As published by ABC News by
The State Department will begin reducing its staff levels at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul and the Pentagon is sending in troops “as we speak” to help facilitate those departures, the agency said Friday, as Taliban forces advance on more provincial capitals.
Pentagon press secretary John Kirby wouldn’t say the advances took the Biden administration by surprise but said officials are “certainly concerned” by the speed at which the Taliban is moving.
“We’re obviously watching this just like you’re watching this and seeing it happen in real-time, and it’s deeply concerning. In fact, the deteriorating conditions are a factor — a big factor — in why the president has approved this mission to help support our — the reduction of personnel there in Kabul,” he said in a briefing from the Pentagon Friday afternoon.
Kirby said the “leading elements” of one of the two Marine battalions headed to the capital city of Kabul have arrived and that “the bulk” of the 3,000 troops will be there by the end of the weekend.
The U.S. Embassy in Kabul has instructed all U.S. personnel to destroy items like documents and electronic devices to “reduce the amount of sensitive material on the property,” according to an internal notice obtained by ABC News.
“Please also include items with embassy or agency logos, Americans flags, or items which could be misused in propaganda efforts,” the notice said.
A State Department spokesperson is not denying this is the case, but in a statement described things as “standard operating procedure designed to minimize our footprint.”
There wasn’t any specific event that led President Joe Biden and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to execute the plan to send troops, Kirby said Thursday afternoon as the crisis escalated, but rather the overall worsening trend in Afghanistan.
“There wasn’t one precipitating event in the last couple of days that led the president and the secretary to make this decision. It’s a confluence of events, and as I’ve been saying for now for several weeks, we have been watching very closely with concern the security situation on the ground — and far better to be prudent about it and be responsible and watching the trends to make the best decisions you can for safety and security of our people than to wait until it’s too late,” Kirby said.
The events in Afghanistan over the last 48 hours, with the Taliban pressuring major Afghan cities, were significant factors in the decision to go forward with the reduction in embassy staffing and the new military mission, a U.S. official told ABC News.
A military analysis said Kabul could be isolated in 30 to 60 days and be captured in 90 days, a U.S. official told ABC News. That timeline seemed even more accelerated Thursday as the Taliban claimed Herat, Afghanistan’s third-largest city. As of Friday, the Taliban had taken control of Kandahar, the country’s second-largest city, located 300 miles south of Kabul and considered the birthplace of the Taliban. The Taliban has also seized Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand province.
The U.S. Embassy in Kabul has urged Americans to evacuate Afghanistan immediately, amid fears that the capital could fall into Taliban hands in a matter of weeks.
“Clearly from their actions, it appears as if they are trying to get Kabul isolated,” Kirby said of the Taliban at the Pentagon Friday afternoon.