CNN  — 

A former senior official of Afghanistan’s ousted President Ashraf Ghani has detailed a vivid picture of the last weeks of Ghani’s government, including how the President and his advisers were stunned by the speed of the Taliban’s advance on the capital of Kabul.

Ghani was far from prepared for the Taliban’s arrival on the outskirts of Kabul last Saturday and fled Sunday with only the clothes he was wearing, the former senior official told CNN.

In those final hours, the official said a senior member of the Ghani administration met in Kabul with a prominent member of a group allied to both the Taliban and al Qaeda, who told him bluntly that the government must surrender.

“In the days leading up to the Taliban coming in Kabul, we had been working on a deal with the US to hand over peacefully to an inclusive government and for President Ghani to resign,” he said.

“These talks were underway when the Taliban came into the city. The Taliban entering Kabul city from multiple points was interpreted by our intelligence as hostile advances,” the senior official said.

“We had received intelligence for over a year that the President would be killed in the event of a takeover,” the official added.

The former senior official said former Afghan President Ashraf Ghani left the country with just the clothes on his back.

Vice President Amrullah Saleh fled on Sunday morning, the former official said, heading north to the Panjshir Valley. Many others fled the presidential compound “shortly after when there was gunfire outside the palace. People in the city were panicked and many security personnel abandoned their posts.”

“At that point, our goal was to save the city and its citizens from fighting in the streets. This was maintained and the deal we had started negotiating (that) continues today in the hands of (former Afghan chief executive) Abdullah Abdullah and (former President Hamid) Karzai.”

Ghani left in haste, the former official said.

“He went to Termez in Uzbekistan, where he spent one night and then from there to the UAE (United Arab Emirates). There was no money with him. He literally just had the clothes he was wearing.”

Ghani, who has been criticized for leaving Afghans to an uncertain fate under the Taliban, denied reports on Wednesday that he left Kabul with millions of dollars in cash. He explained in a Facebook message that he left the country to avert bloodshed, and that he fled without even changing his shoes.

Taliban fighters stand guard outside the Interior Ministry in Kabul on Tuesday, August 17.

Speedy collapse

The former official described the thinking inside the palace as the Taliban swept through provincial capitals and how holding Kandahar – Afghanistan’s second largest city – was a critical factor.

“Our thinking was that Kandahar had enough forces in addition to local forces. Additional forces were also sent from Khost, and we were thinking they would be able to hold Kandahar as they did in Helmand (province),” he said.

Once Kandahar fell last Friday, “it was obvious that Kabul could no longer hold but we thought we had more time than we did until Taliban reached Kabul. It happened much faster,” the former official said.

“Before Kandahar fell, a strategy of consolidating forces was drawn with the help of US forces. However, the speed of collapse, which no one foresaw, never allowed for the consolidation of forces to be completed,” he said.

Another reason for the speed of the collapse, he said, was the announcement of the withdrawal of remaining US forces, which was made by US President Joe Biden in April and began in May.