Friday, October 15, 2021

US military to help evacuate some embassy staff in Afghanistan

By Robert Burns and Lolita C. Baldor | The Associated Press

WASHINGTON – As security in Afghanistan deteriorates rapidly, the United States is sending additional troops to the country to help evacuate some personnel from the embassy in Kabul, a US official said on Thursday.

The military will provide ground and air support for the processing and security of Americans being sent to Kabul airport, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the plan that has not yet been made public.

The move suggests a lack of confidence by the Biden administration in the Afghan government’s ability to provide adequate diplomatic security in the capital as the Taliban swiftly conquered major cities in recent days.

The Pentagon placed about 650 troops in Afghanistan to support US diplomatic security, including the airport. The official said an unspecified additional number of troops as well as planes are to be brought in to assist in the embassy’s return.

This is a breaking news update. AP’s earlier story follows

Afghan government forces are collapsing far faster than US military leaders were when President Joe Biden ordered a complete withdrawal. But there is little appetite among the White House, the Pentagon or the American public to try to block this path and perhaps it is too late to do so.

Biden has made clear that he has no intention of reversing a decision he made last spring, even as the results point to a takeover of the Taliban. Most of the US troops are now gone and the Taliban is ramping up its battlefield, US military leaders are not pressuring it to change its mind. They know that the only important option for the president would be to restart the war he had already decided to end.

The Taliban, which ruled the country from 1996 until the U.S. military invasion following the 9/11 attacks, captured three more provincial capitals on Wednesday and two others on Thursday, the 10th and 11th insurgents for a week. Captured wide sweep, which gave him effective control. in about two-thirds of the country. The rebels have no air force and outnumber US-trained Afghan defense forces, but they have captured territory with astonishing speed, including the country’s third largest city, Herat.

In a new warning to Americans in Afghanistan, the second issued since Saturday, the US embassy in Kabul on Thursday again urged US citizens to leave immediately. The advisory was issued amid growing discussions in Washington about further reducing the already limited staff at the embassy.

Pentagon chief spokesman John Kirby said the Afghans still had time to defend themselves from the ultimate defeat.

“Any possible outcome, including the fall of Kabul, is not inevitable,” Kirby told reporters. “It doesn’t have to be done that way. It really depends on what kind of political and military leadership Afghans can mobilize to change this.

Biden made a similar point a day earlier, telling reporters that US troops have done everything they could to aid Afghans over the past 20 years.

“They have to fight for themselves, for their country,” he said.

The United States continues to support the Afghan military with limited air strikes, but those have so far not made any strategic difference and will end when the US formally ends its role in the war on August 31. . Biden may continue airstrikes beyond that date. But given his firm stand on ending the war, it seems impossible.

“My suspicion, my strong suspicion is that the August 31 deadline is about to expire,” said Carter Malkasian, who advised US military leaders in Afghanistan and Washington.

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Senior US military officials had warned Biden that a full US withdrawal could lead to a takeover of the Taliban, but the president decided in April that continuing the war was useless. He said on Tuesday that his decision was correct, even as the Taliban could soon be within reach of Kabul, threatening the security of US and other foreign diplomats.

The most recent US military assessment, noting the Taliban’s latest gains, says that Kabul could be under insurgent pressure by September and that the country could come under full Taliban control within a few months, a defense official told the Interior. analysis discussed. on Wednesday on condition of anonymity.

Officials said no decision or order had been made to evacuate US diplomats from Afghanistan. But one official said now is the time for serious talks about whether the US military should begin moving assets in the region if the State Department calls for a sudden evacuation.

Kirby declined to discuss any evacuation plans, but a congressional official said a recent National Security Council meeting had discussed preliminary plans for a possible evacuation of the US embassy, ​​but came to no conclusion. .

Any such plan would also include identifying US troops, aircraft and other assets that may have to operate from Afghanistan or surrounding areas. The US already has warships in the area, including the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier and the USS Iwo Jima Amphibious Ready Group, which comprises the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit.

Military officials monitoring the deteriorating situation said the Taliban had so far not taken any steps to threaten Kabul. But it is not clear whether the Taliban will wait until they gain control of large parts of the country before attempting to capture the capital.

Military commanders have long warned that stopping the Taliban by the end of the year will be a significant challenge for the Afghan military. In early May, shortly after Biden announced his withdrawal decision, General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he saw “some really dramatic, bad possible consequences” in a worst-case scenario. He expressed hope that the government would unite and stop the Taliban, adding that the results could be clear by the end of the summer.

Even before the Taliban’s battlefield attack, the security of the US diplomatic corps has been talked about for months. The military has long had various planning options for evacuating personnel from Afghanistan. Those choices will largely be determined by the White House and the State Department.

A key component of the choices will be whether the US military will have uninterrupted access to Kabul International Airport, allowing personnel to move systematically out of the capital. If the Taliban infiltrate the city, in a dire environment, US forces may have to fight in and out of their own way.

The US must also determine who will be fired: only US embassy employees and US military, or other embassies, US citizens, and Afghans who have worked with the US. Taliban. The US has begun evacuating hundreds of Afghans who assisted soldiers during the war.

Senior defense leaders have been holding daily talks and meetings, taking a serious assessment of the security situation in Afghanistan. Officials pointed to the fall of Baghlan province as a worrying bell, as it provided the Taliban with a base and route from the north to Kabul.

Associated Press writer Ellen Nickmeyer and AP Diplomatic writer Matthew Lee contributed to this report.

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