US and allies race to evacuate staff as Taliban reaches Kabul.

The US and its allies accelerated the withdrawal of diplomatic and civilian personnel from Kabul over the weekend after the Taliban made rapid advances towards the Afghan capital.

Taliban insurgents reached the outskirts of Kabul on Sunday as the US evacuated diplomats from its embassy by helicopter, and an Afghan government minister said power would be handed over to an interim administration.

US president Joe Biden announced on Saturday that 1,000 more troops would be deployed to support the evacuation effort, in addition to the 1,000 still present in Afghanistan and the 3,000 sent last week.

The US president said his administration wished “to prevent further bloodshed and pursue a political settlement” but warned the Taliban that “any action on their part on the ground in Afghanistan that puts US personnel or our mission at risk there will be met with a swift and strong US military response”.

On Sunday, Antony Blinken, the US secretary of state, defended the US government’s actions.

Mr Blinken said US diplomats were being moved out of the US embassy in Kabul to a “location at the airport”, but insisted that America would maintain a “core diplomatic presence” in the country.

Destruction of sensitive information

Following reports that US personnel had been instructed to remove or destroy sensitive information or items that could be used by the Taliban as propaganda, Mr Blinken told ABC News it was “standard operating procedure”.

“This is being done in a very deliberate way,” Mr Blinken added. “It’s being done in an orderly way. And it’s being done with American forces there to make sure we can do it in a safe way.”

Mr Blinken pushed back on suggestions that the hasty US evacuation echoed the final days of the Vietnam war, saying: “This is manifestly not Saigon.”

Germany said on Sunday that it had evacuated its embassy in Kabul to the city’s airport. “The employees have now arrived there and have taken up their duties,” the German foreign ministry said.

The German army will deploy 300 soldiers to Afghanistan on Monday to evacuate citizens and Afghan local employees from the country, in what is being described as the largest such mission in the Bundeswehr’s history.

The foreign ministry said the German embassy in Kabul was closed down on Sunday, in view of the “drastically worsened security situation”. It also said the civilian part of Kabul international airport had been closed.

Emirates airline said a flight to Kabul on Sunday was forced to return to Dubai, while Flydubai suspended services.

Heiko Maas, the German foreign minister, has called a meeting of the government’s crisis committee to “agree emergency measures to protect and evacuate German employees and other endangered persons”.

British nationals

He told the Bild am Sonntag newspaper that the swift evacuation of German diplomats and other employees was the priority. “We won’t risk our people falling into the hands of the Taliban,” he said. “We are prepared for all scenarios.”

The UK’s foreign, commonwealth and development office said: “British government staff continue to work in Kabul to provide assistance to British nationals and to our Afghan staff. We are doing all we can to enable remaining British nationals who want to leave to do so.”

One official said that UK diplomats “are continuing to work out of the embassy”, but could not say how long they would continue to do so. Boris Johnson, the British prime minister, convened a meeting of the Cobra emergency committee on Sunday to discuss the situation in Afghanistan, while parliament is also being recalled.

The Russian embassy in Afghanistan’s capital Kabul said it saw no threat from developments in the city and no need to evacuate at the moment, TASS state news agency reported.

“The situation in Kabul is a bit tense but there is no war in the city,” the Russian embassy told TASS. The Taliban on Sunday pledged to guarantee safety for the Russian embassy in Kabul.

“We have good relations with Russia and our policy, in general, is to ensure safe conditions for operations of the Russian and other embassies,” TASS quoted a Taliban official as saying. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2021

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