By John Ikani
US negotiators are in talks with the Taliban to prevent an attack on the US Embassy in Kabul, as the extremist group are close to overrunning the capital in a direct challenge to the country’s government.
The negotiation led by Chief US Envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad, comes as US diplomats are trying to determine how soon they may need to evacuate the US Embassy amid meteoric Taliban advance that has put embassies in Kabul on high alert for a surge of violence in coming months, or even weeks, and forced consulates and other diplomatic missions elsewhere in the country to shut down.
The mood inside the embassy has been described as increasingly tense and worried with diplomats at the State Department’s headquarters in Washington noting that a sense of tangible depression at the spectre of closing it, nearly 20 years after US Marines reclaimed the burned-out building in December 2001.
Khalilzad is hoping to convince Taliban leaders that the embassy must remain open, and secure, if the group hopes to receive US financial aid and other assistance as part of a future Afghan government.
Biden administration officials insist that there are no immediate plans to significantly reduce the embassy’s staff of 4,000 employees, including about 1,400 Americans, as US troops formally complete their withdrawal from the country.
“We are withdrawing our forces from Afghanistan, but we are not withdrawing from Afghanistan,” the State Department said in a statement. “Although US troops will depart, the United States will maintain our robust diplomatic engagement with Afghanistan.”
What you should know
A US-led military campaign in Afghanistan began in 2001 following the 9/11 attacks on American soil – but now most of the foreign troops have pulled out.
In April, Biden announced that he would fully withdraw military forces in keeping with a February 2020 deal the Trump administration struck with the Taliban.
Biden’s decision came after an administration review of U.S. options in Afghanistan, where U.S.-midwifed peace talks have failed to advance as hoped and the Taliban remains a potent force despite two decades of effort by the United States to defeat the militants and establish stable, democratic governance.
The war has cost trillions of dollars in addition to the lives of more than 2,000 U.S. service members. At least 100,000 Afghan civilians have been injured or killed.
The Taliban group has now seized at least 11 of the country’s 34 provincial capitals, and are threatening more.
Biden on Tuesday said he does not regret his move to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, as Taliban militants continue to make rapid advances.
While Afghanistan’s leaders are beginning to unite and “fight for their nation, “Biden said the US would sustain the commitments it had made to Afghanistan, such as providing close air support, paying military salaries and supplying Afghan forces with food and equipment.