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U.S. Embassy staff in Afghanistan destroy computers as Taliban nears Kabul

The United States is deploying thousands of combat troops to Afghanistan to help secure the withdrawal of embassy staff in Kabul

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Smoke rises after fighting between the Taliban and Afghan security personnel, in Kandahar, Afghanistan, Aug. 12, 2021.

Smoke rises after fighting between the Taliban and Afghan security personnel, in Kandahar, southwest of Kabul, Afghanistan, Thursday, Aug. 12, 2021.

Sidiqullah Khan, Associated Press

Afghanistan is falling to the Taliban, again.

Nearly 20 years since a U.S.-led coalition invaded the country — in pursuit of terrorist networks and 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden — the Taliban’s decadeslong resistance seems to be prevailing.

This week, the Taliban captured the cities of Kandahar and Herat — the country’s second and third largest municipalities, The New York Times reported. On Friday, the Taliban had overrun the Helmand Province capital of Laskar Gah.

  • They are now in control of more than half of Afghanistan’s 34 provincial capitals, according to the Times.

Kabul, the nation’s capital, is not yet under Taliban siege, but government forces are in combat with Taliban fighters about 50 miles from the city, The Associated Press reported.

  • American military officials believe the Taliban could sweep the rest of the country in a matter of a few months, and Kabul in the next 30 days, according to the AP.

On Friday, National Public Radio reported that U.S. Embassy staff in Kabul had been told to destroy desktop computers and sensitive documents before evacuating.

  • American government negotiators with the Taliban, led by envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, were trying to seek assurance from the Taliban the embassy would not be attacked if the insurgent group overtook Kabul, according to The New York Times.

America to send troops to secure withdrawal

In April, President Joe Biden — the fourth president to oversee the war in Afghanistan — announced the U.S. would pull all military forces out of the country by Sept. 11, 2021.

  • “We cannot continue the cycle of extending or expanding our military presence in Afghanistan hoping to create the ideal conditions for our withdrawal, expecting a different result,” Biden said at the time.
  • In recent months, that retreat out of Afghanistan — after almost 20 years of combat — appeared to be nearly over, with the administration saying only 650 troops would remain in the country to guard the U.S. Embassy.

As the Taliban’s blitzkrieg swept over the country on Thursday, defense and state department officials announced that around 3,000 combat troops were deploying to Kabul’s international airport to support the withdrawal of civilian staff from the embassy and to help evacuate some Afghans that had supported the U.S. government, The Washington Post reported.

  • “Pentagon spokesman John Kirby declined to call the military deployment a combat mission but said infantry soldiers and Marines will deploy with machine guns, mortars and other heavy weapons, and with authorization to defend themselves if attacked,” reported the Post.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin III said in a joint press release Thursday that they had spoken with Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani, telling him that the U.S. was “reducing our civilian footprint in Kabul in light of the evolving security situation” and that the U.S would be expediting flights for Afghans that qualified for special immigration visas.

  • Both secretaries reiterated that although they were pulling staff from the country, “the United States remains committed to maintaining a strong diplomatic and security relationship with the government of Afghanistan.”