The situation in Kabul is fluid and moving very fast. Here’s the latest:
- President Ashraf Ghani and his team have left Afghanistan.
- The majority of the staff at the U.S. embassy and Kabul are out according to one official. “Flag is down.” A few staff are “operating at an alternative location.”
- President Biden promised the U.S. withdrawal would be responsible, deliberate and safe. But even now, the U.S. is not likely to return to war in Afghanistan.
- What’s happening in Afghanistan matters far beyond its borders. Here are four reasons why.
- How did the Taliban gain ground so quickly?
- The Education Minister of Afghanistan has weighed in on what the Taliban’s control will mean for women in Afghanistan.
— The Morning Edition live blog team
Emily Alfin Johnson, Rachel Treisman, Nicole Hernandez, James Doubek and Emily Abshire
#Breaking: Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani and his immediate team have left the country, according to Afghan government sources speaking to AP, Reuters and local TV network TOLO. https://t.co/f9MT1rRcsz pic.twitter.com/7mj3fEDp2O
— NPR (@NPR) August 15, 2021
As Taliban Close In On Kabul, U.S. Embassy Steps Up Evacuations
For U.S. officials, the mission in Afghanistan is now focused on the urgent need to evacuate Americans and Afghans who have been working with the U.S. The pace of the operation and the resources involved remains unclear, despite thousands of U.S. troops being sent to Kabul this weekend as the collapse of the Afghan government appeared imminent.
“The majority of staff is out” of the Embassy in Kabul, according to one official who asked not to be named. The official writes, “we are operating at an alternate location. Flag is down. gunfire at airport.”
Until a few days ago, the focus had been on maintaining a sizable presence in the U.S. Embassy to assist the Afghan government. The U.S. was planning to keep about 650 troops in Kabul to protect both the embassy and the airport, which are separated by only a few miles.
But on Thursday, as Taliban advances in the countryside gained steam, the U.S. announced its embassy would be reduced to only a core staff. On Friday, NPR obtained a memo detailing emergency operations — including the destruction of computers, documents and other sensitive material. As of Sunday morning, smoke was reportedly rising near the U.S. Embassy.
“Capacity is not going to be a problem. We will be able to move thousands per day,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Friday.
There are reports of more than 4,000 at U.S. embassy, most of whom are Afghans.
A ‘Core Mission’ Embassy Staff Will Work From The Airport In Kabul
Here’s what we know:
“The majority of staff is out” of the Embassy in Kabul, according to one official who asked not to be named. The official writes “ we are operating at an alternate location. Flag is down. gunfire at airport.”
Secretary of State Antony Blinken brushes off those who compare the scenes to the fall of Saigon at the end of the Vietnam war.
“This is not Saigon. We went to Afghanistan 20 years ago with one mission. and that mission was to deal with the folks who attacked us on 911 and we succeeded in that mission” he told CNN’s State of the Union.
He says the U.S. has told the Taliban that if they interfere with the U.S. withdrawal there will be a swift response.
The embassy used to be one of the largest in the world, but there was a draw down earlier in the year and now they are expected to take out everyone except for what they are calling the “core mission” that would be an ambassador and a few top aides. Those individuals will be based at the airport for a quick escape.
Before leaving an embassy — staffers have to get rid of classified documents and computer equipment.
What’s the “core mission”? Not much frankly. The line all week from the State Department is that they will be there to support the Afghan government and help with the evacuation of Afghans who worked with the U.S.
But while they’ve taken 1,200 of these Afghans and their families out to date, there are tens of thousands more who want/need to be evacuated. The military had been offering and said they could do it. But now it looks too late.
Afghans who worked with the U.S. fear retaliation now. That’s not just military but also aid groups and military. They can now apply to come to the U.S. but they have to get out of the country on their own.
USAID is erasing any records or social media posts etc. of Afghans who worked on U.S. aid programs.
What about Secretary of State Antony Blinken? What’s he doing? Working the phones and he’s on television this morning saying the US really had no other choice but to leave b/c of the deal that the Trump administration negotiated with the Taliban.
He said the U.S. is going to keep in place a capacity to deal with any terrorist. In Congressional hearings earlier this year — he was really downplaying a rapid Taliban advance … and that was the line we were hearing really for the past couple of weeks too. That Afghan forces would be able to hold the line. But we’ve really just seen the afghan forces abandon their posts.
Nato keeping airport open. Russians have negotiated with the Taliban to keep the Russian embassy open.
The Taliban Enters Kabul
The Taliban have released a statement where they say that entered the capital to take care of the security situation in Kabul given that most Afghan forces have melted away. They say they are trying to maintain law and order in the city.
Eyewitnesses in Kabul tell NPR they can confirm that they can see Taliban fighters in the streets of the city.