US Embassy in Kabul cuts workers as Taliban quickly advance in direction of Afghan capital

A Taliban fighter guarded the entrance to the police headquarters in Ghazni on August 12, 2021, when the Taliban moved closer to the Afghan capital after taking the city of Ghazni.

AFP | Getty Images

WASHINGTON – The US embassy in Kabul is reducing its staff to a “core diplomatic presence,” with the Department of Defense deploying additional troops to support the withdrawal as security conditions deteriorate in Afghanistan amid a rapid advance by the Taliban on the country’s capital.

The Taliban captured the strategically important city of Ghazni on Thursday and their front line is within 95 miles of Kabul, an astonishing development that takes place almost two weeks before US and NATO coalition forces exit.

The militants also claim to have captured Afghanistan’s third largest city, Herat, in the northwest near Iran. Fierce fighting has also been reported in Kandahar, the country’s second largest city.

“In view of the evolving security situation, we assume that we will fall back on a core diplomatic presence in Afghanistan,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Ned Price on Thursday.

“To make this reduction possible, the Department of Defense will temporarily deploy additional personnel to Hamid Karzai International Airport in the coming weeks,” Price said.

Foreign Secretary Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Thursday to coordinate the planning, Price said.

The US embassy urged Americans to leave Afghanistan immediately for the second time this week, warning that their ability to help American citizens was “extremely limited, even in Kabul,” due to deteriorating security conditions and downsizing.

However, Price stressed that the US embassy remains open and the State Department is intensifying its efforts to relocate Afghans who have worked with the US during the war.

U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Ross Willson speaks to the media about Operation Allies Refuge on July 30, 2021 at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Paula Bronstein | Getty Images

Since President Joe Biden’s decision in April to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan, the Taliban have made breathtaking strides on the battlefield, with nearly two-thirds of the nation under their control.

Although the Afghan military was vastly outnumbered, the Taliban captured three Afghan provincial capitals and a local army headquarters in Kunduz on Wednesday, according to the Associated Press.

Wednesday’s wins followed a dramatic blitz weekend in which the group captured five provincial Afghan capitals.

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At the Pentagon, spokesman John Kirby told reporters on Wednesday that the ongoing Taliban offensive in the war-torn country violates a commitment made by the group last year to begin peace talks with the Afghan government.

“What we are seeing on the ground is that the Taliban are advancing and taking control of district and provincial centers, which clearly shows that they believe it is possible to get government through violence, brutality, violence and repression in great contradiction to their previously stated goal of actually wanting to participate in a negotiated political solution, “said Kirby.

Afghan security personnel are patrolling after regaining control of parts of the city of Herat after fighting between the Taliban and Afghan security forces on the outskirts of Herat, 640 kilometers (397 miles) west of Kabul, Afghanistan, on Sunday, August 8, 2021.

Hamed Sarfarazi | AP

He added that while the Pentagon is concerned to see such advances by the Taliban, the Afghan military must now take advantage of nearly two decades of training from US and NATO coalition forces.

“They have the advantage in numbers, operational structure, air force and modern weapons, and it’s really about having the will and leadership to use those advantages for their own benefit,” said Kirby.

“The recipe can’t just be a permanent US presence in Afghanistan that never ends,” he added.

An Afghan special forces member takes part in a military operation against Taliban fighters in the village of Kandak Anayat in the city of Kunduz, Afghanistan, on July 23, 2021.

Ajmal Kakar | Xinhua News Agency | Getty Images

At the White House, Biden told reporters on Tuesday that he had no regrets about his decision to withdraw American troops from Afghanistan, despite the Taliban’s shocking gains.

“Look, we’ve spent over a trillion dollars over 20 years, we’ve trained and equipped over 300,000 Afghan forces with modern equipment,” Biden said.

“Afghan leaders need to come together,” added the president. “You have to fight for yourself, fight for your nation.”

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