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US To Send Troops To Help Evacuate Personnel In Afghanistan

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US To Send Troops To Help Evacuate Personnel In Afghanistan

House Speaker Pelosi requests all-members briefing on Afghanistan

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has requested an all-members briefing on Afghanistan from the Biden administration during the week of Aug. 23, when members return from recess, according to a Pelosi aide.

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What we know: The United States is withdrawing personnel from its embassy in Kabul amid the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan, leaving only “a core diplomatic presence,” the Biden administration announced Thursday as more cities fell to the Taliban.

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Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said 3,000 US troops are being deployed to assist with the drawdown, which is expected to be completed by the end of August.

Situation in Afghanistan is “a consequence of 20 years of American misjudgments,” says retired general

Retired General Wesley Clark.
Retired General Wesley Clark. (CNN)

Retired Gen. Wesley Clark, former supreme allied commander of NATO, attributed the current dire situation in Afghanistan to “20 years of American misjudgments, of poor prioritizations and failed policies.”

“For the Biden administration I think they reached the end of the road. It was clear that they weren’t going to be able to create or help create an Afghanistan government that supported its people. And without that government support, its military did not have the support of the people. And this is the consequence of it. It’s painful. It’s tragic,” Clark told CNN’s Jim Acosta.

Watch the full interview:

 

US tells Afghan president it remains “invested” in the country

Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin stressed to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani “that the United States remains invested in the security and stability of Afghanistan in the face of violence by the Taliban,” according to a State Department readout of their call Thursday.

“Secretary Blinken and Secretary Austin informed President Ghani that the United States is reducing our civilian footprint in Kabul in light of the evolving security situation and will accelerate the tempo of Special Immigration Visa (SIV) flights,” the readout from State Department spokesperson Ned Price said. “The Secretaries both emphasized that the United States remains committed to maintaining a strong diplomatic and security relationship with the Government of Afghanistan.”

An unnamed State Department spokesperson denied reports that Austin and Blinken asked Ghani to step down in order to facilitate a ceasefire and transitional government.

“The United States has not asked President Ghani to resign and rumors indicating we have done so are completely false,” this spokesperson said. “Decisions about who leads the country are for Afghans to make.

The fall of Kandahar would be seen as a “death knell” for Afghan forces, CNN’s Clarissa Ward says

 

An Afghan security personnel stands guard along a road in Kandahar on July 14.

An Afghan security personnel stands guard along a road in Kandahar on July 14. (Javeed Tanveer/AFP/Getty Images)

 

The fall of Kandahar, Afghanistan’s second largest city, would be viewed as “death knell” for the country’s government and military, CNN’s chief international correspondent Clarissa Ward reports from Kabul.

“If Kandahar falls… this will be a real game changer moment and certainly people here in the capital, in Kabul, feel like Kandahar going down would be the death knell for Afghan forces, for the Afghan government,” she said.

Twelve provincial Afghanistan capitals are now under Taliban control after the militant group captured two more strategic cities on Thursday, leaving the Afghan capital of Kabul increasingly beleaguered and cut off from the rest of the country.

The city of Herat, Afghanistan’s third-largest city and a major urban center in western Afghanistan, fell to the Taliban on Thursday evening local time, with the group taking control of the governor’s office and Herat police headquarters, according to Afghan officials/

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Pentagon plans to airlift staff and special immigrant visa applicants out of Afghanistan

Afghan Special Immigrant Visa applicants crowd into the Herat Kabul Internet cafe seeking help applying for the SIV program on August 8 in Kabul.

Afghan Special Immigrant Visa applicants crowd into the Herat Kabul Internet cafe seeking help applying for the SIV program on August 8 in Kabul. (Paula Bronstein/Getty Images)

Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said US troops being sent to Hamid Karzai International Airport to support the drawdown of civilian embassy personnel in Afghanistan will be “postured to support airlift” of those personnel and Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) applicants out of the country. Kirby made these comments during a news briefing at the Pentagon Thursday.

“We certainly anticipate being postured to support airlift as well for not only the reduction of civilian personnel from the embassy but also in the forward movement of special immigrant visa applicants,” Kirby said. “So we do anticipate that there will be airlift required of us, and we are working on final plans right now to put that into place.”

