The Pentagon said on Friday it did not believe Kabul was under imminent threat from the rapid Taliban advance, as the first of 3000 U.S. troops arrived in the Afghan capital to protect embassy staff.
Earlier Taliban fighters seized the country’s second and third biggest cities, and their fighters closed to within 50 miles of Kabul.
The speed of their advance has sent Western nations scrambling to bring home civilian staff.
And a defense official told the Associated Press that an attack on Kabul could come within days.
Department of Defense spokesman John Kirby declined to say whether officials were surprised by the way Afghan forces had failed to slow the advance.
‘We are certainly concerned by the speed with which the Taliban has been moving,’ he told reporters during a briefing.
‘And as we’ve said from the very beginning, this still is a moment for Afghan national security and defence forces, as well as their political leadership.
‘No outcome has to be inevitable here.’
‘We’re obviously watching this just like you’re watching this and seeing it happen in real time, and it’s deeply concerning.’
Department of Defense Spokesman John Kirby would not be drawn on whether the pace of the Taliban’s rapid advance surprised officials but said: ‘We are certainly concerned by the speed with which the Taliban has been moving’
Taliban militants gather around a provincial government’s office after taking control of Herat, Afghanistan’s third largest city, during their lightning advance on August 13
Pink areas show Taliban control while green represents territory held by the government as insurgents move through the country towards the capital Kabul
Some 3000 U.S. troops will have arrived in Kabul by the end of the weekend to help partially evacuate the U.S. embassy in the city
Timeline of Afghanistan’s provincial capitals falling to the Taliban
Aug. 6 – ZARANJ – The Taliban take over the city in Nimroz province in the south, the first provincial capital to fall to the insurgents since they stepped up attacks in early May.
Aug. 7 – SHEBERGHAN – The Taliban declare they have captured the entire northern province of Jawzjan, including its capital Sheberghan. Heavy fighting is reported in the city, and government buildings are taken over by the insurgents.
Aug. 8 – SAR-E-PUL – The insurgents take control of Sar-e-Pul, capital of the northern province of the same name. It is the first of three provincial centres to fall on the same day.
Aug. 8 – KUNDUZ – Taliban fighters seize the northern city of 270,000 people, regarded as the gateway to mineral-rich northern provinces and Central Asia. Government forces say they are resisting the insurgents from an army base and the airport.
Aug. 8 – TALOQAN – The capital of Takhar province, also in the north, falls to the Taliban in the evening. They free prisoners and force government officials to flee.
Aug. 9 – AYBAK – The capital of the northern province of Samangan is overrun by Taliban fighters.
Aug. 10 – PUL-E-KHUMRI – The capital of the central province of Baghlan falls to the Taliban, according to residents.
Aug. 11 – FAIZABAD – The capital of the northeastern province of Badakhshan is under Taliban control, a provincial council member says.
Aug. 12 – GHAZNI – The insurgents take over the city, capital of the province of the same name, a senior security officer says.
Aug 12 – FIRUS KOH – The capital of Ghor province, is handed over to the Taliban without a fight, security officials said.
AUG 13 – QALA-E-NAW – The Taliban capture the capital of the northwestern province of Badghis, a security official and the Taliban said.
Aug 13 – KANDAHAR – The Taliban capture Afghanistan’s second biggest city of Kandahar, government officials and the Taliban said.
Aug 13 – LASHKAR GAH – The Taliban capture the capital of the southern province of Helmand, police said.
Aug 13 – HERAT – Capital of Herat province in the west is under Taliban control after days of clashes, a provincial council member said.
Aug 13 – POL-E ALAM – Taliban capture provincial capital of Logar, 50 km (30 miles) south of Kabul, a local official said
Instead, he echoed President Biden and other administration officials in insisting that Afghan security forces held the advantage over the Taliban.
‘We will do what we can from the air, but they have the advantage,’ he said.
‘They have greater numbers. They have an air force. They have modern weaponry.
‘It’s indigenous forces that can make the difference on the ground.’
But in an appearance on CNN later in the day, he admitted that the Afghan forces might lack one vital component.
‘You can’t… money can’t buy will,’ he said.
Will has to be there. The ability to exert leadership and exude leadership on the field, that has to be there.
The signs so far are that Afghan forces are struggling, despite billions of dollars in U.S. training and equipment.
In some cases they have simply melted away or switched sides in the face of an insurgency emboldened by Biden’s promise to end the U.S. combat mission by Aug 31.
‘They have the benefit of the training that we have provided them over 20 years,’ said Kirby. ‘They have the material, the physical – the tangible – advantages.
‘It’s time now to use those advantages.’
Yet the Taliban advance continued at rapid pace on Friday. They took four more provincial capitals on Friday, including Ghazni on the road south out of Kabul.
Staff at the U.S. embassy were told on Friday to begin destroying sensitive information or anything that could be used by the Taliban, according to a management memo obtained by CNN.
A former diplomat told DailyMail.com it suggested that plans were further advanced for fleeing the compound than officials had suggested.
But Kirby said the capital was not at imminent risk of Taliban capture.
‘Kabul is not right now in an imminent threat environment,’ he said.
‘But clearly … if you just look at what the Taliban has been doing you can see that they are trying to isolate Kabul.’
In the meantime, the first forces of a Marine battalion arrived at Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport.
‘I expect that by the end of the weekend the bulk of the 3,000 that we talked about yesterday will be in place,’ said Kirby.
Meanwhile, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres became the latest world figure urging the Taliban to halt their offensive.
‘The message from the international community to those on the warpath must be clear: seizing power through military force is a losing proposition,’ he said.
‘That can only lead to prolonged civil war or to the complete isolation of Afghanistan.’
The speed of the Taliban advance since Biden announced he was withdrawing all U.S. troops has surprised officials, as district after district and city after city fell with minimal resistance.
Taliban fighters stand on a vehicle along the roadside in Kandahar on August 13, 2021
A Taliban fighter holds a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) along the roadside in Herat, Afghanistan’s third biggest city, on Friday after the US announced it was sending 3,000 troops back into Afghanistan
The latest significant blow was the loss of Lashkar Gah, capital of Helmand province, where American, British and other allied forces fought some of the bloodiest battles in the past 20 years.
Hundreds of Western troops during the course of the war died fighting to try to knock back the Taliban in the province and give Afghanistan’s central government and military a better chance to take hold.
The Taliban also claimed Kandahar, the economic hub of the south and the movement’s spiritual home, and Herat, home to about 600,000.
Their fighters are now within 50 miles of the capital, fuelling fears the U.S.-backed government could fall within weeks.
The United Nations says it has evidence of atrocities that may amount to war crimes amid reports that Taliban fighters have gone door to door demanding unmarried women wives and beheading Afghan security forces who surrender.
The U.N. refugee agency said nearly 250,000 Afghans have been forced to flee their homes since the end of May, and 80% of those displaced are women and children.
In all, the agency said, some 400,000 civilians have been displaced since the beginning of the year, joining millions who have fled previous rounds of fighting in recent decades.