Taliban seizes Kandahar as advance picks up speed

Taliban seizes Kandahar as advance picks up speed
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The Taliban’s military offensive is escalating in Afghanistan, raising concerns regarding the stability of the Afghan government once American forces complete their withdrawal from the region, and leading some lawmakers in the U.S. to speak out against President BidenJoe BidenJan. 6 panel lays out criminal contempt case against Bannon Overnight Energy & Environment — Presented by the American Petroleum Institute — Democrats address reports that clean energy program will be axed Two House Democrats to retire ahead of challenging midterms MORE’s decision to pull troops from the country.

The Taliban continued its advances on Thursday, capturing Kandahar and Herat, the second- and third-largest cities in Afghanistan after Kabul. The insurgent group also seized the city of Ghazni, which led to the blocking of a key highway that connects Kabul to the country’s southern territories.

The Taliban now controls 12 of Afghanistan’s 34 provincial capitals, according to The Associated Press.

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The three seizures are the latest in a string of crises Afghanistan has faced as its security situation rapidly deteriorates amid the U.S. and NATO’s troop withdrawal.

The country has reported a surge in civilian deaths during armed conflicts, targeted killings of senior Afghan officials and alleged human rights atrocities as its reinforcements from international troops steadily decreases.

Thousands of Afghan citizens have also reportedly fled their homes out of fear that the Taliban will take over the government and run a repressive regime, the AP reported.

The U.S. is scheduled to conclude its mission in Afghanistan by Aug. 31. The White House initially set Sept. 11 — the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks that sparked the war — as the target date for all troops to be pulled from the region, but Biden moved that date up last month.

As the deadline approaches, however, the declining situation in Afghanistan is becoming an increasingly difficult challenge for Biden, who sought to put an end to America’s longest war but is now seeing the Taliban making moves to topple the fragile Afghan government.

The administration on Thursday announced new plans in an effort to protect remaining U.S. forces in the region against an increasingly violent Taliban.

The State Department said it is reducing its embassy staff in Kabul to a “core diplomatic presence," and Pentagon press secretary John Kirby announced that the Defense Department is deploying 3,000 American troops who are already stationed in the Middle East 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.”

This all comes after the State Department issued a security alert on Thursday morning, the second in the past week, urging all American citizens in Afghanistan to leave “immediately” as the country’s security continues to decline.

Despite the escalating situation, however, Biden has thus far refused to relent on his decision to withdraw forces. He told reporters on Tuesday that he does not regret moving to pull all troops from the region, contending that it is time for the Afghan government to “fight for themselves, fight for their nation.”

“I think they're beginning to realize they’ve got to come together politically at the top ... but we’re going to continue to keep our commitment. But I do not regret my decision,” he said.

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Meanwhile, Biden is facing intense pressure and criticism over the situation in Afghanistan; Republican lawmakers are becoming increasingly alarmed at the state of affairs in the country and more and more infuriated with the president’s decision to pull troops from the region.

Some are now calling on Biden to reverse the withdrawal mission.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOn The Money — Democrats tee up Senate spending battles with GOP The Memo: Powell ended up on losing side of GOP fight Treasury to use extraordinary measures despite debt ceiling hike MORE (R-Ky.) said Biden should “immediately” pledge to provide more support to Afghan forces, warning that the U.S. Embassy in Kabul could be “burning down” by next month.

“The latest news of a further drawdown at our Embassy and a hasty deployment of military forces seem like preparations for the fall of Kabul,” McConnell wrote in a statement.

“Here’s what should happen now. President Biden should immediately commit to providing more support to Afghan forces, starting with close air support beyond August 31st," he added. "Without it, al Qaeda and the Taliban may celebrate the 20th anniversary of the September 11 attacks by burning down our Embassy in Kabul."

The senator continued, slamming Biden’s strategy for turning “an imperfect but stable situation into a major embarrassment and a global emergency in a matter of weeks.”

Rep. Joe WilsonAddison (Joe) Graves WilsonPandora Papers prompt lawmakers to push for crackdown on financial 'enablers' Congress comes to the aid of Libyan people, passing bill ordering probe into war crimes and torture Overnight Defense & National Security — Congress begins Afghanistan grilling MORE (R-S.C.), who sits on the House Armed Services Committee, echoed McConnell's sentiments, writing on Twitter that Biden's decision to withdrawal from Afghanistan was "hasty" and put lives at risk.

"Afghanistan is rapidly deteriorating as the Taliban seizes provinces and advances toward Kabul. It’s clear that peace talks are not the answer and that the Admin's hasty withdrawal has had severe consequences, risking the lives of innocent Afghan civilians and American citizens," he wrote.

Secretary of State Antony BlinkenAntony BlinkenOvernight Defense & National Security — Presented by Raytheon Technologies — Nation mourns Colin Powell Top US envoy to Afghanistan resigns Powell death leads to bipartisan outpouring of grief MORE, during a phone call with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Thursday, emphasized that the U.S. is still committed to maintaining “a strong diplomatic and security relationship” with Afghanistan, and affirmed that the administration will "support a political solution to the conflict,” according to State Department spokesperson Ned Price.