, President Ashraf Ghani left the country and the US Embassy said the capital's airport, where diplomats, officials and other Afghans had fled, had come under fire.
It was not yet clear where Ghani was headed or how power would be transferred following the militant Islamist group's lighting sweep across Afghanistan that led back to the capital two decades after it was overthrown by US-led forces.
"The security situation in Kabul is changing quickly including at the airport. There are reports of the airport taking fire; therefore we are instructing US citizens to shelter in place," a US Embassy security alert said.
Hundreds of Afghans, some of them government ministers and government employees and also other civilians including many women and children, crowded in the terminal desperately waiting for flights out.
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"The airport is out of control... the (Afghan) government just sold us out," said an official at the scene who declined to be named for security reasons.
American diplomats were evacuated from their embassy by helicopter to the airport as local Afghan forces, trained for years and equipped by the United States and others for billions of dollars, melted away.
Ghani's destination was uncertain: a senior Interior Ministry official said he had left for Tajikistan, while a Foreign Ministry official said his location was unknown and the Taliban said it was checking his whereabouts.
Some local social media users branded him a "coward" for leaving them in chaos.
Taliban fighers reached Kabul "from all sides", the senior Interior Ministry official told Reuters and there were some reports of sporadic gunfire around the city.
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Insurgents entered the presidential palace and took control of it, two senior Taliban commanders in Kabul said. The Afghan government did not confirm this.
A Kabul hospital said more than 40 people wounded in clashes on the outskirts were being treated, but there did not appear to be major fighting.
Two officials from the Taliban told Reuters there would be no transitional government and the Taliban said earlier it was waiting for the Western-backed government to surrender peacefully.
The government's acting interior minister, Abdul Sattar Mirzakawal, said power would be handed over to a transitional administration.