Tuesday

28th Sep 2021

UK and US troops to help evacuate staff from Afghanistan

  • Afghan security forces have put up little effective resistance to the Taliban's advance (Photo: David Axe)

The US and UK will send troops to evacuate staff from their embassies in Kabul as Taliban insurgents are closing in on the capital after capturing the country's second and third largest cities, following US president Joe Biden's decision to withdraw American troops.

The Pentagon said it would send 3,000 troops in the next two days, including aircraft that could fly personnel out of the Afghan capital.

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A contingent of 3,500 soldiers will act as backup in Kuwait, and another 1,000 US soldiers will be sent to Qatar for technical and logistical support.

Only a small number of personnel would remain in the US embassy. "We are further reducing our footprint in Kabul in light of the evolving security situation," Ned Price, a state department spokesperson said on Thursday. There are currently 1,400 Americans stationed at the embassy.

American negotiators have also been trying to get assurances from the Taliban that they will not attack the US embassy once they enter Kabul.

Meanwhile, the UK plans to send some 600 soldiers to Afghanistan to help evacuate British nationals, UK defence secretary Ben Wallace said. There are an estimated 4,000 British citizens in the country.

Canada is also planning to send special forces to get embassy staff out.

The evacuation moves underline the surprising speed with which the Taliban have been advancing, with little effective resistance by the Afghan security forces.

The insurgents have so far captured at least 12 provincial capitals in less than a week, including Herat, Afghanistan's third-biggest city, and Kandahar, the country's second-largest city in the south, on Thursday.

Thousands of Afghan civilians have fled to Kabul to try to escape the fighting, which is seen as the last bastion of security.

Earlier, military experts said the Taliban could put Kabul under pressure within a month, but that is now likely to happen sooner.

The US military withdrawal - which started in May and was to be completed by the end of the month, as well as the subsequent evacuation - drew parallels with the fall of Saigon in 1975, when Americans stationed in the US embassy were evacuated from a rooftop by helicopter.

In the meantime, talks between representatives of the Taliban and the Afghan government wrapped up in Qatar on Thursday without progress.

Several countries, including the US, Pakistan, the EU, and China, issued a joint statement saying they would not recognise any government in Afghanistan "imposed through the use of military force."

EU warns of lack of support

The EU for its part warned the Taliban on Thursday that it would face being cut off by the international community if it seized power through violence.

"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," EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said in a statement.

"The EU aims to continue its partnership and support to 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 said.

He insisted that "it is critical that the significant gains made by women and girls over the past two decades are preserved, including as regards access to education."

The statement called for "an immediate halt of the ongoing violence" and urged the Taliban to resume peace talks with the government in Kabul.

"The EU condemns the increasing violations of International Humanitarian Law and human rights, in particular in Taliban-controlled areas and in cities," it said.

Borrell said the 27-nation bloc also encouraged the authorities in Kabul "to settle political differences, increase representation of all stakeholders and engage with the Taliban from a united perspective."

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