Nations speed up evacuation plans for Kabul embassies as Taliban advances

Militant group claims capture of Afghanistan’s second and third largest cities

Starting as a teenager, Romal Noori risked his life aiding the US war effort in Afghanistan. Now he is facing a dangerous new reality as the Taliban regain power. Video: The New York Times

 

The US and other western countries have accelerated planning for the evacuation of their embassies in Kabul as the Taliban on Thursday continued its relentless advance across Afghanistan.

The militant Islamist group claimed the capture of Kandahar, Afghanistan’s second-largest city and the place where it first emerged in the 1990s, as its fighters rapidly extended control over vast swathes of the country.

The claim came as Afghanistan’s third city of Herat, in the country’s west, fell fully to the Taliban on Thursday, with insurgents overrunning government positions and flying their flag over the city.

The latest Taliban advances – made in the wake of the US’s decision to withdrawn its forces from Afghanistan – leave Kabul, the capital, isolated from the rest of the country and facing a rapidly escalating threat as provincial capitals have toppled one after another in the past seven days.

Britain said it would urgently send an extra 600 troops to Afghanistan this week to secure the speedy retreat of British diplomats, forces, UK passport holders and as many as 4,000 Afghan personnel.

Defence secretary Ben Wallace said the UK was relocating its embassy from the outskirts of the secure Green Zone to a potentially safer location closer to the centre of the capital.

The US state department is expected to announce a parallel move to Britain’s – an evacuation of a “significant” number of employees from its embassy in Kabul, and will send extra military forces to help with the operation, according to three sources who spoke to Reuters.

Promise

With the Taliban in full control of Herat, it promised in a message to residents to “bring security” as its fighters fired into the air in celebration and as local officials fled to an army base in the city’s outskirts.

The advances came amid reports of a power-sharing offer made by the beleaguered Afghan government’s negotiating team to the Taliban office in Doha, an approach the group has reportedly rejected.

The fall of Kandahar on top of Herat would be a catastrophic blow to the Afghan government, which has watched its forces crumple as the Taliban have swept through Afghanistan’s cities in a lightning offensive.

Confirming that Kandahar was on the brink of falling, a senior local official in the city said: “There is heavy street-to-street fighting in the heart of the city. The Taliban has almost captured Kandahar. As far as I know, only the governor’s compound is now in government hands. The city could fall in hours.”

Images on social media showed Taliban fighters near Martyrs Square in the centre of the Kandahar, barely 24 hours after the group over-ran the city’s central prison, releasing about 1,000 prisoners.

The fall of Kandahar and Herat, with the main approaches to Kabul already in the insurgents hands following the fall of Ghazni and Pul-e-Khumri this week, appears to signal the prospect of a countrywide defeat for the Afghan government. – Guardian