US ‘boosts plans for emergency embassy evacuation’ in Afghanistan

US officials are understood to have expanded plans for a mass evacuation of embassy staff in Afghanistan in the event of any serious security threats, which would involve US military rapid response teams being flown back into Kabul.

The move reflects growing concerns about the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan as US and Western forces withdraw from the country. 

The embassy evacuation plan, first reported in the Wall Street Journal, is said to include basing helicopters and their crews at Kabul airport as well as an influx of airborne troops and large strategic aircraft. 

In a statement on its official Twitter feed on Sunday, the US embassy in Kabul said that it would continue to maintain its heavily guarded facility in the Afghan capital, which has long been a target for militant attacks.

"The US Embassy in Kabul is open & will remain open…" the tweet said. “We have no plans to close the Embassy."

However, on Monday a Taliban spokesman told the BBC that neither foreign troops or military contractors would no longer be welcome after September 11, the agreed date for foreign troops to leave.

He claimed that since the Taliban intended to allow diplomats and foreign aid workers to continue their work, no foreign armed security would be needed for them.

"We are against the foreign military forces, not diplomats, NGOs and workers and NGOs functioning and embassies functioning," said Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen, speaking from the group’s offices in the Gulf state of Qatar. "We will not pose any threat to them."

Afghan Commandos arrive to reinforce the security forces in Faizabad after the Taliban captured neighbouring districts

Credit: Reuters

However, his reassurances are unlikely to be taken at face value by Western governments, who have long relied on a mixture of their own troops and private military contractors to guard embassies and provide armed escorts for diplomats.

Local Afghan security forces, who have been infiltrated in the past by Taliban sympathisers, are not considered reliable enough to be trusted with such a sensitive task alone.

The US currently plans to keep around 650 troops in Afghanistan to protect its embassy in Kabul, which is a target for al-Qaeda and Islamic State militants as well as Taliban militias.

In recent years, British firm G4S has provided security for British diplomats and VIPs visiting Afghanistan. In 2018, a British employee of G4S was killed in a Taliban gun and bomb attack at a Kabul compound run by the firm.

British officials have told the Telegraph that the UK’s embassy in Kabul will remain open. G4S declined to make any comment.

If Britain and other European nations felt unable to maintain the security of their embassies in Kabul independently, one scenario could be that they moved their staff into compounds within the US embassy’s security footprint.

The Taliban spokesman’s comments came days after the US military left Bagram Airfield, one of the key bases for its Afghan operations in the 20 years since the 9/11 terror attacks.

The withdrawal from Bagram Airfield is the clearest indication that the last of the 2,500-3,500 US troops have left Afghanistan or are nearing a departure – months ahead of President Joe Biden’s promise that they would all be gone by September 11 of this year.

The foreign troop withdrawal follows a deal struck with the Taliban under which the group has pledged not allow al-Qaeda or any other terror faction to operate in territory under Taliban control.

But ahead of the withdrawal, Taliban fighters have been taking dozens of districts from Afghan security forces, raising fears among diplomats and human rights groups that the group is seeking to regain total control of Afghanistan.

The Taliban has also rejected a proposal from Turkey to allow it to continue to deploy a troop force that is used protect Kabul airport, despite the facility being a vital lifeline for aid agencies and diplomats.

Read more: Afghanistan: Two decades of conflict and tens of thousands dead – was it worth it?

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