Kirby said SIV applicants will be sent to “locations overseas outside of the United States as well as US installations.” Kirby did not know exact locations of where SIV applicants will be sent, he said.

“We anticipate that we’ll be looking at locations overseas outside of the United States as well as US installations that belong to the United States either overseas and/or here at home,” Kirby said. “I don’t have a list for you right now, but I think it’ll be a mix of both.”

So far there have been six flights carrying 995 SIV applicants and their families to the US. Upward of 15,000 applicants remain in country.

 

Pentagon says sending 3,000 troops to Afghanistan is about “prudent preparation”

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby today defended the Pentagon’s decision to send 3,000 US troops into Afghanistan as “prudent preparation,” suggesting it is necessary to send so many in order to plan for the worst case scenario.

“This is about prudent preparation,” said Kirby, responding to a reporter’s question on why the US was sending such a “high” number of troops. “We want to make sure that we’ve got enough on hand to adapt to any contingencies.”

“Your question about the numbers being too high, we believe it is appropriate to the security situation that we see now and that we can anticipate possibly in the future,” he continued.

“The secretary believes the safety and security of our people, not just American troops, but our allies and partners and our State Department colleagues is of paramount concern,” Kirby added. “He is not going to add additional risk to that safe movement.”

Two of the infantry battalions headed to Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul are US Marines and one is US Army, Kirby said. All three battalions are coming from the Central Command area of responsibility, which is the part of the US military based in the Middle East.

UK sending military personnel to Afghanistan to help British nationals leave

Additional UK military personnel will deploy to Afghanistan on a short-term basis to provide support to British nationals leaving the country, a joint news release from the Ministry of Defence and the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office said.

“The additional deployment of approximately 600 troops is in light of the increasing violence and rapidly deteriorating security environment in the country. In parallel, the number of staff working at the British Embassy in Kabul has been reduced to a core team focused on providing consular and visa services for those needing to rapidly leave the country,” the statement released Thursday said.

“The security of British nationals, British military personnel and former Afghan staff is our first priority. We must do everything we can to ensure their safety,” UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace added.

Biden signed off on order to send US troops to Afghanistan

President Joe Biden speaks in the East Room of the White House in Washington on Thursday.

President Joe Biden speaks in the East Room of the White House in Washington on Thursday. (Samuel Corum/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

President Biden signed off on the order today to send US troops to Afghanistan, following a meeting last night at the White House, where he tasked his top national security advisers to come up with a plan to present to him this morning, a White House official tells CNN.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan briefed Biden this morning. He gave the order at that time, the official said.

The President did not attend the meetings today, as CNN reported, but the White House is trying to make clear Biden is engaged on this issue and “monitoring closely.”

 

US sending in more troops into Afghanistan than they initially had at the start of withdrawal

By sending in 3,000 additional troops into Afghanistan to assist with the departure of diplomats and possible evacuations, the US now will have more troops in the country than what they initially had when they began withdrawal, CNN’s Nick Patton Walsh reported Thursday.

“So, we’re into this extraordinary two- to three-week period. Because they will leave the end of August as part of the plan in which the Americans can be sending in large numbers of troops, obviously with air cover and enablers to keep themselves safe. So essentially establishing a military presence in Kabul,” Patton Walsh told CNN’s Julia Chatterly.

He continued, “It will doubtless have an impact on some of the nearby buildings in areas, providing a degree of security blanket for many of the important parts of Kabul. And frankly, a significant warning sign for the Taliban to stay back from the capital. Not that at this stage, they look like they’re moving close to it that fast. But you then have a situation, two to three weeks down the line, when the US has pulled out its civilian staff, has presumably got out most of the people it wants to see out as part of its’ special immigrant visa program, for those who worked with the Americans. And will then have to… leave again. So that is an extraordinary decision to make and would likely be an extraordinary visual, frankly, when it comes down the road at the end of the month.”

Patton Walsh also elaborated on the stunning ground the Taliban was able to gain, now controlling 12 provincial capitals, including the country’s third largest city Herat and also the city of Ghazni.

