The Taliban are rapidly moving from taking districts to large population centers. After taking Herat and Ghazni they have now captured Kandahar which is Afghanistan’s second-largest city and the birthplace of the Taliban. The Afghan government may well collapse even before the U.S. withdrawal is finished.
Despite some of the hopeful proclamations that were coming out of Washington recently, the Pentagon is sending 8,000 U.S. troops to the region. Of these, 3,000 (two Army infantry battalions and one Marine) will be sent to Kabul to aid in the “partial evacuation” of the U.S. Embassy personnel.
They will join the 650 troops that are already in Kabul helping to safeguard the embassy personnel, as well as the remaining 2,500 counter-terrorist and “train-and-assist” advisors to the Afghan military.
But the U.S. isn’t alone.
The British Ministry of Defense (MoD) is sending 600 troops to Kabul to aid in withdrawing some of their embassy personnel. Canadian Special Forces will also deploy to the city to assist in the withdrawal of Canadian Embassy personnel.
“I want to stress that these forces are being deployed to support the orderly and safe reduction of personnel, at the request of the State Department, and to facilitate an accelerated process of working through [special immigrant visa] SIV applicants,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said. “This is a temporary mission with a narrow focus.”
“Once this mission is over ― I won’t get into specific numbers here ― but we anticipate having less than 1,000 troops on the ground to support the diplomatic mission in Kabul, which we all agree we still want to be able to have,” Kirby added.
Another 1,000 troops will head to Qatar to support and accelerate the process of issuing special immigrant visas for Afghan interpreters.
The Pentagon is also sending the 82nd Airborne Division’s immediate reaction force (IRF) to Kuwait to aid in securing Kabul’s airport.
Lt. Col. Joe Buccino, a spokesman for the 18th Airborne Corps at Fort Bragg, confirmed the 82nd Airborne Division’s Immediate Response Force brigade is deploying. The IRF is a brigade-sized force of the 82nd which can deploy anywhere in 18 hours.
It’s an Evacuation, Alright
Washington is still saying that the embassy will continue its mission and that it isn’t running an evacuation, but its actions say otherwise.
“Our first responsibility has always been protecting the safety and the security of our citizens serving in Afghanistan, and around the world,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said. “This is not abandonment. This is not an evacuation. This is not a wholesale withdrawal. What this is is a reduction in the size of our civilian footprint.”
“The message we are sending to the people of Afghanistan is one of an enduring partnership,” Price added.
Price said that the special envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, will continue to push the Taliban to have peace talks with the Afghan government. But the prospects for such talks are dim. Since the Taliban are winning fast, they will have no compulsion to engage in talks with the government.
The troops rushing into Afghanistan will not go there to fight the Taliban, but only to get the American and our allies’ diplomatic personnel out.
The deployments indicate that Washington foresees that the Afghan government will collapse faster than anyone thought possible just weeks ago.