As security deteriorates rapidly in Afghanistan, the United States is sending an additional 3,000 troops to help evacuate some staff from the US embassy in Kabul, officials said Thursday.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Army and Navy forces will enter Afghanistan within the next two days to help Kabul airport with the partial evacuation of the embassy.
The decision to downsize the embassy was announced by State Department spokesman Ned Price, who said diplomatic work would continue at the embassy.
“Our first responsibility has always been to protect the safety and security of our citizens serving in Afghanistan and around the world,” Price said at a State Department briefing, calling the speed of the Taliban’s advance and the resulting instability of “serious concern.” “
The move suggests a lack of confidence from the Biden administration in the Afghan government’s ability to provide sufficient diplomatic security in the capital – which is home to more than 3 million Afghans – as a series of provincial capitals fall under the blow of a Taliban offensive this week.
The Pentagon had kept around 650 troops in Afghanistan to support US diplomatic security, including at the airport.
Afghan government forces collapse even faster than US military leaders believed possible just a few months ago, when President Joe Biden ordered a full withdrawal.
The Taliban, who ruled the country from 1996 until the invasion of US forces after the September 11 attacks, captured three other provincial capitals on Wednesday and two on Thursday, the 10th and 11th as the insurgents took in a sweep of ‘a week that gave them effective control of about two-thirds of the country. The insurgents do not have an air force and outnumber the US-trained Afghan Defense Force, but they have captured territory, including the country’s third largest city, Herat, in amazing speed.
In a new warning to Americans in Afghanistan, the second since Saturday, the US embassy in Kabul on Thursday again urged US citizens to leave immediately. The notice was issued ahead of announcements in Washington about further downsizing the embassy’s already limited staff.
The United States continues to support the Afghan army with limited airstrikes, but these have not made a strategic difference so far and are expected to end when the United States officially ends its role in the war on August 31. Biden could continue the airstrikes beyond that date. , but given his firm stance on ending the war, that seems unlikely.
The most recent US military assessment, taking into account the latest Taliban gains, indicates Kabul could be under pressure from insurgents by September and the country could fall entirely under Taliban control within months, according to a defense official who discussed the internal analysis. Wednesday on condition of anonymity.
Military officials watching the situation deteriorate said the Taliban had so far taken no action to threaten Kabul. But it is not clear whether the Taliban will wait until they have taken control of most of the country before attempting to seize the capital.
The security of the U.S. diplomatic corps has been the subject of discussion for months, even before the Taliban’s battlefield blitz. The military has long had a variety of planning options for evacuating personnel from Afghanistan. These options would largely be determined by the White House and the State Department.
A key part of the options would be whether the US military would have unrestricted access to Kabul International Airport, allowing personnel to systematically leave the capital by air. In a darker environment, US forces may have to fight their way if the Taliban infiltrated the city.