Kabul: The United States ramped up planning for an emergency evacuation of its embassy in Kabul, as the US troops continue their withdrawal from Afghanistan and concerns linger over the security in the conflict-torn country after their departure, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing US officials.
Not only diplomats but also thousands of US citizens in the country could be evacuated; however, while the preparations have been sped up, there is currently no need for immediate evacuation, the newspaper reported Friday. The plans are mostly classified, but the US is now keeping helicopters at the nearby Kabul airport that could be used for a possible evacuation, officials said.
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US President Joe Biden on Friday expressed concern over the internal issues the Afghan government is facing, although he said the US was still “on track” with the plan to pull out most of troops in the next two months.
The expanded planning for an embassy evacuation, reflecting an increase in concern that a Taliban offensive could overwhelm US security and Afghan government forces guarding the US Embassy, has not been previously reported. An evacuation could involve not only hundreds of personnel at the US Embassy but thousands of other Americans in the country.
The U.S. military routinely conducts planning for nearly any contingency, including what it calls noncombatant evacuations at embassies and other locations. Because of the more pressing concerns in Afghanistan, planners stepped up preparations, contemplating evacuation operations based on scenarios that are more specific, officials familiar with the planning said. US officials emphasized that there is no immediate need for an evacuation of American personnel and that preparations were still in planning, though with more urgency. The military is coordinating with the US State Department, officials said.
“It’s not the plan, it’s a contingency,” said one official. “It’s still squarely in the box of just-in-case.” An evacuation operation also could require a large influx of American airborne troops and large strategic aircraft to evacuate not only embassy personnel, but potentially other Americans in the country, an operation that could take days to complete, according to people familiar with such operations.
The U.S. Embassy staff in Kabul will expand to include the U.S. military headquarters in Kabul into one expansive compound, and is expected to house hundreds of personnel, officials said. U.S. officials said they have plans for as many as 650 U.S. military personnel to be assigned to the embassy. Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie, the head of U.S. Central Command, which oversees American forces in the region, will have the authority to assign an additional 300 personnel to the embassy, based on security needs, a senior U.S. official said.
The assignment of U.S. personnel to the embassy and airport would include security personnel for the embassy, as well as a Marine Corps quick response force for emergencies. Other personnel will be based at the embassy complex to assist the Afghan security forces with aviation and other needs, officials said. Every U.S. Embassy world-wide maintains a classified emergency action plan to be activated in a crisis, a U.S. official said. The documents, which are supposed to be updated yearly, lay out tripwires, such as deteriorating security or health conditions, that would spark action, the official said.
Spouses of some U.S. diplomats, but not children, currently are stationed at the Kabul embassy compound, the official said, although it remains to be seen if that practice will continue. With the shutdown of the Bagram air base, hundreds of other American military personnel will be assigned to Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, officials said. Helicopters and their crews and maintenance teams also will be based there.
Other military personnel at the Kabul airport will monitor attacks in the area and operate the anti-rocket, artillery and mortar systems, at the Kabul airport. The Kabul airport also is guarded by troops from Turkey, a North Atlantic Treaty Organization ally in Afghanistan. The U.S. departure from Bagram left the U.S. military headquarters in Kabul as the remaining military outpost in the country, with several hundred U.S. troops still assigned there, along with troops assigned to the embassy and airport. U.S. officials say that all forces, weaponry, vehicles and other equipment now have been removed from Bagram, the largest installation the U.S. had in Afghanistan.
Without Bagram, the U.S. has no existing remaining capability for providing combat air support to U.S. or coalition forces, including Afghan troops, from inside the country. Future air support operations must come from bases in Qatar and other installations in the Middle East, or from an aircraft carrier in the region. All of those are hours away from Afghanistan, diminishing their immediate effectiveness, officials have said.
Meanwhile, President Ghani met with Resolute Support Commander General Scott Miller at the Presidential Palace on Friday. The Palace stated that both sides discussed the continuation of U.S. assistance and cooperation with Afghanistan, particularly to the ANDSF, in the new chapter of relations between Afghanistan and the international community.
On the other hand, Afghan Ambassador to Czech Republic Shahzad Gul Aryubi met with Czech Defense Minister Lubomir Metnar in Prague, and discussed the country’s continued support to the ANDSF. Aryubi told Radio Azadi that Czech Republic has so far trained 420 Afghan pilots and it remains the country’s main focus of assistance to Afghanistan. Aryubi said that Czech Republic is willing to cooperate with the Afghan Air Force (AAF) in technical issues. Aryubi added that he has discussed the new chapter in bilateral relations with Czech President, Prime Minister and Defense Minister.