With security rapidly deteriorating in Afghanistan, the U.S. is sending additional troops into the country to help evacuate some personnel from the embassy in Kabul, a U.S. official said Thursday.
The troops will provide ground and air support for the processing and security of Americans being sent out of the country, according to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Afghan government forces are collapsing even faster than U.S. military leaders thought possible just a few months ago when President Joe Biden ordered a full withdrawal.
Biden has made clear he has no intention of reversing the decision he made last spring, even as the outcome seems to point toward a Taliban takeover.
The Taliban, which ruled the country from 1996 until U.S. forces invaded after the 9/11 attacks, captured three more provincial capitals on Wednesday and another two on Thursday, the 10th and 11th the insurgents have taken in a weeklong sweep that has given them effective control of about two-thirds of the country.
The insurgents have no air force and are outnumbered by U.S.-trained Afghan defense forces, but they have captured territory, including the country’s third-largest city, Herat, with stunning speed.
In a new warning to Americans in Afghanistan, the second it has issued since Saturday, the U.S. Embassy in Kabul on Thursday again urged U.S. citizens to leave immediately.
John Kirby, the chief Pentagon spokesman, said the Afghans still have time to save themselves from final defeat.
“No potential outcome has to be inevitable, including the fall of Kabul,” Kirby told reporters. “It doesn’t have to be that way. It really depends on what kind of political and military leadership the Afghans can muster to turn this around.”
Biden told reporters a day earlier that U.S. troops had done all they could over the past 20 years to assist the Afghans.
“They’ve got to fight for themselves, fight for their nation,” he said.
The U.S. continues to support the Afghan military with limited airstrikes, but those have not made a strategic difference thus far and are scheduled to end when the U.S. formally ends its role in the war on Aug. 31.
Senior U.S. military officials had warned Biden that a full U.S. withdrawal could lead to a Taliban takeover, but the president decided in April to end the war.
He said Tuesday that his decision holds, even amid talk that the Taliban could soon be within reach of Kabul, threatening the security of U.S. and other foreign diplomats.
The most recent American military assessment says Kabul could be under insurgent pressure by September and that the country could fall entirely to Taliban control within a couple of months, according to a defense official who discussed the analysis on Wednesday on condition of anonymity.
Officials said there has been no decision or order for an evacuation of American diplomatic personnel from Afghanistan.
But one official said it is now time for serious conversations about whether the U.S. military should begin to move assets into the region to be ready in case the State Department calls for a sudden evacuation.
Kirby declined to discuss any evacuation planning, but one congressional official said a recent National Security Council meeting had discussed preliminary planning for the U.S. Embassy’s potential evacuation but came to no conclusions.
The U.S. already has warships in the region, including the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier and the USS Iwo Jima amphibious ready group with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit aboard.
Military officials watching the deteriorating situation said that so far the Taliban have not taken steps to threaten Kabul.
Military commanders have long said it would be a significant challenge for the Afghan military to hold off the Taliban through the end of the year.
In early May, shortly after Biden announced his withdrawal decision, Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he foresaw “some really dramatic, bad possible outcomes.”
He said he held out hope that the Afghan government would unify and hold off the Taliban.
The security of the U.S. diplomatic corps has been discussed for months, even before the Taliban’s battlefield blitz. The military has long had various options for evacuating personnel from Afghanistan. Those options would largely be determined by the White House and the State Department.
A key variable would be whether the U.S. military would have unfettered access to the Kabul airport, allowing personnel to be flown systematically out of the capital. In a grimmer environment, American forces might have to fight their way in and out if the Taliban infiltrate the city.
The U.S. also would have to determine who would be evacuated: just American embassy personnel and the U.S. military, or also other embassies, American citizens, and Afghans who worked with the U.S. The U.S. has already started pulling out hundreds of those Afghans who assisted troops during the war.
The Western Journal has reviewed this Associated Press story and may have altered it prior to publication to ensure that it meets our editorial standards.
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