U.S. Troops Returning to Afghanistan in Final Days of Pullout to Evacuate Embassy Employees

Additional U.S. soldiers are returning to Afghanistan in the final days of the troop pullout ahead of August 31 to evacuate some embassy employees in Kabul, according to a U.S. official who remained anonymous, the Associated Press reported.

Returning troops will be engaged in ground and air support to help process and protect Americans directed to Kabul's airport to be evacuated. Diplomatic efforts at the embassy in Kabul will continue, said State Department spokesman Ned Price, who announced the reduction of staffing levels there.

The move comes as the Taliban is swiftly regaining power in Afghanistan amid worsening security in Afghanistan. The insurgent group currently controls roughly two-thirds of the nation.

"The increased tempo of the Taliban military engagement and the resulting increase in violence and instability across Afghanistan is of grave concern," Price said Thursday.

"We've been evaluating the security situation every day to determine how best to keep those serving at our embassy safe," he added.

At the embassy and airport in Kabul, the Pentagon had let a total of around 650 troops remain to bolster diplomatic security.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

US to evacuate embassy in Afghanistan
Additional U.S. soldiers are returning to Afghanistan in the final days of the troop pullout ahead of August 31 to evacuate some embassy employees in Kabul, according to a U.S. official who remained anonymous, the AP reported. In this photo, an Afghan National Army (ANA) soldier stands guard inside the Bagram US air base after all US and NATO troops left, some 70 Kms north of Kabul on July 5, 2021. WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP via Getty Images

The U.S. official who spoke with the AP remained anonymous to discuss military details that had not yet been made public.

The move to bring U.S. troops to Afghanistan ahead of the pullout suggests a lack of confidence by the Biden administration in the Afghan government's ability to provide sufficient diplomatic security in the capital as the Taliban mount an offensive that has rapidly conquered key cities in recent days.

The official said an unspecified additional number of troops, as well as aircraft, are to be brought in to assist with the embassy drawdown.

Afghan government forces are collapsing even faster than U.S. military leaders thought possible just a few months ago when President Joe Biden ordered a full withdrawal.

The Taliban, who ruled the country from 1996 until U.S. forces invaded after the 9/11 attacks, captured three more provincial capitals Wednesday and another two on Thursday, the 10th and 11th the insurgents have taken in a weeklong sweep that has given them effective control. The insurgents have no air force and are outnumbered by U.S.-trained Afghan defense forces, but they have captured territory, including the country's third-largest city, Herat, with stunning speed.

In a new warning to Americans in Afghanistan, the second it has issued since Saturday, the U.S. Embassy in Kabul on Thursday again urged U.S. citizens to leave immediately. The advisory was released amid increasing discussions in Washington about further reducing already limited staff at the embassy.

The U.S. continues to support the Afghan military with limited airstrikes, but those have not made a strategic difference thus far and are scheduled to end when the U.S. formally ends its role in the war on Aug. 31. Biden could continue airstrikes beyond that date, but given his firm stance on ending the war, that seems unlikely.

The most recent American military assessment, taking into account the Taliban's latest gains, says Kabul could be under insurgent pressure by September and that the country could fall entirely to Taliban control within a couple of months, according to a defense official who discussed the internal analysis Wednesday on condition of anonymity.

Military officials watching the deteriorating situation said that so far the Taliban haven't taken steps to threaten Kabul. But it isn't clear if the Taliban will wait until they have gained control of the bulk of the country before attempting to seize the capital.

The security of the U.S. diplomatic corps has been talked about for months, even before the Taliban's battlefield blitz. The military has long had various planning options for evacuating personnel from Afghanistan. Those options would largely be determined by the White House and the State Department.

A key component of the options would be whether the U.S. military would have unfettered access to the Kabul international airport, allowing personnel to be flown systematically out of the capital. In a grimmer environment, American forces might have to fight their way in and out if the Taliban have infiltrated the city.

Taliban Fighters Patrol in Afghanistan
Returning U.S. troops will be engaged in ground and air support to help process and protect Americans directed to Kabul's airport to be evacuated. Here, Taliban fighters patrol inside the city of Farah, capital of Farah province, southwest Afghanistan, Wednesday, Aug. 11, 2021. Mohammad Asif Khan/AP Photo