Pentagon: Rapid Taliban gains 'deeply concerning'

The Taliban’s rapid takeover of large swaths of Afghanistan is “deeply concerning,” the Pentagon’s top spokesperson said Friday as he acknowledged the insurgents are trying to isolate Kabul.

“We are certainly concerned by the speed with which the Taliban has been moving,” Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said at a news briefing Friday.

“We're obviously watching this just like you're watching this and seeing it happen in real time, and it's deeply concerning,” he added. “This is a moment for the Afghans to unite, the leadership and the military. No outcome has to be inevitable.”

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Kirby’s comments come as the Taliban on Friday solidified its sweep through Afghanistan’s north, south and west weeks before the official end of the U.S. military mission there. The Taliban now controls half of Afghanistan’s 34 provincial capitals and about two-thirds of the country as a whole.

Among the Taliban’s string of victories, on Friday it claimed control of the capital of Logar province, putting the insurgents just about 50 miles outside of Kabul.

Pressed Friday on the situation in Kabul, Kirby held that the capital is “not, right now, in an imminent threat environment.”

Still, Kirby said, the Taliban “clearly” is “trying to isolate Kabul.”

“What they want to do if they achieve that isolation, I think, only they can speak to,” he added. “But you can see a certain effort to isolate Kabul. It is not unlike the way they've operated in other places of the country, isolating provincial capitals and sometimes being able to force surrender without necessarily much bloodshed.”

Amid the deteriorating security situation, on Thursday, the Biden administration announced it will evacuate all but a “core” staff from the U.S. Embassy in Kabul.

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To help with the evacuation, the military is deploying 3,000 troops to Afghanistan. They will be stationed at the Kabul airport.

“We're taking the situation seriously and that's one of the reasons why we're moving these forces into Kabul to assist with this particular mission because we know that time is a precious commodity,” Kirby said.

Some elements of one of Marine infantry battalions being deployed have already arrived, with the rest of the 3,000 troops expected to arrive by the end of the weekend, Kirby said.

Once U.S. assets are in place, the military will able to airlift “thousands” of people, to include both U.S. diplomats and Afghans who have applied for special immigrant visas, out of Kabul per day, Kirby said, though he stressed “that doesn't necessarily mean that you're going to end up with that every day.”

Kirby also maintained that Afghan forces still have the capacity to repel the Taliban.

“They have greater numbers. They have an air force. A capable air force, which, oh by the way, is flying more airstrikes than we are, every day. They have modern equipment. They have organizational structure. They have the benefit of the training that we have provided them over 20 years. They have the material, the physical, the tangible advantages,” Kirby said. “It's time now to use those advantages.”