Former Afghan President Ashraf Ghani Wednesday said fleeing Kabul was “the most difficult decision” of his life and apologized to the Afghan people for leaving “without ensuring stability and prosperity.”
Mr. Ghani, now living in exile in the United Arab Emirates, broke his silence Wednesday in a statement on Twitter, marking his first public remarks since posting a brief video on Facebook three days after he fled Afghanistan in mid-August.
“I owe the Afghan people an explanation for leaving Kabul on August 15th after the Taliban unexpectedly entered the city,” Mr. Ghani said Wednesday.
“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,” he said. “I have devoted 20 years of my life to helping the Afghan people work toward building a democratic, prosperous, and sovereign state — it was never my intent to abandon the people or that vision.”
Mr. Ghani became the second president elected under the U.S.-backed Afghan government, succeeding two-term president Hamid Karzai in 2014.
On Aug. 15, Mr. Ghani fled to the UAE just before Kabul fell to a swift Taliban offensive that toppled his government.
Mr. Ghani’s Vice President Amrullah Saleh remained in Afghanistan after Mr. Ghani fled, declaring himself to be the “acting president” of Afghanistan on Aug. 17, and joined the anti-Taliban National Resistance Front (NRF) in the rugged Panjshir Valley north of Kabul.
Neither the White House nor the State Department has publicly backed Mr. Saleh.
Other members of the government and political establishment, including former President Hamid Karzai and former top government negotiator Abdullah Abdullah, remained in Kabul to negotiate with the new Taliban leadership.
In a Facebook post on Aug. 18, Mr. Ghani said he fled to avoid bloodshed if he remained in office.
“The decision was made that whatever happened 25 years ago would be repeated if I had stayed the president of Afghanistan,” he said. “I would have been hanged in front of the eyes of the people of Afghanistan and this would have been a dreadful disaster in our history.”
Reports later surfaced that Mr. Ghani had absconded with cash belonging to the Afghan people. The Russian Embassy in Kabul reported that Mr. Ghani had fled the country with “four cars and a helicopter full of cash.” But a senior official in the Afghan government denied the reporting soon after it began to surface and told CNN that Mr. Ghani fled with just the “clothes he was wearing.”
In his statement Wednesday, Mr. Ghani denied the allegations.
“These charges are completely and categorically false,” Mr. Ghani said of the claims. “Corruption is a plague that has crippled our country for decades and fighting corruption has been a central focus of my efforts as president.”
Often the target of U.S. frustration for failing to strengthen the country’s administration and end internal bickering, Mr. Ghani said he would have more to say soon, praised the country’s security forces, and apologized once again to the Afghan people.
“I apologize to the Afghan people that I could not make it end differently,” he wrote. “My commitment to the Afghan people has never wavered and will guide me for the rest of my life.”