US sending 3,000 troops to help evacuate some embassy staff in Afghanistan

Good afternoon, let me start by saying that our first responsibility has always been protecting the safety and the security of our citizens serving in Afghanistan and around the world, as we have said all along the increased tempo of the Taliban military engagement and the resulting increase in violence and instability across Afghanistan is of grave concern. Our embassy in Kabul has been ordered departure since April 27 and we’ve been evaluating security situation every day to determine how best to keep those serving at our embassy safe. This is what we do for every diplomatic post in a challenging security environment. Accordingly, we are further reducing our civilian footprint in Kabul. In light of the evolving security situation weeks, we expect to draw down to a core diplomatic presence in Afghanistan in the coming weeks. In order to facilitate this reduction, the Department of Events will temporarily deploy additional personnel to Hamid Karzai International Airport Secretary Blinken, together with Secretary Austin had an opportunity to speak with President Ghani to coordinate our planning earlier today. Let me be very clear about this. The embassy remains open and we plan to continue our diplomatic work in Afghanistan. United States will continue to support consular services and that includes the processing and operations of the Special immigrant Visa program and will continue to engage in diplomacy with the afghan government and the Afghan people. Additionally, we will continue our focus on counterterrorism. At the same time, our efforts to relocate interested and qualified afghan s ivy applicants will continue to ramp up To date. Operation Allies Refuge has brought more has brought the United States more than 1200 Afghans who work side by side with Americans in Afghanistan. That includes interpreters and translators along with their families. Additional flights will begin landing daily and you’re going to see the total number grow very quickly in the coming days. In the coming weeks, we’ll begin implementing these measures soon in close coordination with allies and partners. For operational security reasons, I can’t go further into further details on the next steps, but as we have long said, we are committed to supporting Afghanistan and its people. That commitment remains.

Just weeks before the U.S. is scheduled to end its war in Afghanistan, the Biden administration is rushing 3,000 fresh troops to the Kabul airport to help with a partial evacuation of the U.S. Embassy.The move highlights the stunning speed of a Taliban takeover of much of the country, including their capture on Thursday of Kandahar, the second-largest city and the birthplace of the Taliban movement.The State Department said the embassy will continue functioning, but Thursday’s dramatic decision to bring in thousands of additional U.S. troops is a sign of waning confidence in the Afghan government’s ability to hold off the Taliban surge.The announcement came just hours after the Taliban captured the western city of Herat as well as Ghazni, a strategic provincial capital south of Kabul. The advance, and the partial U.S. Embassy evacuation, increasingly isolate the nation’s capital, home to millions of Afghans.”This is not abandonment. This is not an evacuation. This is not a wholesale withdrawal,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said. “What this is is a reduction in the size of our civilian footprint.”Price rejected the idea that Thursday’s moves sent encouraging signals to an already emboldened Taliban, or demoralizing ones to frightened Afghan civilians. “The message we are sending to the people of Afghanistan is one of enduring partnership,” Price insisted.President Joe Biden, who has remained adamant about ending the 19-year U.S. mission in Afghanistan at the end of this month despite the Taliban sweep, conferred with senior national security officials overnight, then gave the order for the additional temporary troops Thursday morning. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Thursday. The U.S. also warned Taliban officials directly that the U.S. would respond if the Taliban attacked Americans during the temporary U.S. military deployments.Britain’s ministry of defense said Thursday that it will send around 600 troops to Afghanistan on a short-term basis to help U.K. nationals leave the country. And Canadian special forces will deploy to Afghanistan to help Canadian staff leave Kabul, a source familiar with the plan told The Associated Press. That official, who was not authorized to talk publicly about the matter and spoke on condition of anonymity, did not say how many special forces would be sent. The Pentagon’s chief spokesman, John Kirby, said that in addition to sending three infantry battalions — two from the Marine Corps and one from the Army — to the airport, the Pentagon will dispatch 3,500 to 4,000 troops from a combat brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division to Kuwait to act as a reserve force. He said they will be on standby “in case we need even more” than the 3,000 going to Kabul.Also, about 1,000 Army and Air Force troops, including military police and medical personnel, will be sent to Qatar in coming days to support a State Department effort to accelerate its processing of Special Immigrant Visa applications from Afghans who once worked for the U.S. government and feel threatened by the Taliban, Kirby said.The 3,000 troops who are to arrive at the Kabul airport in the next day or two, Kirby said, are to assist with security at the airport and to help process the departure of embassy personnel — not to get involved in the Afghan government’s war with the Taliban. Biden decided in April to end U.S. military involvement in the war, and the withdrawal is scheduled to be complete by Aug. 31.The U.S. had already withdrawn most of its troops, but had kept about 650 troops in Afghanistan to support U.S. diplomatic security, including at the airport. Kirby said the influx of fresh troops does not mean the U.S. is reentering combat with the Taliban.”This is a temporary mission with a narrow focus,” he told reporters at the Pentagon.The viability of the U.S.-trained Afghan army, however, is looking increasingly dim. A new military assessment says Kabul could come under Taliban pressure as soon as September and, if current trends hold, the country could fall to the Taliban within a few months.Price, the State Department spokesman, said diplomatic work will continue at the Kabul embassy. “Our first responsibility has always been protecting the safety and the security of our citizens serving in Afghanistan, and around the world,” Price said at a briefing, calling the the speed of the Taliban advance and resulting instability “of grave concern.”Shortly before Price’s announcement, the embassy in Kabul urged U.S. citizens to leave immediately — reiterating a warning it first issued Saturday. The latest drawdown will further limit the ability of the embassy to conduct business, although Price maintained it would still be able to function. Nonessential personal had already been withdrawn from the embassy in April after Biden’s withdrawal announcement and it was not immediately clear how many staffers would remain on the heavily fortified compound. As of Thursday, there were roughly 4,200 staffers at the embassy, but most of those are Afghan nationals, according to the State Department.Apart from a complete evacuation and shuttering of the embassy, Price said other contingency plans were being weighed, including possibly relocating its operations to the airport.As the staff reductions take place over the course of the next several weeks, Price said the U.S., led by the special envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, would continue to push for a peace agreement between the Taliban and the Afghan government at talks currently taking place in Doha, Qatar.The Taliban, who ruled the country from 1996 until U.S. forces invaded after the 9/11 attacks, have taken 12 of Afghanistan’s 34 provincial capitals as part of a weeklong sweep that has given them effective control of about two-thirds of the country. __Associated Press writer Rob Gillies in Toronto contributed to this report.

