US sends 3,000 troops to Kabul to evacuate some embassy staff

WASHINGTON — As security deteriorates rapidly in Afghanistan, the United States is sending 3,000 additional troops to help evacuate some of the personnel from the American Embassy in Kabul, officials said Thursday.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said an army infantry battalion and two marines would enter Afghanistan within the next two days to assist Kabul airport with the partial evacuation of the embassy.

State Department spokesman Ned Price said diplomatic work will continue at the Kabul embassy.

“Our primary responsibility has always been to protect the safety and security of our citizens serving in Afghanistan and around the world,” Price said during a State Department briefing, calling the speed of the Taliban advance and the resulting instability of “serious concerns”. ”

Price insisted Thursday’s decision should not be seen as encouraging an already emboldened Taliban and said, “We are committed to supporting Afghanistan and its people. This commitment remains.

But the move suggests a lack of confidence by the Biden administration in the Afghan government’s ability to provide sufficient diplomatic security in Kabul as a series of provincial capitals fell to the Taliban onslaught this week.

Kirby said an additional 1,000 members of an Air Force task force were traveling to Gulf country Qatar to help process visas for the ongoing evacuation of former translators and staff. other Afghans who had worked with Americans in Afghanistan.

And an Army Brigade Combat Team of up to 4,000 soldiers from Fort Bragg in North Carolina was traveling to Kuwait to be on standby in case more troops were needed for the embassy mission.

Kirby stressed that the new deployments were a temporary mission focused only on drawing down the embassy and helping the State Department expedite visa processing for Afghan and other translators, not a decision to get involved again. in the war.

The United States withdrew most of its troops and officially ended its role in the war on August 31. The Pentagon had maintained about 650 troops in Afghanistan to support US diplomatic security, including at the airport.

Afghan government forces are collapsing even faster than US military leaders would have thought possible just months ago, when President Joe Biden ordered a full withdrawal.

The Taliban, who ruled the country from 1996 until the invasion of US forces after the September 11 attacks, captured three more provincial capitals on Wednesday and two on Thursday, the 10th and 11th, the insurgents took a week-long sweep which gave them effective control of about two-thirds of the country. The insurgents have no air force and outnumber the US-trained Afghan Defense Forces, but they have captured territory, including the country’s third-largest city, Herat, in breathtaking speed.

In a new warning to Americans in Afghanistan, the second since Saturday, the US Embassy in Kabul on Thursday again urged US citizens to leave immediately. The notice came ahead of announcements in Washington about the further reduction of the embassy’s already limited staff.

The United States continues to support the Afghan army with limited airstrikes, but these have not made a strategic difference so far and are expected to end on August 31. Biden could continue the airstrikes beyond that date, but given his tough stance on ending the war. , this seems unlikely.

The most recent US military assessment, taking into account the Taliban’s latest gains, indicates that Kabul could be under insurgent pressure by September and the country could fall entirely under Taliban control within months, according to a defense official who discussed the internal analysis. Wednesday on condition of anonymity.

Military officials observing the deteriorating situation said that so far the Taliban had taken no action to threaten Kabul. But it is unclear whether the Taliban will wait until they have taken control of most of the country before attempting to seize the capital.

The security of the US diplomatic corps has been discussed for months, even before the Taliban 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 part of the options would be whether the US military would have unfettered access to Kabul International Airport, allowing personnel to be routinely evacuated from the capital. In a darker environment, US forces may 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.