As Taliban fighters are almost at the doorstep of Kabul, thousands of residents of the Afghan city are in extreme terror as fall of Kabul will result in torture, rape, abduction, loot and mass slaughter of hundreds of thousands of people by the Taliban. Meanwhile US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani as the security situation continues to deteriorate in the country. Taliban fighters have refused to obey the Doha deal, which was signed under mediation of the Biden administration.
A statement released by the State Department said: the two “discussed the urgency of ongoing diplomatic and political efforts to reduce the violence” in Afghanistan and Blinken “emphasized the United States’ commitment to a strong diplomatic and security relationship with the Government of Afghanistan and our continuing support for the people of Afghanistan”.
According to CNN, Taliban have seized Kandahar, Afghanistan’s second-largest city, and a number of other provincial capitals, as the insurgent group accelerates its rapid advance towards the capital Kabul.
Afghan Member of Parliament Gul Ahmad Kamin told CNN on Frid
ay that Kandahar had been taken. The city, which lies in the south of the country, has been besieged by the Taliban for weeks, and many observers consider its fall as the beginning of the end for the country’s US-backed government.
Later on Friday the militants took charge of a handful of other cities.
According to CNN analysis they now control 17 of Afghanistan’s 34 provincial capitals, all of which have been captured in the last week.
The group has made territorial gains in the north of the country, which has traditionally been an anti-Taliban stronghold. And it now controls towns and territories within 100 kilometers (62 miles) of Kabul, including the capital of Logar province, which also fell on Friday.
In a statement Friday, the Taliban said they had taken control of the governor’s office, police headquarters, as well as other key operational centers throughout the city of Kandahar. “Hundreds of weapons, vehicles and ammunition were seized,” the Taliban statement said.
Kamin said he and many others had made their way to a military base close to the city’s international airport and were awaiting a flight out. “Many (government) soldiers surrendered and the rest fled,” Kamin said.
Kamin had earlier told CNN that Taliban fighters had been able to break through the city’s frontline and were engaging in sporadic confrontation with government forces.
Kandahar, which lies on the junction of three major highways, is of particular strategic importance and was formerly a major hub for US military operations. Its seizure marks the most significant gain yet for the Taliban.
By now, half of Afghan cities have gone under the control of Taliban fighters.
Although it is anticipated that the Taliban may enter Kabul within next couple of hours, a senior administration official familiar with the most recent US intelligence assessment on Afghanistan told CNN Wednesday that Kabul could fall into the hands of the Taliban within 30 to 90 days.
A senior official in the Biden administration familiar with one US intelligence assessment said Kabul could be isolated by the Taliban in the next 30 to 60 days, increasing the potential the Afghan capital could soon fall under the control of the militant group.
Rejecting the assessment of the US intelligence sources, Afghan locals said, Kabul will fall by this week, while fate of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani is uncertain as he may face execution once Taliban fighters succeed in taking control of Kabul.
Meanwhile, with the Taliban reaching almost doorstep of Kabul, it is assumed that US embassy in Afghanistan may face a similar consequence of Benghazi in Libya, leaving lives of hundreds of US diplomats at extreme danger.
In response to the Taliban’s sweeping advance, the US announced it would deploy 3,000 US troops to Kabul to assist with a “reduction of civilian personnel at the embassy in Kabul” and to “facilitate the processing of” Special Immigrant Visas for Afghan nationals who assisted Americans during their time inside Afghanistan, Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said.
Two of the infantry battalions headed to Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul are US Marines and one is US Army, Kirby said. The Defense Department will also bring in an additional 1,000 personnel from both US Army and US Air Force to help with the visa applicants, Kirby said.
Meanwhile, international concern continues to mount about the civilian toll of the conflict.
On Friday, the United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres called on the Taliban to halt their offensive and to “negotiate in good faith in the interest of Afghanistan and its people.”
He added that he hopes that ongoing discussions in Qatar between Afghan representatives and the Taliban “will restore the pathway to a negotiated settlement to the conflict.”
“Only an Afghan-led negotiated political settlement can ensure peace,” Guterres said.
An expert on Afghan issues told this correspondent that US should immediately begin drone attacks on the advancing Taliban fighters for the sake of saving lives of thousands of innocent people along side hundreds of American diplomats and civilians.
Meanwhile, according to CNN, US President Joe Biden is having no second thoughts about his decision to withdraw from Afghanistan — even as the Taliban have taken ground more rapidly than the US expected.
A White House official told CNN on Friday that while the Biden administration was caught off guard by the speed of the Taliban advance, the presence of sufficient US troops at nearby bases to deploy to Afghanistan this week shows that the administration had planned for all contingencies.
The official stood by the Biden administration’s rapid drawdown of forces, noting that “military planners told us that speed equals safety.”
“… If we had combat forces in Afghanistan after May 1 without a plan to leave then we would be back in a shooting war with the Taliban,” the official said.
Meanwhile, the US Embassy in Kabul is instructing personnel to destroy sensitive materials as well as items “which could be misused in propaganda efforts,” according to a management notice sent Friday and seen by CNN and described by another source familiar with the matter.
The notice comes as the embassy prepares to withdraw a significant number of diplomats, with one diplomatic source telling CNN that one intelligence assessment indicates that Kabul could be isolated by the Taliban within the week, possibly within the next 72 hours.
On Thursday, the US embassy in Kabul urged US citizens again to depart Afghanistan immediately.
The UK’s defence secretary Ben Wallace on Friday said he is “absolutely worried” that al Qaeda “will probably come back” to Afghanistan after the drawdown of US and British troops is complete.
Challenging the US decision to pull out troops, Wallace said: “I’ve been pretty blunt about it publicly and that’s quite a rare thing when it comes to a United States decision, but strategically it causes a lot of problems.”
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Friday that the UK should not be pursuing a military solution to Afghanistan right now.
The UK should instead “work with all our partners in the region and around the world who share an interest with us in preventing Afghanistan from once again becoming a breeding ground for terror,” Johnson said.
The UK has sent 600 troops to the country to help evacuate embassy staff, while German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer also encouraged support staff to leave the “increasingly threatening” situation in the country quickly.