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A note obtained by NPR describes emergency preparations underway by US diplomats at the US embassy in Kabul – including the destruction of sensitive documents and computers – as most of them prepare to leave the country.
The note was written for embassy staff and shared with NPR on condition of anonymity.
Most diplomats will be evacuated by 3,000 US troops en route to Kabul to ensure a safe and orderly departure. However, a very small consular staff will work in Kabul, the note notes.
Embassy staff were ordered to destroy important papers and desktop computers before they left, according to the document.
Chargé d’affaires Ross Wilson, the acting ambassador, met his counterparts in other embassies and kept them apprised of the rapidly evolving situation.
The United States has also called on the Taliban not to attack the embassy and outgoing American diplomats. The embassy also employs many Afghan workers. Their future was not immediately clear.
Meanwhile, the Pentagon said on Friday that US troops ordered to return to Afghanistan to help with the withdrawal had started to arrive.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said some Marines were already on the ground and the bulk of the 3,000 troops should be in place by the end of the weekend.
The troops, made up of two naval battalions and one army battalion, will be based at Kabul airport. They will provide security for an airlift that will transport American diplomats, as well as Afghans who have worked with the United States, and family members of those Afghans.
“Capacity is not going to be an issue. We will be able to move thousands of people a day,” Kirby said, although he declined to say how many people are expected to leave the Afghan capital by plane.
Taliban take more territory
The Taliban’s rapid advance in recent days has far exceeded US predictions of what will happen when the US pulls out after 20 years of war.
President Biden announced in April that the remaining 2,500 troops would leave. This withdrawal was over 90% complete and is expected to be completed by the end of the month.
It was expected that the government of President Ashraf Ghani could maintain at least some control over the country’s major cities.
But the Taliban responded by launching an offensive that led to the capture of major cities in the north, west and south of the country. The militant group has seized its biggest jackpots to date by taking Kandahar, the largest city in the south, and Herat, the main city in the west.
Kandahar in particular is loaded with symbolism. The United States had a major base there before withdrawing, and the city is where the Taliban were established in 1994. The group ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001.
Meanwhile, control of the Afghan government is rapidly declining, mainly confined to Kabul and the eastern part of the country.
Many panicked Afghans descend on the capital, fearing a revival of the harsh Taliban regime they remember from two decades ago.
Former ambassador criticizes US withdrawal
Morning editionNoel King spoke with former US Ambassador to Afghanistan Ronald Neumann on Friday about the situation.
“I think the decision to withdraw the troops was a bad decision,” notes Neumann. “We could have stabilized or held the situation stable with the same force that we now deem necessary to temporarily put under unfavorable conditions.”
But, he warned, “Reflecting on the past is a bad use of time when we have so many pressing issues ahead of us.”
Neumann says we must put the citizens who he believes support American vision and ideals in Afghanistan out of harm’s way.
“The United States is now in a kind of panic – almost in panic mode,” says Neumann, “trying to protect our own people and bring out the so-called SIV.”
SIV, or special immigrant visas, refers to visas promised to Afghan interpreters who have worked with the US military.
He says we owe “a much greater moral debt” to the Afghans who have “embraced our values … when we talk about democracy, women’s rights and justice.”
This generation of people, Neumann notes, has been the target of Taliban attacks and is “in great danger now”.
Neumann says we have to get these people out of Afghanistan. If we leave them “in danger, we mark a huge black spot for ourselves, for our country and for the future”.
This story originally took place on the Morning edition live blog.