August 13, 2021 9:10:37 am
As the Taliban rapidly advances across Afghanistan, the US is preparing for a possible evacuation of the American Embassy and its citizens in Kabul, with administration and military officials warning that the Afghan capital could fall in as less than 30 days, a media report said.
The New York Times, citing administration and military officials, said that the “Pentagon is moving thousands of Marines into position for a possible evacuation of the American Embassy and US citizens in Kabul as the Biden administration braces for a possible collapse of the Afghan government within 30 days.”
The NYT report said that “the 30-day estimate is one scenario and administration and military officials insist that the fall of Kabul might still be prevented if Afghan security forces can muster the resolve to put up more resistance.”
Outlining the evacuation plan, the NYT report said three contingents of Marines are preparing for the possible evacuation of the American Embassy and a Marine battalion of several hundred is already on the embassy grounds, responsible for evacuating the embassy, which has 4,000 employees, including 1,400 Americans.
“In addition, the Pentagon is moving a Marine expeditionary unit, with more than 2,000 Marines, into position closer to the air route over western Pakistan, known as the ‘boulevard’, where it can dispatch its forces into Afghanistan as a rapid response team that would be able to begin an embassy evacuation within a day of orders,” the report said, citing officials.
“And as a contingency plan in case any embassy evacuation turns into a fight with the Taliban, Defence Department officials have tasked thousands of Marines to begin a training exercise that can, if necessary, quickly be turned into an evacuation deployment,” the report said, adding that the Marines in the exercise have been told that they may need to be ready to deploy next week within 96 hours.
The Times also reported that Zalmay Khalilzad, the chief American envoy in talks with the Taliban, is also trying to “extract assurances” from the militant group that it will not attack the embassy if they overrun the capital.
“Khalilzad is hoping to convince Taliban leaders that the embassy must remain open, and secure, if the group hopes to receive American financial aid and other assistance as part of a future Afghan government. The Taliban leadership has said it wants to be seen as a legitimate steward of the country, and is seeking relations with other global powers, including Russia and China, in part to receive economic support,” the report said.
The report said that the sharply deteriorating situation in Afghanistan amid the rapid advance by the Taliban across the country “has forced the Defence Department to accelerate plans to get Americans out of the country.”
Officials also say that any evacuation “will involve a robust use of American military force to move people to Hamid Karzai International Airport to waiting military transport planes and to protect them en route.”
The US Embassy in Afghanistan issued a security alert Thursday, urging Americans to “leave Afghanistan immediately using available commercial flight options.”
The strategic city of Ghazni, about 90 miles south of Kabul, fell to the Taliban Thursday, putting “the group in a better position to attack Kabul after its recent string of victories in the north.”
The report quoted a senior official in the Biden administration as saying in an interview that the Taliban might soon take Mazar-i-Sharif, the capital of Balkh Province and the country’s economic engine.
“The fall of Mazar-i-Sharif and Kandahar, which has all but collapsed could lead to a surrender of the Afghan government by September,” the report said.
The report added that in the Biden administration’s plan for Afghanistan, “none of this was supposed to happen– at least not so quickly.”
Biden had announced in April that American troops would withdraw from the country by September 11, a deadline he later moved to August 31.
“Since the announcement, the Taliban have rolled across city after city, despite having only around 75,000 fighters compared with the American-trained Afghan security forces’ 300,000 troops. That dichotomy has caused frustration in the Pentagon and among American officials, who have repeatedly said that the Afghan troops, if their backs were to the wall, would rally to defeat the Taliban,” the NYT report said.
“They have a lot of advantages that the Taliban don’t have,” a spokesman for the Defence Department John Kirby said, referring to Afghanistan’s national security forces. “Taliban doesn’t have an air force, Taliban doesn’t own airspace. They have a lot of advantages. Now, they have to use those advantages.”
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