The U.S. embassy in Afghanistan Sunday told the host nation the United States had “no plans to close” the diplomatic mission as stepped up Taliban attacks fuel nationwide security concerns while U.S.-led foreign troops near a complete withdrawal from the country.
The U.S. assurance comes in response to reports suggesting Washington is preparing emergency evacuation plans for the diplomatic staff in Kabul.
The embassy in the Afghan capital “is open and will remain open,” the mission wrote on Twitter. It pledged to maintain a “robust diplomatic presence” in the country as directed by President Joe Biden “to carry out the range of work we do with the government and people of #Afghanistan.”
The statement noted that the embassy was aware of the security challenges of operating in the country and “constantly planning for contingencies & how to mitigate risks to our people and programs.”
It said the embassy would adjust “our presence as necessary” to address the challenges and was confident it could work in a “safe manner to the benefit” of Afghanistan and the bilateral relationship.
“As President Biden and Secretary [of State Antony] Blinken have said, while the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan is ending, the U.S. embassy will continue our diplomatic, humanitarian, and security assistance programs in Afghanistan.
The Afghan uncertainty and chaos have intensified since Friday, when U.S. officials announced all coalition troops vacated the main Bagram Air Base, about 60 kilometers north of Kabul, after handing its control to local forces.
The America commander in Afghanistan, who is directing the withdrawal process, says Taliban advances and attempts to regain control of the country are worrisome.
“You look at the security situation and it’s not good.” he said. “The Taliban is on the move,” Gen. Austin Scott Miller, told ABC’s “This Week” show broadcast Sunday. He said the Taliban is “gaining strength” and that “we should be concerned.”
Miller also said, “The loss of terrain is concerning.”
The Taliban have rapidly extended control to about a quarter of Afghanistan’s roughly 419 districts since U.S. and NATO allies formally began withdrawing their last remaining troops from the country two months ago.
U.S. officials said last week the retrograde process has largely been completed and the rest of the process is expected to be finished by August, slightly earlier than the original deadline of September 11 set by Biden.
The Taliban have captured nearly 20 districts in recent days, with pro-government security forces either retreating to other areas or surrendering to the Taliban in most of the cases. More than a dozen of them are located in the northeastern border provinces of Badakhshan and Takhar.
On Saturday, more than 300 Afghan government forces fled the fighting in Badakhshan and took refuge in the neighboring central Asian state of Tajikistan.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani spoke Sunday to Tajik President Emomali Sharipovich Rahmonov. A presidential spokesman in Kabul said Ghani thanked the Tajik leader for allowing the Afghan soldiers to take shelter on humanitarian grounds.
Insurgent advances in Badakhshan have brought the Taliban close to the gates to the provincial capital, Fayzabad. The development prompted the Afghan government to send in reinforcements to protect the city.
The Taliban have also made significant battlefield advances in southern Helmand and Kandahar provinces, next to the border with Pakistan.
Afghan officials said national security forces have killed “hundreds” of Taliban fighters in recent days, stressing the need to retake districts that have fallen to the Taliban.
Local media Sunday quoted the commander of Afghan special forces as saying, “Strong belts have been created for the protection of major cities, highways and border towns” across the country.
Maj. Gen. Hibatullah Alizai blamed “political, regional and social issues” for the evacuation of dozens of districts by Afghan forces in recent days. He did not elaborate.
“Our main goal is to inflict as many casualties as possible on the enemyâ€¦. (and) to protect major cities, highways and key border towns that are important for our major cities and the country,” the private TOLO news channel quoted Alizai as saying.