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Taliban captures more territory as U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan continues

More U.S. reinforcements are arriving in Kabul today to help evacuate U.S. and Afghan personnel and protect the embassy as the Taliban advances through the country, capturing several key areas and calling for President Ghani to resign. The Taliban’s advance comes three weeks before the planned end of Biden’s military withdrawal. New York Times Correspondent Thomas Gibbons-Neff joins from Kabul, Afghanistan with the latest on the ground.

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    For more on the situation in Afghanistan, I spoke with New York Times Correspondent Thomas Gibbons-Neff who is in Kabul. We spoke just before noon Eastern time today–8:30 PM in Afghanistan.

    Thomas, thanks for joining us. First, what is the situation right now in Kabul where you are?

  • Thomas Gibbons-Neff:

    Thanks for having me. So the situation in Kabul is deteriorating to the point where we have displaced people coming from all over the country as the Taliban kind of pushed through the north, the south, the west, now there's fighting in the east. I mean, on top of that, you have an influx of internally displaced people. You have this growing sense of fear among the population. I think today there was an expectation that the Afghan president, Ashraf Ghani, would have resigned given the deteriorating situation in the country in this wave of Taliban gains, including more than half of the provincial capitals in the country. And he did not. So it almost sounded like it was setting up for a fight. And the people in Kabul, Afghans in Kabul, who have been around in the '90s during the Soviet invasion. It is a bloody fight. And now, after 20 years, the population of five million. So whatever comes next could very well be disastrous.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Tell me one of the questions that people are wondering is, where is the Afghan military in all this? I mean, yesterday we heard the State Department say, look, the Afghan forces, number more than 300,000. They have trained specialists. The U.S. has been training them for so long. How is it that the Afghan military is falling so quickly to the Taliban in all these different places?

  • Thomas Gibbons-Neff:

    It's a combination of things. And I could go on for a very long time about why it's playing out the way it is. Right. But I mean, at its core, the Afghan military was built in the American military's image. Right. And that means complex logistics systems, different levels of integration this expectation that the Afghan military would kind of operate like the American military. The American military has its own issues. Right. And kind of exploiting that and expecting it to look the exact same without the litany of issues is just it's unrealistic. Not to mention how long does it take for the military to become a military? Officers, generals and experienced noncommissioned officers? That's not there. And then kind of couple that with poor leadership, widespread corruption and other factors that have kind of led to this moment. Right, where soldiers and police on the front line have no faith in their government because they don't trust their leaders. And that's just kind of all dissolved as the Americans who have provided air support for so long at the Afghan military and police have become so dependent on as soon as they kind of eased off the gas that things started to come apart at the seams. And, you know, that's left the Afghan Air Force, which is a small but professional force and capable, but not nearly big enough to cover the geographic spread of Afghanistan. And the commando units, which have been well-trained, well-equipped, can fight moderately well because they have that kind of core leadership that motivates their rank and file. Again, this is not big enough to handle what the Taliban have managed to throw at them.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Tell me what's happening on the kind of humanitarian front? If you have these internally displaced people coming from all over the country into Kabul, because that's the last place or you have them leaving the country, that means that's a strain on the neighborhood, so to speak, the countries that are adjacent to it, where are they going to get the basic necessities? Are they just living and camping in parks on the street?

  • Thomas Gibbons-Neff:

    Yeah, I mean, that's a great question. I mean, you have to imagine right now we're in the middle of an explosion, right, as these people flee from different provinces to other provinces in the country. I mean, you know, I was in Kandahar I guess a week ago now with my Afghan colleagues, a photographer, and we visited a displaced persons camp and there were barely any resources available. The government was struggling to provide for them and now that area is completely under Taliban control. So it's kind of this moving line of issues that need to be addressed, but just aren't because everything's moving so quickly.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    There's also a lot of concern about the role of women and girls, the amount of time and energy that coalition forces, the United States has spent trying to create an infrastructure for women and girls to start going to school. They're now members of parliament. They're in all kinds of jobs. Does that all go away with the snap of a finger when the Taliban comes to town?

  • Thomas Gibbons-Neff:

    Definitely. People in the west, definitely the United States are watching that. And I think the Taliban have kind of given these half hearted assurances or words kind of enshrined in their own language about Sharia. And I mean, for the most part, I think yes, I think Afghanistan will go back to something that looks very much like the 1990s.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Right now, we have U.S. troops coming in to protect the U.S. embassy and to make sure that we're able to evacuate all Americans, plus the people who might have helped us during the war. That plan was put into place at a time when the Taliban was not gaining control of the rest of the country. So how desperate is that situation right now?

  • Thomas Gibbons-Neff:

    Like you said, they were not expecting this kind of situation. I think they had long expected that Kabul would, there be distance between the announcement of the withdrawal, the withdrawal and something like this. So now they're now the government, the Pentagon, is scrambling to put something in place that looks nothing like Saigon in 1975. Right. Enough breathing room, enough time, enough space to move everyone they need to out. Today I'd heard that the resolute support name of the NATO mission here, the sign had been taken off the headquarters and thrown in the trash. They were destroying some of the monuments in front of that headquarters. I mean, so it sounds very much like 1975. But I think the Biden administration is very reluctant to display that, even though it's almost unavoidable at this point.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Thomas Gibbons-Neff of The New York Times, joining us from Kabul tonight. Thanks so much.

  • Thomas Gibbons-Neff:

    Thank you.

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