“The situation is frankly dire. In one week we’ve seen at least a third of Kabul’s main cities falling to the Taliban. Nobody thought the advance would be this fast,” he said.

EU condemns “increasing” human rights violations in Taliban-controlled areas of Afghanistan

A Taliban flag is seen on a plinth with people gathered around the main city square at Pul-e-Khumri on August 11.
A Taliban flag is seen on a plinth with people gathered around the main city square at Pul-e-Khumri on August 11. (AFP/Getty Images)

The European Union has condemned “increasing violations of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and human rights” in Taliban-controlled areas of Afghanistan, according to a statement from EU High Representative Josep Borrell released Thursday.

“The Taliban’s ongoing military offensive is in direct contradiction to their stated commitment to a negotiated settlement of the conflict and the Doha peace process,” Borrell said.

“The EU calls on the Taliban to immediately resume substantive, regular and structured talks and also calls for an immediate halt of the ongoing violence and for a comprehensive, permanent ceasefire. These continued attacks are causing unacceptable suffering to Afghan citizens and are increasing the number of internally displaced and those leaving Afghanistan in search of safety.”

Borrell added that the EU aims to continue to support the Afghan people.

“However, support will be conditioned on a peaceful and inclusive settlement and respect for the fundamental rights of all Afghans, including women, youth and minorities,” Borrell added. “Otherwise, if power is taken by force and an Islamic Emirate re-established, the Taliban would face non-recognition, isolation, lack of international support and the prospect of continued conflict and protracted instability in Afghanistan.”

Pentagon says new mission does not impact end of August drawdown deadline

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby speaks during a briefing at the Pentagon in Washington on Thursday.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby speaks during a briefing at the Pentagon in Washington on Thursday. (Andrew Harnik/AP)

Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said the Defense Department is “aiming to facilitate the reduction of these civilian personnel by August 31,” to line up with the end of August US troop withdrawal deadline set by President Biden.

He added, however, that he could not “speculate about what the footprint’s going to look like post August 31.”

“Our job here now with this additional plus up is to help facilitate the safe movement of civilian personnel out of Afghanistan, and the President has been very clear that he wants that reduction complete by the end of August. That’s what we’re focused on,” Kirby said during a news conference at the Pentagon on Thursday.

Pentagon on sending troops into Afghanistan: “This is a very narrowly defined, temporary mission”

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby speaks during a briefing at the Pentagon in Washington on Thursday.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby speaks during a briefing at the Pentagon in Washington on Thursday. (Andrew Harnik/AP)

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby defended the US’ decision to send in more troops into Afghanistan to assist with the departure of diplomats and any possible evacuations, describing the mission as “very temporary.”

“This is a very temporary mission for a very specific purpose, that’s a big difference than saying you’re deploying for eight, nine, 12 months, you know, forces to stabilize and secure Afghanistan, which we’ve been doing for the last 20 years. This is a very narrowly defined, temporary mission,” Kirby told reporters.

Kirby noted that there are “no plans, right now, for additional forces” to be sent in. The official went on to describe why the decision to send more troops was made:

“There wasn’t one precipitating event in the last couple of days that led the President and the secretary to make this decision. It’s a confluence of events. As, I’ve been saying now for several weeks, we have been watching very closely with concern the security situation on the ground. And far better to be prudent and responsible and watching the trends to make the best decisions you can for safety and security of our people than to wait until it’s too late. We believe this is not only the right thing to do, but it’s the right time to do it,” he said.

Kirby added that he would not speculate on the “future of Kabul.”

Following this mission, Kirby said, he anticipates having “less than 1,000 US troops on the ground to support the diplomatic presence in Kabul, which we all agree we want to still be able to have.”

Concern grows for Afghan civilians, particularly women and girls

Internally displaced Afghan women from northern provinces, who fled their home due to fighting between the Taliban and Afghan security personnel, receive medical care in a public park in Kabul on August 10.
Internally displaced Afghan women from northern provinces, who fled their home due to fighting between the Taliban and Afghan security personnel, receive medical care in a public park in Kabul on August 10. (Rahmat Gul/AP)

As Taliban militants sweep across Afghanistan, concerns are growing for the toll on the country’s civilians, particularly women and girls.