With security rapidly deteriorating in Afghanistan, the United States is evacuating some personnel from the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, and U.S. troops will be assisting at the Kabul airport, officials said Thursday.

The decision to reduce staffing levels at the embassy was announced by State Department spokesman Ned Price. He said diplomatic work will continue at the embassy.

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U.S. troops are being brought into Afghanistan to provide additional ground and air support for the processing and security of Americans being sent to the Kabul airport, said a U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity in order to discuss military details that had not yet been made public.

The move suggests a lack of confidence by the Biden administration in the Afghan government’s ability to provide sufficient diplomatic security in the capital as the Taliban mount an offensive that has rapidly conquered key cities in recent days.

The Pentagon had kept about 650 troops in Afghanistan to support U.S. diplomatic security, including at the airport. The official said an unspecified additional number of troops, as well as aircraft, are to be brought in to assist with the embassy drawdown.

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.

The Taliban, who ruled the country from 1996 until U.S. forces invaded after the 9/11 attacks, captured three more provincial capitals 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. The advisory was released amid increasing discussions in Washington about further reducing already limited staff at the embassy.

The United States 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. Biden could continue airstrikes beyond that date, but given his firm stance on ending the war, that seems unlikely.

The most recent American military assessment, taking into account the Taliban’s latest gains, 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 internal analysis Wednesday on condition of anonymity.

Military officials watching the deteriorating situation said that so far the Taliban haven’t taken steps to threaten Kabul. But it isn’t clear if the Taliban will wait until they have gained control of the bulk of the country before attempting to seize the capital.

The security of the U.S. diplomatic corps has been talked about for months, even before the Taliban’s battlefield blitz. The military has long had various planning options for evacuating personnel from Afghanistan. Those options would largely be determined by the White House and the State Department.

A key component of the options would be whether the U.S. military would have unfettered access to the Kabul international 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 have infiltrated the city.

Associated Press writer Lolita C. Baldor contributed to this report.

Contributed by local news sources

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