Taliban attempting to isolate Kabul, but capital city not facing ‘imminent threat,’ says Pentagon
WASHINGTON (AA) – The first group of roughly 3,000 American troops has arrived at Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport, the Pentagon announced on Friday, as the US expedites the evacuation of its embassy personnel.
Spokesman John Kirby said the “bulk” of the three battalions – two of which will consist of Marines while the third will be from the Army – would be at the airport by Sunday as the Taliban make sweeping gains against Afghan government forces.
“We are certainly concerned by the speed with which the Taliban has been moving, and as we’ve said from the very beginning, this is a moment for Afghan National Defense Forces, as well as their political leadership,” Kirby told reporters. “No outcome has to be inevitable here.”
The comments come one day after the State Department announced it would sharply reduce its staffing at the embassy in Kabul, ordering a reduction to “a core diplomatic presence.” The Pentagon is being tasked with beefing up security at the airport, and helping fly out personnel and refugee applicants ahead of the full withdrawal of US forces.
US forces will respond to any attack, Kirby warned. The Pentagon will have the capacity to airlift thousands of people out of the war-torn country per day, including embassy staff and Afghan nationals seeking a US visa, he added.
The UN has warned of a humanitarian catastrophe if the fighting reaches the streets of the capital Kabul, after the Taliban on Thursday seized the key strategic city of Ghazni, just 149 kilometers (92 miles) southwest of Kabul.
The hardline group also seized Pul-e-Alam, the capital of the eastern Logar province, which lies less than 90 km (55 mi) west of Kabul, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in a series of tweets on Friday.
Kirby said the Taliban appear to be attempting to isolate Kabul, but said the capital city not facing “an imminent threat” at the moment.
“What they want to do if they achieve that isolation I think only they can speak to, but you can see a certain effort to isolate Kabul,” he said. “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.”