The State Department on Thursday announced that it is drawing down its embassy staff in Afghanistan to a core diplomatic group as the Taliban’s offensive across the country threatens to topple the government in Kabul.
The Department of Defense will temporarily deploy additional personnel to Kabul’s international airport to help facilitate the departure of embassy staff, State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters. Price declined to call it an "evacuation."
"This is not a full evacuation ... I think it's a very important distinction between planning and contingency planning," Price said.
Secretary of State Antony BlinkenAntony BlinkenBlinken speaks with Sudan's prime minister after African leader's detainment Overnight Defense & National Security — Presented by Boeing — Afghanistan reckoning shows no signs of stopping Senate confirms four Biden ambassadors after delay MORE and Defense Secretary Lloyd AustinLloyd AustinRepublican spin on Biden is off the mark Biden remarks on Taiwan leave administration scrambling Overnight Defense & National Security — Presented by Raytheon Technologies — Biden backtracks on Taiwan MORE spoke Thursday with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to coordinate planning.
“As we've said all along, the increased tempo of the Taliban military engagements and the resulting increase in violence and instability across Afghanistan is of grave concern,” Price said.
“Accordingly, we are further reducing our civilian footprints in Kabul, in light of the evolving security situation ... we expect to draw down to a core diplomatic presence in Afghanistan, in the coming weeks.”
About 3,000 U.S. troops — two Marine infantry battalions and one Army infantry battalion — who are already in the Middle East will deploy to the Kabul airport in the next 24 to 48 hours to help “provide safety and secure movement of the reduction of civilian personnel out of the embassy,” Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said.
The troops going in add to the 650 or so that remained in Afghanistan to secure the embassy and airport as the rest of the U.S. military presence in the country withdrew.
It also brings the number of troops in Afghanistan roughly back to the level before President BidenJoe BidenBiden invokes Trump in bid to boost McAuliffe ahead of Election Day Business lobby calls for administration to 'pump the brakes' on vaccine mandate Overnight Defense & National Security — Presented by Boeing — Afghanistan reckoning shows no signs of stopping MORE ordered the withdrawal.
Kirby, though, shot down suggestions of there being any “irony” in sending 3,000 troops to manage the fallout from withdrawing 3,000 troops. He also insisted the operation does not meet the definition of a “noncombatant evacuation operation.”
“This is a temporary mission with a narrow focus,” Kirby said. “We're mindful that the security situation continues to deteriorate in Afghanistan. And as I said before, our troops will as always have the right of self defense. But this is a narrowly focused mission to help safeguard an orderly reduction of civilians.”
Another 1,000 U.S. troops from a joint Army-Air Force support team are being deployed to Qatar to help process applications from Afghans seeking Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs) for helping the United States during the war, Kirby said.
Further, one infantry brigade combat team from Fort Bragg will deploy to Kuwait so they are “postured and prepared if needed to provide additional security at the airport,” Kirby said.
The U.S. military will also likely fly diplomats and SIV applicants out of Afghanistan, but U.S. officials are “working through the final plans right now to put that into place,” Kirby added.
Price stressed that the embassy will remain open and continue diplomatic work, including the processing of SIV’s.
“Our embassy remains open and our diplomatic mission will endure,” Price said, adding that the administration has brought to the U.S. more than 1,200 Afghans who worked with Americans in Afghanistan and that additional flights carrying these visa-holders will begin landing daily.
The move signals the growing danger and instability on the ground as the Taliban moves quickly to take over the country and oust the government in Kabul following the withdrawal of U.S. troops.
President Biden has accelerated the departure of all U.S. troops in an effort to close the chapter on America's longest war by the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, which spurred the U.S. invasion in Afghanistan.
The Taliban has taken over at least 11 provincial capitals, including reports Thursday that Herat, Afghanistan’s third largest city, had fallen. The State Department has accused the Islamist militant group of committing atrocities and war crimes as part of its violent offensive, including the assassination of the director of Afghanistan’s government media center, Dawa Khan Menapal, late last week.
It also follows warnings Thursday by the State Department for all Americans to immediately leave Afghanistan, urging those with difficulty purchasing a flight or waiting immigrant visas to immediately contact the embassy for assistance.
In April, the State Department authorized “ordered departure” for U.S. embassy staff whose job functions could be carried out state-side, citing increasing violence and threat reports to Kabul.
Price rejected that the U.S. was abandoning Afghanistan in its time of need, referring to an announcement in June of $266 million in new humanitarian assistance, bringing total humanitarian aid to the country over 20 years of U.S. involvement to $3.9 billion.
He said humanitarian assistance will continue as well as diplomatic efforts to negotiate between the Taliban and the Afghan government, as discussions take place in Doha, Qatar even as the Taliban continues its violent takeover of the country.
The U.S., along with diplomatic partners, have in recent days threatened the Taliban with international isolation for their continued offensive and have urged participation in peace talks.
U.S. envoy for Afghanistan Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad is in Qatar galvanizing European, Chinese and regional partners in an effort to reduce the violence and achieve a ceasefire, threatening the Taliban with international isolation if it continues its offensive.
Price said the U.S. is working to secure commitments from these partner countries “not to recognize any entity that takes control of Afghanistan by force, not to recognize any force that seeks to take control of Afghanistan at the barrel of a gun.”
European Union Foreign Policy chief Josep Borell on Thursday reiterated that commitment in a statement, stressing protections and freedoms for women and girls, including access to education.
“Otherwise, if power is taken by force and an Islamic Emirate re-established, the Taliban would face non-recognition, isolation, lack of international support and the prospect of continued conflict and protracted instability in Afghanistan,” Borell said.