WASHINGTON — The Biden administration said Thursday it’s sending troops to Kabul to help evacuate US Embassy staff amid rapid Taliban gains in Afghanistan.
US officials believe the Taliban could retake Kabul within months of President Biden’s Aug. 31 deadline for removing most US troops from Afghanistan, though Biden insists that’s not inevitable.
“We are further reducing our civilian footprint in Kabul … to a core diplomatic presence in the coming weeks,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said at a press briefing.
Price would not specify how many people will be evacuated or how many troops are participating in that mission.
The Wall Street Journal reports that thousands among the 5,000 US civilian and military personnel at the embassy and nearby international airport will leave Afghanistan.
US troops are flying into the country to help with the evacuation after the Taliban rapidly seized 10 of the country’s 34 provincial capitals.
“These incoming forces, these incoming assets will be based at the airport for one reason and for one reason only, and that is to help effect the reduction in our civilian footprint,” Price said.
Price said that “this shouldn’t be read as any sort of message to the Taliban” that the US sees the Islamic fundamentalist group’s victory as inevitable.
“This is not abandonment. This is not an evacuation. This is not a wholesale withdrawal. What this is is a reduction in the size of our civilian footprint,” Price said. “This is a drawdown of civilian Americans who will, in many cases, be able to perform their important functions elsewhere.”
Biden has insisted there won’t be a humiliating capitulation of Kabul that results in an iconic moment of American defeat akin to the 1975 fall of Saigon in South Vietnam, when Americans were hastily airlifted from the roof of the US Embassy.
“The Taliban is not the North Vietnamese army. They’re not remotely comparable in terms of capability,” Biden said last month.
But the Taliban have made steady progress with victories in a string of cities and offensives against Afghanistan’s largest northern city, Mazar-i-Sharif, and largest western city, Herat. The southern city Kandahar is under Taliban siege.
Biden has stood by his decision to end the 20-year US intervention in Afghanistan, which his predecessor, President Donald Trump, put in motion, arguing that the Afghan military is larger and better-armed by the Taliban. Biden said Tuesday that “they’ve got to fight for themselves, fight for their nation.”