Wazhma Frogh, the founder of Women and Peace Studies Organization and a member of Afghanistan High Peace Council, told CNN’s Becky Anderson on Wednesday that more than 60,000 families who have fled the violence elsewhere in Afghanistan are now living on the streets of Kabul.

“These are families with small children, 2-year, 3-year, 4-year old who are sleeping on the streets … these are families who are farmers, this is the time of harvest in Afghanistan. They have lost all that,” she said.

The United Nations has warned that the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated significantly in recent weeks. Nearly 390,000 people have been displaced since the beginning of 2021 due to conflict across the country, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said during a daily briefing on Wednesday.

UN humanitarian agencies said there has been a huge spike in people leaving their homes since May and that 5,800 people fled to Kabul between July 1 and Aug. 5.

The UN said that they have received food, water, household items and sanitation support, and that while most of them are hosted by friends and family, a growing number of people are staying in the open.

“The stories that we hear from these people who are right now on the streets of Kabul, we hear that the Afghan government has given them space to come to the mosques, inside the mosques at least, because [of] this hot weather,” Frogh added.

She said the situation is particularly worrying for women and girls, adding that one woman she spoke to in the north of the country described how women were being forcibly taken away from their communities amid the fighting.

“Tons of Afghan girls right now, they have no future, just thinking about no school or even survival right now,” she said.

Read more about the situation on the ground here.

Taliban fighters patrol inside the city of Ghazni, southwest of Kabul, on Thursday.Taliban fighters patrol inside the city of Ghazni, southwest of Kabul, on Thursday. (Gulabuddin Amiri/AP)

 

The Taliban has been claiming territory across Afghanistan this week after the Biden administration began withdrawing troops.

Twelve provincial capitals in Afghanistan have now fallen to the Taliban. This is more than a third of the country’s 34 provinces.

The list includes:

  1. Herat
  2. Kunduz
  3. Ghazni
  4. Puli Khumri
  5. Taloqan
  6. Sheberghan
  7. Sar-e Pol
  8. Zaranj
  9. Faizabad
  10. Farah
  11. Aybak
  12. Qala-i-Naw

Read more about the significance of these territories here.

Taliban captures 2 more key cities, leaving Kabul increasingly isolated

 An Afghan security force personnel stands guard along the roadside in Herat on Thursday, as Taliban took over the police headquarters in Herat.
 An Afghan security force personnel stands guard along the roadside in Herat on Thursday, as Taliban took over the police headquarters in Herat. (AFP/Getty Images)

The Taliban captured two strategic cities on Thursday, leaving the Afghan capital of Kabul increasingly beleaguered and cut off from the rest of the country.

The city of Herat, Afghanistan’s third-largest city and a major urban center in western Afghanistan, fell to the Taliban on Thursday evening local time, with the militant group taking control of the governor’s office and Herat police headquarters, according to Afghan officials.

That morning, the city of Ghazni, a provincial capital on the road to Kabul, also fell to the militant group after “long and intense fighting,” according to Nasir Ahmad Faqiri, head of Ghazni provincial council.

Ghazni is the 10th provincial capital to fall to the Taliban in roughly a week. The city lies around 93 miles (150 kilometers) south of Kabul, on a major highway connecting the capital with Kandahar, Afghanistan’s second largest city.

Kandahar, which lies in the south of the country, has been besieged by the Taliban for weeks, and the group’s spokesperson claimed on Wednesday that they had taken control of its prison. The Taliban claimed they had freed 1,000 inmates and distributed a video apparently showing them walking outside the jail.

Gul Ahmad Kamin, a Kandahari member of parliament, told CNN Taliban fighters have been able to break through the frontline into Kandahar and were engaging in sporadic confrontation with government forces inside the city.

Kamin also confirmed that a wedding hall in Kandahar which was the frontline position for Afghan forces is now under the Taliban control. The wedding hall, visited by CNN just days ago, is about 600 meters away from the prison.

What this means: With the capture of Ghazni, the Taliban is now in control of key locations both to the north and south of Kabul. Their earlier capture of areas of the Baghlan province, which lies to the north of Kabul, raised alarms among US officials because the location is considered essential for the defense of the capital, according to a Biden administration official.

