Just weeks before the U.S. is scheduled to end its war in Afghanistan, the Biden administration is rushing 3,000 fresh troops to the Kabul airport to help with a partial evacuation of the U.S. Embassy. The move highlights the stunning speed of a Taliban takeover of much of the country, including their capture of Kandahar, the second-largest city and the birthplace of the Taliban movement.
The State Department said the embassy will continue functioning, but Thursday’s dramatic decision to bring in thousands of additional U.S. troops is a sign of waning confidence in the Afghan government’s ability to hold off the Taliban surge. The announcement came just hours after the Taliban captured the western city of Herat as well as Ghazni, a strategic provincial capital south of Kabul. The advance, and the partial U.S. Embassy evacuation, increasingly isolate the nation’s capital, home to millions of Afghans.
“This is not abandonment. This is not an evacuation. This is not a wholesale withdrawal,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said. “What this is is a reduction in the size of our civilian footprint.”
Price rejected the idea that Thursday’s moves sent encouraging signals to an already emboldened Taliban, or demoralizing ones to frightened Afghan civilians. “The message we are sending to the people of Afghanistan is one of enduring partnership,” Price insisted.
President Joe Biden, who has remained adamant about ending the 19-year U.S. mission in Afghanistan at the end of this month despite the Taliban sweep, conferred with senior national security officials overnight, then gave the order for the additional temporary troops Thursday morning.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Thursday. The U.S. also warned Taliban officials directly that the U.S. would respond if the Taliban attacked Americans during the temporary U.S. military deployments.
Britain’s ministry of defense said Thursday that it will send around 600 troops to Afghanistan on a short-term basis to help U.K. nationals leave the country. And Canadian special forces will deploy to Afghanistan to help Canadian staff leave Kabul, a source familiar with the plan told The Associated Press. That official, who was not authorized to talk publicly about the matter and spoke on condition of anonymity, did not say how many special forces would be sent.
The Pentagon’s chief spokesman, John Kirby, said that in addition to sending three infantry battalions — two from the Marine Corps and one from the Army — to the airport, the Pentagon will dispatch 3,500 to 4,000 troops from a combat brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division to Kuwait to act as a reserve force. He said they will be on standby “in case we need even more” than the 3,000 going to Kabul.