Taliban fighters stand over a damaged police vehicle on the side of the road in Kandahar on August 13, 2021.
AFP | Getty Images
The Taliban overtook two of Afghanistan’s largest cities, the most recent conquests of the insurgents who are swiftly taking control of the country just weeks before the US withdrawal is complete.
Islamist militants captured Kandahar, the country’s second largest city, and Herat, the third largest city, NBC News reported Friday, citing a Taliban spokesman and local Afghan officials.
The insurgents have now taken at least half of Afghanistan’s 34 provincial capitals, taken control of about two-thirds of the country and surrounded Kabul, where the US embassy is preparing the evacuation of all diplomatic personnel except core personnel.
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The Afghan government’s security forces collapsed and many civilians fled their homes when the Taliban advanced surprisingly quickly into the country’s center of power.
But the White House said Friday morning that Biden stood by his decision to end the U.S. presence in Afghanistan after nearly two decades of fighting following the September 11th terrorist attacks.
“The president is firmly focused on how we can continue to conduct an orderly withdrawal and protect our men and women serving in Afghanistan,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement.
“You heard him earlier this week: he doesn’t regret his decision,” said Psaki.
In addition to the dispatch of three infantry battalions of the Marines and Army to Kabul, a US infantry brigade is on standby in Kuwait. Another 1,000-strong unit, consisting of Army and Air Force personnel, is being deployed to Qatar to help process special immigrant visas for Afghan nationals who supported US and NATO forces during the war.
The US national flag is reflected on the windows of the US embassy building in Kabul on July 30, 2021.
Sajjad Hussain | AFP | Getty Images
Still, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Thursday that the US still expects to completely withdraw all troops by the end of August.
The UK said Thursday it would dispatch around 600 soldiers to help its citizens leave Afghanistan, where around 4,000 British nationals are believed to be stationed. Canada is also sending special forces to the country to evacuate staff from the Canadian embassy in Kabul.
This is the evolution of news. Please check again for updates.
– CNBC’s Amanda Macias contributed to this report.