US President Joe Biden has ordered the deployment of nearly 5,000 American troops to Afghanistan to ensure "an orderly and safe drawdown” of US and allied personnel as well as “safe evacuation of Afghans who helped our troops” in wake of the persisting Taliban advance towards Kabul.
“Based on the recommendations of our diplomatic, military, and intelligence teams, I have authorized the deployment of approximately 5,000 US troops to make sure we can have an orderly and safe drawdown of US personnel and other allied personnel, and an orderly and safe evacuation of Afghans who helped our troops during our mission and those at special risk from the Taliban advance,” Biden declared in a Saturday statement released by the White House.
"I have ordered our armed forces and our intelligence community to ensure that we will maintain the capability and the vigilance to address future terrorist threats from Afghanistan," the US president added as quoted in the statement.
Biden further directed US Secretary of State Antony Blinken “to support President Ghani and other Afghan leaders as they seek to prevent further bloodshed and pursue a political settlement,” noting that “Blinken will also engage with key regional stakeholders,” without elaborating.
According to the White House statement, Biden also unveiled Washington’s message to “the Taliban representatives in Doha, [Qatar] via our Combatant Commander” that any efforts by the Afghan insurgents “that puts US personnel or our mission at risk” in Afghanistan will warrant “a swift and strong US military response.”
Concluding the statement, Biden further vowed that he will be the last American president to deal with the 20-year US-led war in Afghanistan that basically left the terror-ravaged nation in the hands of the very militants that it sought to root out in 2001 under the pretext of “global war on terror.”
"I was the fourth President to preside over an American troop presence in Afghanistan—two Republicans, two Democrats. I would not, and will not, pass this war onto a fifth", he promised.
He also used the statement to blame his predecessor, former President Donald Trump, for placing the Taliban "in the strongest position militarily since 2001” and imposing the May 1, 2021 deadline for US troop withdrawal."
"Shortly before he left office, he also drew US forces down to a bare minimum of 2,500", Biden said of Trump. "Therefore, when I became President, I faced a choice—follow through on the deal, with a brief extension to get our forces and our allies’ forces out safely, or ramp up our presence and send more American troops to fight once again in another country’s civil conflict."
The announcement came just two days after the US military declared the re-deployment of 3,000 American troops to Afghanistan to assist in the evacuation of US diplomats in face of swift military advances of Taliban militants across the country.
American observers cited in US-based press reports challenged the last minute decision to send thousands of troops to Afghanistan and questioned whether Biden will be able to meet his August 31 troop withdrawal deadline.
According to an AP report, the frontline of a US Marine contingent arrived in Kabul on Friday and most of the rest of the American troops are due to arrive by Sunday.
Officials have stressed that the newly arriving troops’ mission is limited to assisting the airlift of embassy personnel and Afghan allies, and they expect to complete it by month’s end, according to the report, which further noted that “they might have to stay longer if the embassy is threatened by a Taliban takeover of Kabul by then.”
The development comes amid reports that the Taliban insurgents had captured two more Afghan provinces and approached the outskirts of Kabul while also launching a multi-pronged assault on a major northern city defended by former warlords.
“Clearly from their actions, it appears as if they are trying to get Kabul isolated,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said on Friday, referring to the Taliban’s speedy and efficient takedown of major provincial capitals this past week.
Kirby, however, declined to discuss any assessment of whether the Taliban are likely to converge on Kabul soon, but the urgent movement of extra US troops into Afghanistan to assist with the embassy drawdown marks a clear evidence of Washington’s fears that following the rapid fall of major cities this week with little Afghan government resistance, Kabul is endangered.
According to the report, the Pentagon is also deploying an additional 4,500 to 5,000 troops to military bases in the Persian Gulf countries of Qatar and Kuwait, including 1,000 to Qatar to speed up visa processing for Afghan translators and others who fear retribution from the Taliban for their past work with Americans, and their family members.
The report further cited the State Department as saying that the US embassy in Kabul will remain partially staffed and functioning, but the decision to evacuate a significant number of embassy staff and bring in the thousands of additional US troops reflects the waning confidence in Kabul’s ability to hold off the Taliban surge.
The Biden administration, meanwhile, has not ruled out a full embassy evacuation or possibly relocating embassy operations to the Kabul airport.
There are a little over 4,000 personnel still at the US embassy, according to local press reports, but the State Department has not revealed how many are being pulled out in the next two weeks.
Biden had given the Pentagon until Aug. 31 to complete the withdrawal of the 2,500 to 3,000 troops that were in Afghanistan when he announced in April that he was ending US involvement in the war. That number has dropped to just under 1,000, and all but about 650 are scheduled to be gone by the end of the month; the 650 are to remain to help protect the US diplomatic presence, including with aircraft and defensive weapons at Kabul airport.
According to US media reports, the decision to deploy a large number of troops to Afghanistan adds a new twist to the American troop withdrawal. There is no discussion of rejoining the war, but the number of troops needed for security will depend on decisions about keeping the embassy open and the extent of a Taliban threat to the capital in coming days.
This is while Afghan President Ashraf Ghani delivered a televised speech on Saturday -- his first public appearance since the recent Taliban gains -- and pledged not to give up the “achievements” of the 20 years since US-led forces toppled the Taliban after the 9/11 attacks.
The Biden administration has claimed that US-trained Afghan security forces have tangible advantages over the insurgents, including “a viable air force and superior numbers.”