A senior administration official familiar with one US intelligence assessment said Kabul could be isolated by the Taliban in the next 30 to 60 days, increasing the potential that the Afghan capital could fall under the control of the militant group.

Another assessment puts the potential collapse within 90 days, according to another US official. Other officials have warned that there are multiple assessments with differing timelines.

Read more about the situation on the ground here.

3 infantry battalions will be sent to Hamid Karzai airport in next 24-48 hours

The Department of Defense is sending three infantry battalions, which consists of up to 3,000 US troops, to Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, in the next 24-48 hours to assist with a “reduction of civilian personnel at the embassy in Kabul,” Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said during a briefing at the Pentagon on Thursday.

Two of the infantry battalions are US Marines and one is US Army, Kirby said. All three battalions are coming from the Central Command area of responsibility, which is the part of the US military based in the Middle East.

The Defense Department will also bring in about 1,000 personnel from both US Army and US Air Force to “facilitate the processing of” Special Immigrant Visa applicants, Kirby said.

“Initial elements of this movement, of this element, will arrive in Qatar in the coming days,” he added.

The Defense Department is also moving “one infantry brigade combat team” from Fort Bragg in North Carolina to Kuwait “where they will be postured and prepared if needed to provide additional security at the airport,” Kirby said.

Those forces will arrive in Kuwait “sometime in the next week,” Kirby said.

State Department spokesperson will not say if the US will relocate its embassy in Kabu

State Department spokesperson Ned Price stressed that the US Embassy “remains open in its current location” and continues its diplomatic work but would not say if it will remain in that location.

CNN reported this afternoon that the US is considering relocating its embassy to the Kabul airport amid the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan, per a US official, Western diplomatic source and another source familiar with the situation.

“We are always … reviewing the environment, in especially complex operating environments, of course that includes Kabul. Today’s announcement is really a continuation of one of our most important responsibilities and that is doing all we can to ensure the safety, security, welfare, wellbeing of our people,” he said.

“We are planning for all contingencies,” he said.

Vice President Harris says she will be briefed on Afghanistan today

US Vice President Kamala Harris told reporters Thursday she expects to be briefed today on the ongoing situation in Afghanistan.

Pressed by reporters on if Afghanistan is lost to the Taliban, Harris told pool, “I am going to leave here to continue the briefings that we have been receiving, and we will keep you posted.”

Harris was meeting in her ceremonial office with business leaders to discuss the importance of care policies for families, businesses, and the economy.

US sending about 3,000 troops to Afghanistan to aid departure of diplomats

About 3,000 US troops will go into Afghanistan to assist with any departure of US diplomats and any possible evacuations, a US defense official tells CNN.

The troops will provide security for US personnel.

“The military will be there to help effect an orderly and a safe reduction in our personnel. I do expect that the military will help with these relocation operations but as we know, Hamid Karzai International Airport does remain open, commercial flights continue to take off and land at the airport. So the military is not the only way in or out of Afghanistan,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price said at a State department briefing Thursday.

Price rejected the notion that the drawdown was a prelude to an evacuation.

“This is not a full evacuation,” he said. “I think it’s a very important distinction between planning and contingency planning.”

US urges Americans to leave Afghanistan “immediately”

The US Embassy in Kabul again urged American citizens to leave Afghanistan “immediately” amid rapid Taliban gains in the country.

It is the second such security alert in less than a week urging the immediate departure of US citizens.

“The U.S. Embassy urges U.S. citizens to leave Afghanistan immediately using available commercial flight options,” the embassy said Thursday, noting that Americans who cannot afford to purchase airline tickets should contact the embassy “for information regarding a repatriation loan.”

The embassy issued its alert as the Taliban continued its assault, seizing major cities and capitols, dealing blow after blow to the Afghan government, its army and the US and its allies who trained Afghan forces.

The Taliban wave comes just weeks before US troops are scheduled to complete their withdrawal, with US intelligence agencies forecasting that within months, if not weeks, Kabul could be isolated, and perhaps fall, raising questions about the security of the US embassy and other foreign missions in Kabul.

 

(CNN)

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