In a 2013 photo, Marines stand guard outside the US Consulate in Herat, following a Taliban attack. The city reportedly fell to Taliban fighters on Thursday, Aug. 12, 2021, as reports emerged that US Marines were pre-positioning to extract Americans from the US Embassy in Kabul. Photo by Chief Warrant Officer Bobby Yarbrough.
Thousands of US troops are being positioned for a potential evacuation of the US Embassy as the Taliban continue to tighten their grip on Afghanistan, according to a Pentagon spokesperson and reporting by The New York Times. The contingency plans imply that US planners believe the Afghan government could collapse in fewer than 30 days.
Several hundred Marines are already on the ground at the embassy, and three more infantry battalions — two Marine and one Army — are being sent to Kabul, where they will stage at the Hamid Karzai International Airport, according to Pentagon press secretary John F. Kirby. Additionally, The New York Times reported that a Marine expeditionary unit with roughly 2,000 Marines was being positioned near air bases in Pakistan to help support an evacuation. The Pentagon also said that an infantry bridge from Fort Bragg would move to Kuwait to act as a “quick reaction force” capable of reaching Kabul in a matter of hours.
All these moves were expected in the next three days, according to Kirby.
The first movement is of the three infantry battalions to Hamid Karzai International Airport. This will occur within the next three days, Kirby said.
Finally, Kirby said, a joint US Army/Air Force support element of around 1,000 personnel would deploy to Kuwait to help process Special Immigrant Visa applications for Afghan nationals who qualify for evacuation from the country for having worked for the US — often as interpreters or other contractors — during the 20-year war.
Overall, Kirby said, about 8,000 US service members were headed toward the theater.
Additionally, the Times reported, more Marines have begun a training exercise that could quickly transition to an evacuation mission, should the situation surrounding Kabul continue to deteriorate. The Marines involved in the exercise have already been notified that they could deploy in as little as four days, the Times reported.
The Department of Defense has quickened its pace to pull Americans out of Afghanistan as Afghan security forces continue to fall to Taliban fighters across the country. Though a military airlift would be part of any evacuation, so far, Americans are being advised to leave via Hamid Karzai International Airport on commercial flights.
Simultaneously, negotiators are trying to establish assurance from the Taliban that they will not attack the American Embassy, should the capital city fall.
The US Embassy urged any Americans still in the city to leave immediately. Anyone with barriers to overcome, including financial struggles or visas, should contact the embassy immediately, a news release said.
The news came as the Taliban tightened their grip around Kabul. Taliban fighters claimed the city of Ghanzi, just 90 miles south of Kabul, while in the west, forces took over Herat, the third-largest city in the country.
As of Thursday, the Taliban has seized control of 11 of the country’s 34 provincial capitals, The Associated Press reported.
The Washington Post reported that the three battalions deploying to Kabul are from the 8th Marines, the 1st Marines, and a battalion from the Iowa National Guard.
Units going to Afghanistan, according to defense official:
– 1st Battalion, 8th Marines (in region w/ Navy as part of 24th MEU)
– 2nd Battalion, 1st Marines (in Saudi Arabia w/ Corps' crisis-response force)
– 1st Battalion, 194th Field Artillery, of Iowa Army National Guard
— Dan Lamothe (@DanLamothe) August 12, 2021
Update, Aug. 12, 7:40 p.m.: This story has been updated with information on deploying units from Pentagon press secretary John Kirby. The headline was updated to reflect the full scale of the deployments.
Dustin Jones is a former senior staff writer for Coffee or Die Magazine covering military and intelligence news. Jones served four years in the Marine Corps with tours to Iraq and Afghanistan. He studied journalism at the University of Colorado and Columbia University. He has worked as a reporter in Southwest Montana and at NPR. A New Hampshire native, Dustin currently resides in Southern California.
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