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The US is sending additional forces to help evacuate some staff from its embassy in Kabul as the Taliban continues its lightning rout of provincial capitals in Afghanistan amid the withdrawal of American troops.
“We are further reducing our footprint in Kabul in light of the evolving security situation,” Ned Price, state department spokesperson, told reporters on Thursday, declining to specify numbers. “We expect to draw down to a core diplomatic presence in Afghanistan in the coming weeks.”
He said the extra troops would focus solely on securing the drawdown. US secretary of state Antony Blinken and US defence secretary Lloyd Austin spoke to Afghan president Ashraf Ghani to discuss the operation, he said.
Price said the reduction stopped short of a full evacuation and the US embassy remained open in its current location, describing it as “prudent contingency planning”. He said the US was co-ordinating with allies and would begin implementing the measures “soon”.
The decision underlines the threat to the Afghan capital posed by a string of victories by the Taliban, which on Thursday captured Herat, Afghanistan’s third-largest city, after a day of fierce fighting.
Kandahar, Afghanistan’s second-biggest city, also appeared on the verge of falling to the Taliban on Thursday. “It does look like . . . ANDSF forces are withdrawing from Kandahar,” a US official told the Financial Times, using the initials of the Afghan regular forces.
With the fall of Herat, the biggest city captured by the Islamists so far, the militant group has now taken control in 11 provincial capitals, including the city of Ghazni, which is strategically located on the highway from western Afghanistan to Kabul.
A US defence official told the FT the Taliban could threaten Kabul sooner than expected.
Only three days earlier, a senior Biden administration official told the FT the US “posture” at its embassy in Kabul had not changed. The administration has been evaluating threats daily.
The US embassy in Kabul on Thursday put out its second warning in six days urging American citizens to leave “immediately using available commercial flight options”.
Bill Roggio, editor of FDD’s Long War Journal who maintains a well-regarded map logging rapid Taliban gains, said when residents and foreign workers in the capital realised an evacuation was under way, the civilian international airport in central Kabul would be “mobbed”.
“If things keep going this way, they’re risking a Saigon moment,” he said.
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