Former Afghan president denies cowardice, massive theft

(AP Photo/Massoud Hossaini)

During the fall of Kabul near the end of America’s disastrous withdrawal from the country, one of the more shocking headlines to emerge related how the President of the country, Ashraf Ghani, had fled his office with a few of his closest associates as the Taliban fighters approached. He reportedly packed up some helicopters with millions of dollars in cash and flew out of the country, leaving his citizens to fend for themselves. Shortly after that, Taliban leaders were seen posing for a now infamous picture inside of Ghani’s offices. Now, on the anniversary of that debacle, Ghani agreed to an interview with CNN in which he told a very different version of the story. He claimed that he was the last person to leave the presidential palace and he only did so because he believed his life was in danger. He also denied absconding with all the money he could carry. But certain elements of his story simply don’t add up. (Associated Press)

On the eve of the anniversary of the Taliban takeover of Kabul, Afghanistan’s former president on Sunday defended what he said was a split-second decision to flee, saying he wanted to avoid the humiliation of surrender to the insurgents.

Ashraf Ghani also told CNN that on the morning of Aug. 15, 2021, with the Taliban at the gates of the Afghan capital, he was the last one at the presidential palace after his guards had disappeared. He said the defense minister told him earlier that day that Kabul could not be defended.

Ghani had previously sought to justify his actions on the day Kabul fell, but offered more details Sunday. He alleged that one of the cooks in the palace had been offered $100,000 to poison him and that he felt his immediate environment was no longer safe.

Ghani went on to insist that he was sparing the country the “humiliation” of seeing their president sign over control of the country to the “insurgents.” He capped off those remarks by saying, “I have never been afraid.”

This sounds like an effort to buff up his reputation more than anything else. Ghani claimed that he felt that his life was in danger, and that was certainly true. I have little doubt that the Taliban would have publicly executed him as a show of force against the city’s population. He knew he had an escape route and he took it.

But the fact remains that he did flee the country. He had a choice to make and he made it. Keep in mind that the President of Ukraine had a similar option offered to him and he instead chose to stand and fight alongside his people. No matter what you may think of Zelensky or the widespread corruption inside the Ukrainian government, you have to admit that he stood with his people at a critical moment and the world treated him like a hero for it.

Ghani insisted that he didn’t take tens of millions of dollars with him when he left. The press offers him a bit of cover here, pointing to a recent report from a Congressional watchdog that said it’s unlikely Ghani and his senior advisers transported “that much cash” on the helicopters. The reason they cite is based on the “hurried nature of their departure, the emphasis on passengers over cargo, the payload and performance limitations of the helicopters.”

They went on to estimate that he would have taken “little more than $500,000.” Even if they’re correct, half a million dollars is still a pretty good haul, isn’t it? But let’s think about that for a moment. A stack of $100 bills worth half a million dollars is a little over 20 inches tall. That’s less than two loaves of bread, and the bills are much narrower than bread to begin with.

The Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction admitted that there was a “strong possibility” that large sums of money “in the millions” disappeared from the presidential palace. But they were “unable to determine how much money was stolen and by whom.” With that much money laying around, are you telling me that Ghani and his buddies settled for a stack the size of a loaf of bread out of a concern over the “payload and performance limitations” of the choppers?

As to the missing money, if Ghani were only removing it to prevent it from falling into the hands of the Taliban, that would have been an acceptable situation. But he would then have needed to transfer it into some of the country’s frozen overseas bank accounts to make this a legitimate plan. I have seen no record of that happening.

Look, I don’t blame Ghani for fleeing to save his life. He wasn’t a soldier, after all. I’d have been very frightened of an approaching Taliban horde myself. But let’s not let him plaster this entire pig with lipstick, either. He flew the coop and took a pile of his country’s cash with him. His claims of noble heroics require a great stretch of the imagination, to say the least.