The movement comes as the last of the 3,000 American troops rushed to the city are arriving at the airport to help with the departure of American citizens, as the Taliban have pushed within 10 miles of the capital.
Saturday continued the string of losses for the Kabul government, with Logar province south of Kabul, and Mazar-e-Sharif in the north, falling to the Taliban. American military officials in Kabul are still advising their Afghan counterparts how to construct a defense of the capital city, a sprawling, four-million-person oasis of government control that has become increasingly isolated.
“The situation has all the hallmarks of a humanitarian catastrophe,” the World Food Programme’s Tomson Phiri said at a U.N. briefing on Friday.
The administration is still struggling to find temporary refuge for Afghans seeking special visas to the United States. U.S. officials have been urging Kosovo and Albania to take the applicants after similar efforts with Central Asian and other countries failed.
Michael Patrick Mulroy, a top Middle East official at the Pentagon during the Trump administration, said this kind of evacuation was always likely. “We were headed in this direction after they sent 3,000 troops and ordered the destruction of embassy documents,” he told POLITICO.
U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad spent Saturday meeting with Taliban representatives in Doha, but no agreement has been reached to stop the fighting. It remains to be seen whether the government intends to dig in and defend Kabul or negotiate its surrender.
The fall of Mazar-e-Sharif, the country’s fourth-largest city, follows the losses of Ghazni and Herat on Friday, the country’s second- and third-largest population centers, leaving Kabul alone among the major urban hubs. Although thousands of Afghan troops have consolidated there, there is no indication that those units will fare much better than any of the other Afghan army units in recent weeks.
President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris were briefed Saturday morning by their top civilian and military advisers on the drawdown in Afghanistan and efforts to “evacuate [special immigrant visa] applicants, and monitor the evolving security situation,” a White House official said.