The US is rushing to complete a full withdrawal of its embassy in Kabul within 72 hours as Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Sunday blamed the Afghan military for “being unable to defend the country”.
“The fact of the matter is we’ve seen that that force has been unable to defend the country,” Secretary Blinken told CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday. “And that has happened more quickly than we anticipated.”
He added: “That status quo was not sustainable. Like it or not, there was an agreement that forces would come out on May 1. Had we not begun that process... then we would have been back at war with the Taliban... with tens of thousands of troops.”
The acceleration of the US exit strategy comes as Taliban fighters poured into Kabul on Sunday after the insurgents made rapid takeovers of provincials capitals across the country.
Most US embassy staff still in Kabul are being transferred to the airport to be flown home. However a small core staff, including the top US diplomat in the country Chargé d’Affaires Ross Wilson, will remain in a facility at the airport for now. It means that the US embassy in Kabul will be closed by Tuesday.
US officials have told reporters that they don’t have a solid intelligence gathering on the ground in Afghanistan and have therefore made the decision to leave.
Military helicopters were pictured taking off from the US compound in Kabul over the weekend, drawing associations with the iconic image of people fleeing from the roof of the American embassy in Saigon, Vietnam nearly 50 years ago.
The South Vietnamese capital fell to the North Vietnamese Army on 30 April, 1975, effectively putting an end to the Vietnam War. In the day leading up to 30 April, US forces evacuated thousands of Americans and South Vietnamese in what the US State Department has called the most “ambitious helicopter evacuation in history”.
Smoke was also seen rising above Kabul embassy as US staff burned important documents and destroyed equipment. Once the US flag is lowered, the embassy will officially be closed.
Sec Blinken pushed back on the comparisons to Vietnam on Sunday, saying: “This is not Saigon.”
During another Sunday show appearance on Meet the Press, host Chuck Todd put a question from a US veteran to Secretary Blinken. “Why did my friend die?”
“First off, I say thank you for your service. God bless you,” Mr Blinken said. “You succeeded in accomplishing the mission that was set out for you way back on 9/11.”
In the Afghan capital on Sunday, Taliban fighters were seen armed and in the city streets.
US officials had hoped that the Afghan capital would hold for three months, but have had to drastically lower their expectations and expedite the US exit.
Taliban leaders demanded that the Afghan government step down and surrender Kabul to the extremist group in the hope of avoiding more violence. “We’ve not declared a ceasefire,” they warned.
President Biden has authorized 5,000 US troops to help with the evacuation, the White House said on Saturday, with as many as 10,000 US citizens, including Afghan Americans, and Afghan US government employees still in the country, according to an estimate by a senior official.
Mr Biden warned the Taliban that any action that put Americans in harm’s way “will be met with a swift and strong US military response”.
“History must be clear about this: American troops didn’t lose this war – Donald Trump and Joe Biden deliberately decided to lose. Politicians lied: America’s options were never simply this disgraceful withdrawal or an endless occupation force of 100,000 troops (we haven’t had that in Afghanistan in a decade),” Mr Sasse said.
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