The withdrawal of embassy personnel marks a rapid acceleration of the process that had only been announced on Thursday, and is a situation that many State Department security officials expected would have to happen given the speed with which the Taliban has gained territory in Afghanistan in recent days.
Most of the American diplomats will go to the airport in Kabul, the capital, and then fly back to the US. A small number of core personnel, including the top US diplomat in the country, will remain at the Kabul airport for now, the sources said. This means that the US Embassy in Kabul will be shuttered — at least for the time being — by Tuesday.
The decision to pull diplomatic personnel out of the country comes as the Afghan government is in talks with the Taliban over the country’s future as the militant group surrounded Kabul on Sunday after taking control of every other major city across the country in just two weeks. The talks between the government and the Taliban signal a likely end, or transformation, of the embattled government of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, and puts the militant group closer to the precipice of control over the entire country.
A source at the Afghan presidential palace told CNN that eight or nine representatives of the Taliban’s delegations from Qatar — where talks for a solution to the conflict are ongoing — were inside the palace as of Sunday morning.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken defended President Joe Biden’s decision to end the US’ war in the country when pressed by CNN’s Jake Tapper on “State of the Union” Sunday.
“The fact of the matter is had the President decided to keep forces in Afghanistan beyond May 1 attacks would have resumed on our forces. The Taliban had not been attacking our forces or NATO during the period from which the agreement was reached to May 1,” Blinken said, in reference to the May 1 withdrawal agreement the Trump administration had brokered with the Taliban.
“The offensive you are seeing across the country now to take the provincial capitals would have commenced. We would have been back at war with the Taliban,” he added.
The secretary also noted that the US plans to “keep in place in the region the capacity to see any reemergence of a terrorist threat and to be able to deal with it.”
Biden announced on Saturday that he had authorized an additional direct deployment of 1,000 troops to Afghanistan “to make sure we can have an orderly and safe drawdown of US personnel and other allied personnel and an orderly and safe evacuation of Afghans who helped our troops during our mission and those at special risk from the Taliban advance.”
The President’s authorization of 5,000 troops on Saturday included 1,000 who are already on the ground in country, according to a defense official. A battalion of 1,000 troops from the 82nd Airborne Division were redirected to Kabul, instead of their original standby position in Kuwait. The Pentagon had previously announced 3,000 additional troops were on their way, the defense official said.
The US Special Representative for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad has requested that Taliban fighters not enter Kabul until the US citizens are evacuated, according to a source familiar with the discussions.
Blinken told Tapper that the US has not asked the Taliban for anything to allow for a safe US evacuation, saying: “We’ve told the Taliban that if they interfere with our personnel, with our operations as we’re proceeding with this drawdown, there will be a swift and decisive response.” But the secretary would not say if the US has offered the Taliban anything in exchange for promise of safe passage for Americans and others out of the country.
This is a breaking story and will be updated.