Several of his closest political associates surrendered without a fight to the Taliban or fled into exile. His army has all but collapsed and the warlords he counted on have proved ineffective, or negotiate for their lives.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani is more isolated than ever and under pressure to step aside – and not just from the Taliban. His rule is shrinking day by day. He rules the capital Kabul, two other cities to the north and east, and pockets in the interior.
Yet Mr Ghani stubbornly clings to power.
On Wednesday, he flew to one of his loyalist entrenchments, the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif, in an effort to rally pro-government forces. On Thursday, officials said he spoke by phone with Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III. On Friday, he was said to lead a national security meeting at the Kabul presidential palace.
The options of the Afghan president seem limited. He has little discernible support at home or from his former foreign backers. Street demonstrations in support of his army quickly died out.
Thousands of his soldiers, who surrender en masse, have decided that Mr Ghani is “not worth fighting for”, Omar Zakhilwal, a former finance minister, tweeted friday.
Far from hinting at stepping down, the president has merely suggested that he would not run for re-election if the Taliban agreed to elections. Their rage on the battlefield seems to have rendered the offer irrelevant. As his country slips and the provincial capitals fall, Mr Ghani and his advisers have said little, sometimes even refusing to acknowledge the losses.
Even Mr Ghani’s sizable corps of bodyguards, said to number in the thousands, poses a potential threat. Many come from villages now controlled by the Taliban.
Leading Afghanistan is a dangerous business. For more than a century, most Afghan rulers have been killed or died in exile, Boston University anthropologist Thomas Barfield points out.
But if – as seems increasingly likely – Mr. Ghani is overthrown by the Taliban, he can claim a special award. “This will be the first insurgency to ever oust a government from Kabul that has also gained the support of a foreign power,” Mr Barfield said.
The last time the Taliban took power, in 1996, one former ruler hurled a lamppost in central Kabul and the other fled hundreds of miles north to rule a postage stamp state for five years.
Mr. Ghani shows no sign that the cruel lessons of the past affect him any more than the uncertain present and the anxious future.
“He is squatting,” said Torhek Farhadi, a former Afghan presidential adviser. He refuses to admit the reality. The news is passed on to him through a filter.”
“Trusted lieutenants surrendered this morning,” Mr Farhadi said, referring to the recent capitulations of the governors Mr Ghani had appointed in Ghazni and Logar provinces.
“He’s in danger from his own bodyguards,” Mr Farhadi said. “That’s the way it is in Afghanistan. Such are the last days of every leader.”
Khalid Payenda, Mr Ghazni’s young finance minister, fled the country a few days ago.
Leadership traits that in the past aggravated his fellow citizens — Mr Ghani’s refusal to delegate authority or listen to others more knowledgeable than himself, especially in the military field — are now proving deadly to the Afghan state.
“He’s isolated, confused and very suspicious of everyone,” said Tamim Asey, a former deputy defense secretary. “He doesn’t know how to reverse this. I don’t see any signs that he has a program.”
Unless a compromise can be reached, Mr Asey said: “I would say that very soon Kabul could become a bloodbath.”
The Taliban have said the fighting will not end unless Mr Ghani is removed. As the “polarizing figure” in Mr Farhadi’s words, Mr Ghani has “humiliated the Taliban over and over by saying, ‘You are the front men of the Pakistanis’.” In return, the Taliban see him as the “accomplice” of the Americans.
Analysts place much of the blame for the current disaster on the head of Mr Ghani, a former World Bank anthropologist and published author with excessive confidence in his own intellect.
The Americans tried to build republican institutions on Afghan soil, but that turned out to be a fragile facade. Instead, Mr Ghani personalized power with disastrous results.
“He needed the militias in the north and west,” but showed contempt for their leaders. On Friday, a senior militia leader in the western city of Herat, Ismail Khan, surrendered to the Taliban.
Mr. Ghani “took advice from no one,” said Mr. Barfield of Boston University. “If he had delegated power to the military, it might have been saved. Now it’s a matter of biting reality.”