August 12, 2021
US and other western military planners have begun laying the groundwork for the emergency evacuation of embassies in Afghanistan in the event of Kabul being threatened by the Taliban’s accelerating campaign.
Some countries have already begun to withdraw staff, and the US and Turkey are negotiating a security plan for the airport in the capital that would be essential for any evacuation.
The developments follows a US intelligence assessment that Kabul could be overrun in 30 to 90 days and a warning for US citizens to leave the country immediately in whatever way they can. Germany on Thursday also told its citizens to leave.
A senior US embassy official said in an interview with CBS last month that the embassy had “added some additional quick-reaction capabilities in the event that something happens”.
The unravelling security situation in Afghanistan since Joe Biden’s announcement of the imminent end of the US military presence is heavily circumscribed by US domestic political considerations, because the president has come under fire from some Republican opponents for his handling of the withdrawal after 20 years.
US officials have said there has been no decision or order for an evacuation of American diplomatic personnel, but one official said it was time for serious conversations about whether the US military should begin to move assets in to the region to be ready in case the state department calls for a sudden evacuation.
The security of the US diplomatic corps has been talked about for months, even before the Taliban’s lightning advance, with a key component of the options being whether the US military would have unfettered access to Kabul international airport, allowing it to fly personnel out of the capital.
The US already has warships in the region, including the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier and the USS Iwo Jima with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit onboard.
The heavily fortified US embassy is only a few miles from the airport along a road secured by US troops, leading Biden to state on CBS News’s Face the Nation in July that “there’s going to be no circumstance where you’re going to see people being lifted off the roof of a embassy of the United States from Afghanistan”, referring to the evacuation of the US embassy in Saigon in 1975.
A key element for countries in deciding whether to keep embassies open and at what level is whether Kabul’s airport can be secured. Turkey has said it wants to operate and guard it.
The Turkish defence minister, Hulusi Akar, said on Thursday that his country was seeking financial, logistical and diplomatic guarantees, citing fears that diplomatic missions would completely withdraw if the airport was closed.
“For this reason we continue to share our view that the airport should remain open. In the coming days this issue will take shape,” he said in comments published in a defence ministry statement.
Following India’s decision to withdraw consular staff from the besieged northern city of Mazar-i Sharif, Denmark said on Thursday that it would withdraw 45 Afghan citizens who worked for its government and offer them residency in the European country for two years.
The plan approved on Wednesday applies to people who worked at the Danish embassy in Kabul and as interpreters for Danish troops.
“The security situation in Afghanistan is serious. The Taliban are gaining ground and development is accelerating more than many had feared,” the Danish foreign affairs ministry said after the evacuation plan received broad political support.
“We have a common responsibility to help the Afghans who are now threatened due to their connection and contribution to Denmark’s involvement in Afghanistan,” the ministry said.
Those evacuated will be screened both in Afghanistan and upon arrival in Denmark where they will undergo “a security interview with the immigration authorities and other relevant Danish authorities”.
The widening regional impact of the Taliban’s advances have also been felt in recent days, with Russia announcing it will give its ally Tajikistan $1.1m to build a new outpost on the Tajik-Afghan border.
The planned outpost will be located in Tajikistan’s Khatlon province adjacent to Afghanistan’s Kunduz province, where Taliban insurgents took over the provincial capital this week.
Russia operates a military base in Tajikistan, a fellow ex-Soviet republic whose government has expressed concern about the rapidly deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan.
Hundreds of Afghan servicemen crossed the border into Tajikistan last month, fleeing a Taliban offensive. Tajikistan later sent them back on special flights arranged by the Kabul government.
Agencies contributed to this report