Aug. 12 (UPI) — President Joe Biden on Thursday ordered the deployment of 3,000 troops to Afghanistan to assist in the evacuation of the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, U.S. military officials announced.
The decision comes as Taliban fighters in Afghanistan are making greater gains and U.S. forces near the end of their withdrawal. The Taliban captured the provincial capital of Ghazni on Thursday — its 10th key takeover in recent weeks.
Defense Department press secretary John Kirby said the deployment was “about prudent preparation.”
“The secretary believes the safety and security of our people, not just American troops, but our allies and partners and our State Department colleagues is of paramount concern,” he said, referring to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin. “He is not going to add additional risk to that safe movement.”
The deployment comprises three infantry battalions from the Army and Marines, Kirby said. The troops will arrive at Hamid Karzai International Airport within 24 hours to 48 hours.
The U.S. Embassy in Kabul Thursday urged U.S. citizens to leave Afghanistan “immediately” using available commercial flight options in the face of rapid Taliban advances.
“If you cannot afford to purchase an airline ticket at this time, please contact the U.S. Embassy for information regarding a repatriation loan,” the Embassy said. “If you are a U.S. citizen and delaying your departure while you await an immigrant visa for a spouse or minor child, please contact us immediately.”
The Embassy said due to security conditions and reduced staffing, its ability to assist U.S. citizens in Afghanistan “is extremely limited even within Kabul.”
The British government announced its own deployment of 600 troops to help British nationals leaving the country Thursday.
“The additional deployment of approximately 600 troops is in light of the increasing violence and rapidly deteriorating security environment in the country,” the Defense Ministry said.
“In parallel, the number of staff working at the British Embassy in Kabul has been reduced to a core team focused on providing consular and visa services for those needing to rapidly leave the country.”
The Taliban said fighters have taken control of the governor’s residence in Ghazni, its police station and its prison. Fighters also captured most areas in Tarinkot, the capital of Uruzgan province.
The new Taliban military victories give the group about a third of Afghanistan’s 34 provincial capitals. The group also claimed control of the prison in Kandahar and a police station in Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand.
Ghazni is the 10th province to fall into Taliban control over the past week as the militant group attempts to advance toward Kabul.
Seizing prisons has been a key strategy for the Taliban as a way to grow their fighting base. Afghan officials say Taliban offenses, however, have been pushed back in Herat and Qal-e-Naw, the capital of Badghis.
“At least 30 Taliban were killed and dozens of others were wounded,” Abdul Saboor Qani, provincial governor of Herat, told Tolo News. “One security force member was also killed and four others were wounded.”
Badghis provincial Gov. Hasamuddin Shams said about 60 Taliban fighters were killed in Qala-e-Naw. Shams said there had been a cease-fire in the city that was violated by Taliban fighters with the new attacks.
U.S. forces will complete their withdrawal in Afghanistan by the end of August, Pentagon officials have said, but some worry that the Afghan government could fall to the Taliban in as little as three months.
“I’m not surprised that the Taliban is putting a lot of pressure on the Afghan forces, particularly in the wake of our departure, and of most of the coalition forces as well,” said retired U.S. Central Command Gen. Joseph Votel, according to The Guardian.
“What I am surprised about is how quickly they are moving and seem to be consolidating.”
The likelihood of a government collapse, experts add, could increase if the Taliban fully captures Kandahar, the country’s second-largest city.
Taliban and Afghan negotiators have held occasional peace talks this year, but remain far apart on a power-sharing agreement.
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michele Bachelet on Wednesday urged the Taliban to stop the fighting and return to the bargaining table.
“Failure to stop the escalating violence and human rights abuses has catastrophic consequences for the Afghan people,” she said, according to the Afghanistan Times.