By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent Worthy News
The Pentagon and other sources suggested roughly 3,000 extra troops would be deployed within 48 hours to help withdraw embassy staff and other civilians.
Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said the U.S. Defense Department is sending the 3,000 troops from three infantry battalions — two Marine and one Army — to Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport. He confirmed they would help out with the removal of American personnel from the U.S. Embassy in Kabul.
These “temporary” numbers are on top of the 650 already in the Afghan capital protecting the airport and the embassy, according to the Pentagon.
Some 1,000 other U.S. personnel will be placed in Qatar to help process Afghans going through a special immigration process. Qatar is also a hub for U.S. military operations.
Britain said it would deploy around 600 troops to help its nationals and local translators get out. About 1,400 staff are currently still at the U.S. embassy in Kabul.
It was not immediately clear how many local residents were among them and if they too would be evacuated to safety amid concerns about repercussions.
However, staff at the embassy in Kabul will be reduced to a “core diplomatic presence,” U.S. officials said. U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price assured the Afghan government the U.S. embassy would continue to operate, despite signs to the contrary.
“The embassy remains open, and we plan to continue our diplomatic work in Afghanistan,” Price stressed.
Britain said it would deploy around 600 troops to help its nationals and local translators get out amid fears of repercussions.
The announcements came while south and west of Kabul, the Taliban were seizing the country’s second-and third-largest cities.
The Islamist group claimed control over Herat close to the Iranian border. Separately a diplomatic source and a witness said it also appeared close to capturing Kandahar in the south, the group’s spiritual home that now controls about two-thirds of the country.
Earlier in the day, the Taliban established a bridgehead within 150 km (95 miles) of Kabul.
The United Nations warned that a Taliban offensive reaching the capital would have a “catastrophic impact on civilians.” The United States, Britain as well as Germany urged their citizens to leave Afghanistan immediately.
In Kandahar, most parts of the country’s second-largest city were under the group’s control, but fighting was still going on, a Taliban commander told Reuters news agency. Other sources said the city was already captured.
A women’s rights activist there, who asked not to be named for security reasons, reportedly said heavy clashes were underway. Only the city’s military bases and the airport remained under government control.
She feared a return of restrictions imposed on women by the Taliban when the group ruled the country from 1996-2001 would return. “We can no longer talk about women’s rights. We are returning to a dark time where there is no hope,” she added.
Minority Christians in Afghanistan also faced the prospect of more persecution under the Taliban, rights activists warned. Afghanistan already ranks 2nd on the annual Open Doors ‘World Watch List’ of 50 nations where Christians face the most persecution, after North Korea.
There are up to 3,000 Christians from a Muslim background residing in the country, according to U.S. sources and researchers. Other reports say as many as 18,000 Afghan Christians are practicing their faith secretly.
However, the fall of major cities was a sign that Afghans “welcome the Taliban,” a spokesperson for the group told Al Jazeera TV.
U.S.-led troops ousted the Taliban in 2001 after the September 11 attacks on the United States.
U.S. President Joe Biden has promised to avoid a replay of the fall of Saigon, in which the Vietnam War came to a decisive end as U.S. personnel were airlifted off the embassy roof in helicopters.
The reinforcements will fly in just weeks before the departure of the last of the U.S.-led international force that had a core role in maintaining security in the troubled nation.
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