Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby stated that 3,000 US troops would be deployed to Kabul’s international airport to support the downsizing of the United States’ embassy in Kabul, as well as any possible future evacuations.
Two U.S. Army infantry battalions and one Marine infantry battalion will be stationed at Hamid Karzai International Airport to support what United States State Department spokesperson Ned Price described on Thursday as a downsizing of embassy civilian staff to a “core diplomatic presence” in the coming weeks, as Taliban fighters continue a nationwide offensive. The force will be commanded by Rear Adm. Peter Vasely, a Navy SEAL selected to lead US Forces-Afghanistan Forward. Additionally, an Army Brigade Combat Team will be prepositioned in the region, should reinforcements be required.
At the same time the United Kingdom announced that 600 British troops will also be deployed to Afghanistan for similar purposes. The U.K.’s ambassador to Afghanistan will remain with a downsized team while the British force will also facilitate the evacuation of British citizens.
In a press briefing where he denied that the reduction in manpower was an “abandonment”, “wholesale withdrawal” or “evacuation”, Price said that he expected the Department of Defense would deploy additional troops to Hamid Karzai International Airport to support the downsizing of the embassy. According to him, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin had spoken with President of Afghanistan Ashraf Ghani prior to the briefing to coordinate the departure of staff. He stressed that the embassy would remain open, and would continue to provide consular services, including the evacuation of interpreters through the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program.
Price would not confirm or deny a report by CNN that the United States was considering relocating the embassy to Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport, saying that the State Department was continuing to review the security situation in Kabul and update contingency plans accordingly, but he would not “entertain hypotheticals”. He again emphasized that the embassy would remain open.
The embassy in Kabul had issued a security alert earlier today, urging all United States citizens to “immediately” depart Afghanistan “using available commercial flight options”. It is the second such security alert issued this month, with another alert urging US citizens to leave the country made on 7 August.
Taliban fighters were reported to have overrun Herat earlier on Thursday, making Afghanistan’s third largest city the 11th provincial capital to fall to the Taliban in under a week. The city of Ghazni was also claimed to be captured by the Taliban on Thursday alongside Kandahar.
Price claimed that 1,200 Afghans had arrived in the United States through the SIV program as of the press briefing, with daily flights to be expected in the coming days. However, an internal cable from the US’ top diplomat in Afghanistan viewed by CNN warned that Taliban territorial gains are preventing Afghans who worked with US forces from departing the country, calling for evacuation efforts to cover a wider swathe of Afghans.
Editor’s Note: the situation in Kabul is fast moving, you can find our latest reporting on the evacuation here.