The US Embassy in Kabul has warned the Taliban may be executing Afghan troops that surrender — as insurgents continued their blitz on Thursday by capturing Afghanistan’s third-largest city.
The seizure of Herat marks the biggest prize yet for the Taliban in their weeklong onslaught that has seen them capture 11 of Afghanistan’s 34 provincial capitals as the US continues its withdrawal from the war-torn country.
As the Taliban took hold of Herat, the US embassy said the reported execution of surrendering Afghan troops was “disturbing” and “could constitute war crimes.”
“Escalating Taliban violence, including executions of surrendered Afghan troops, shows a lack of respect for #HumanRights. Don’t erase Afghanistan’s human rights gains of the last 20 years,” the embassy tweeted.
At the same time, the State Department is expected to start evacuating a “significant” number of employees from its embassy in Kabul, two US officials told Reuters.
The embassy has already repeatedly urged American citizens to leave the country as the violence continues to escalate.
Herat had been under siege for two weeks before Taliban fighters broke through the city’s defensive lines on Thursday afternoon.
Afghan lawmaker Semin Barekzai acknowledged the city’s fall to the Taliban, saying some officials had managed to escape.
In addition to seizing Herat, insurgents also captured Ghazni on Thursday, which is a strategic provincial capital near Kabul.
That capture will cut off a crucial highway that links Kabul to the country’s southern provinces, which are also now under attack by the Taliban.
While Kabul itself isn’t directly under threat yet, US officials are now predicting the city could fall within the next 30 days.
If that timeline sticks, the Taliban could gain control of the country in a matter of months.
The Biden administration had previously estimated Kabul could be overrun within six to 12 months of US troops departing.
Earlier this week, Biden said he did not regret his decision to withdraw following the decades-long war.
“We spent over a trillion dollars, over 20 years. We trained and equipped with modern equipment over 300,000 Afghan forces … they’ve got to fight for themselves,” the president said, adding that Afghan troops “outnumber the Taliban.”
The White House still maintains Afghan forces “have what they need” to battle the militant group.
Press secretary Jen Psaki said the US is cooperating with the Afghan forces in a “train, advise and assist approach.”
“We are continuing and we will continue to provide close air support,” Psaki said.
“Ultimately, Afghan National Defense and Security Forces have equipment, numbers and training to fight back,” she added. “They have what they need.”
The Taliban blitz, however, has renewed questions over where the $830 billion the US government spent on fighting and training troops went.
With Post wires