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Taliban closes in on Afghan capital as U.S. forces arrive to speed withdrawal

UN leaders warn Afghanistan faces a humanitarian tragedy as Taliban forces race across the country. Meanwhile thousands of U.S. troops arrived to help speed up efforts to withdraw from the war-ravaged nation.

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  • William Brangham:

    The Taliban is now closing in on the Afghan capital, after a week that's seen much of the country fall under their control.

    The first of 3,000 American troops arrived today at the Kabul Airport. All will have arrived by the end of the weekend. Their mission? Support the near-total evacuation of American personnel and some Afghans quickly.

    In a matter of days, the Taliban has blitzed across Afghanistan, taken over city after city, and are now close to the capital city, Kabul. Today, Logar province fell, roughly 50 miles from the capital. This map show areas where the Taliban were severely threatening. This was back in April, when President Biden announced the full U.S. troop withdrawal.

    This map shows, in red, the areas the Taliban had captured as of Monday. The squares are the provincial capitals they had taken. And here's where they are today. The Taliban released this video today, claiming to have seized Afghan army helicopters in Herat, the country's third largest city. Herat and Kandahar, the second largest, were taken Thursday.

    And another video today showed the Taliban had captured veteran warlord Mohammad Ismail Khan. He's the man on the right. He had been leading a militia resistance to the Taliban in Herat, but now seemingly forced to call for peace and stability.

    These advances by the Taliban have forced the U.S. to scramble to protect American and Afghan personnel who remain in Kabul. The Biden administration yesterday announced the immediate deployment of 3,000 U.S. troops to help with the evacuation process.

    Officials say the U.S. Embassy will continue to operate, but with limited staff.

    Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby spoke today.

  • John Kirby:

    They have the benefit of the training that we have provided them over 20 years. They have the material, the physical, the tangible advantages. It's time now to use those advantages.

  • William Brangham:

    The blistering Taliban gains have reportedly taken some U.S. officials by surprise.

    But many this week, including President Biden, have kept the focus on the Afghan government's need to defend itself.

  • Joe Biden:

    They have got to fight for themselves, fight for their nation. I think they're beginning to realize they have got to come together politically at the top. And — but we are going to continue to keep our commitment. But I do not regret my decision.

  • Ned Price, Spokesperson, State Department:

    This is not abandonment. This is not an evacuation. This is not the wholesale withdrawal. What this is, is a reduction in the size of our civilian footprint.

  • William Brangham:

    And, in June, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley was warned not to repeat the desperate 1975 evacuation of U.S. personnel from Saigon as North Vietnamese forces closed in.

  • Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH):

    I hope that DOD will coordinate very closely with State, so that we don't have the kind of situation we had when we withdrew from Vietnam.

    Gen. Mark Milley, Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff: I do not see that unfolding. I may be wrong. Who knows? You can't predict the future.

  • William Brangham:

    But now confidence in the Afghan government is waning, as some European governments have moved to shut down or reduce their embassy staff in Kabul.

  • Heiko Maas, German Foreign Minister (through translator):

    We will reduce the number of staff at the embassy in Kabul to an operational bare minimum within the next couple of days. I am once again calling on all German citizens to leave Afghanistan now.

  • William Brangham:

    NATO officials today said they will keep a diplomatic presence to help the Afghan government as much as possible.

    Meanwhile, U.N. officials in Geneva today warned of Afghanistan being on the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe. The secretary-general later spoke at U.N. headquarters in New York.

  • Antonio Guterres, United Nations Secretary-General:

    I remind all parties of their legal and moral obligation to take all measures to protect civilians. Directing attacks against civilians is a serious violation of international and humanitarian law and amounts to a war crime. Perpetrators must be held accountable.

  • William Brangham:

    An estimated 250,000 people have been forced to flee their homes, and the hunger crisis is only getting worse.

  • Tomson Phiri, Spokesman, World Food Program:

    The food security and nutrition situation in Afghanistan is quite dire and continues to worsen with each passing day. One in three Afghans are acutely food-insecure today.

  • William Brangham:

    Afghans living in Kabul right now are trying to go about their daily routines, but many are becoming increasingly fearful for their future, as the Taliban inches closer to the city.

  • Zaman Khan, Kabul Resident (through translator):

    The Taliban ruled here before, and they didn't rule in the people's interest. People think that they will act the same.

  • Amahd Sakhi, Kabul Resident (through translator):

    We are worried. There is fighting everywhere in Afghanistan. The provinces are falling day by day. The government should do something. The people are facing lots of problems.

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