With the last US forces on the way out of Afghanistan, US President Joe Biden assured President Ashraf Ghani of US diplomatic and humanitarian support as Taliban advances piled pressure on the US-backed government in Kabul.
In a phone call, Biden and Ghani “agreed that the Taliban’s current offensive is in direct contradiction to the movement’s claim to support a negotiated settlement of the conflict”, a White House statement said.
Biden has set a formal end to the US military mission in Afghanistan for August 31 as he looks to disengage from a conflict that started after Al Qaeda attacked the United States on September 11, 2001.
Violence has risen sharply since the withdrawal plan was announced in April, with the Taliban launching offensives, taking districts and important border crossings, and encircling or closing in on several provincial capitals.
The Taliban control about half of Afghanistan’s district centres, the senior US general said this week, indicating a rapidly deteriorating security situation.
Biden told Ghani that the United States would remain engaged diplomatically “in support of a durable and just political settlement”, the White House said.
The United States is also preparing to begin evacuating thousands of Afghan applicants for special immigration visas (SIVs) who risk retaliation from Taliban insurgents because they worked for the US government.
Biden on Friday authorised up to $100mn from an emergency fund to meet “unexpected urgent” refugee needs stemming from the situation, the White House said.
Biden also authorised the release of $200mn in services and articles from the inventories of US government agencies to meet the same needs, it said.
The US State Department condemned the Taliban’s targeted attacks on former interpreters and other Afghans as well as the destruction of infrastructure.
“We vehemently condemn the targeted attacks, the destruction of vital infrastructure, as well as other attacks against the people of Afghanistan,” spokeswoman Jalina Porter said at a regular news briefing.
Educated Afghans – especially women and girls who were barred from school and most work under Taliban rule – have voiced alarm at the insurgents’ rapid advance, as have members of ethnic and sectarian minorities.
The first batch of Afghan evacuees and their families is expected to be flown before the end of the month to Fort Lee, a US military base in Virginia, where they will wait for the final processing of their visa applications.
About 2,500 Afghans could be brought to the facility, about 30 miles (48km) south of Richmond, the Pentagon said on Monday.
After a brief lull in violence during this week’s Eid al-Adha, fighting resumed with the authorities claiming to have killed more than 260 Taliban fighters in the past 24 hours across several provinces.
Claims by both the authorities and the Taliban cannot be independently verified.
As the fighting raged in recent weeks, the US military was forced to carry out air strikes “to support” Afghan troops to repel Taliban offensives even as its overall withdrawal continues, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said on Thursday.
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