US asks government officials to leave Afghanistan

US asks government officials to leave Afghanistan
US asks government officials to leave Afghanistan

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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - KABUL: The US has ordered all government staff at its embassy in Afghanistan to leave the country amid concerns of a spike in violence after the Taliban’s May 1 deadline for all troops to withdraw expires next week. 

The State Department’s order issued on Tuesday pushed for the departure of US government employees whose functions “can be performed elsewhere.” 

“We regularly review and evaluate the safety, security, and operations of our facilities worldwide,” Hilary Rener, a spokeswoman for the US Embassy in Kabul, told Arab News. 

“We have determined that an ordered departure of certain US employees in Afghanistan is appropriate given current conditions associated with the security situation,” she added, declining to share more details such as how many employees would be leaving based on the order. 

“We do not discuss personnel numbers or operational details for security reasons,” she said. 

The US mission is heavily dependent on the military for its protection, with the State Department’s notice saying that “terrorist and insurgent groups continue planning and executing attacks in Afghanistan.”

The order said US citizens wishing to depart Afghanistan “should leave as soon as possible on available commercial flights.”

“Travel to all areas of Afghanistan is unsafe because of critical levels of kidnappings, hostage taking, suicide bombings, widespread military combat operations, landmines, and terrorist and insurgent attacks, including attacks using vehicle-borne, magnetic, or other improvised explosive devices (IEDs), suicide vests, and grenades,” it added. 

Foreign troops were to leave Afghanistan by May 1 based on a key condition set by the Taliban before signing a landmark accord with the former US administration in Doha, Qatar, over a year ago. 

However, earlier this month, President Joe Biden said that all US combat troops would leave Afghanistan by Sept. 11, instead of May 1, ending America’s longest war. 

The removal of approximately 3,000 American troops coincides with the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks, which resulted in the Taliban’s ouster in a US-led invasion the same year. 

The Taliban, who had halted attacks on foreign forces based on the Doha accord, accuse the US of violating the pact by delaying the withdrawal deadline to Sept. 11, warning that the onus of its outcome would lie on Washington’s shoulders. 

Also, on Tuesday, Ahmad Zia Saraj, head of Afghanistan’s intelligence agency, told reporters that compared to previous years, the Taliban had increased attacks on Afghan forces by 24 percent, with violence “at its peak” since the signing of the Doha deal. 

The Afghan government, which has relied on US funding and resources for the war, has also said that the troops’ pullout could throw the gains of the past 20 years into jeopardy, especially those since the fall of the Taliban, which may try to seize power by force once again. 

Both Kabul and the Taliban have failed to make any headway in the US-sponsored talks held in Doha since September last year. 

The Taliban argue that Washington has not abided by the Doha deal and, therefore, it will not participate in any meeting on the Afghan peace process until all foreign troops leave the country. 

In an address to the US Congress, Special Envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad — who signed the agreement with the Taliban — said that Afghans now had two choices: “political understanding or civil war.” 

The State Department’s order has added to the anxiety of some Afghans who fear for the country’s future. 

“Such statements cause more fear and concern among the already panicked Afghans,” Taj Mohammed, an analyst based in Kabul, told Arab News. 

“People might think that just like the period after the pullout of the Red Army’s forces, Afghanistan will again witness a civil war, and that is why these diplomats and foreigners are leaving gradually,” he added, referring in part to the era when the former Soviet Union’s troops left Afghanistan. 

Meanwhile, in a Twitter post on Wednesday, Rahmatullah Nabil, a former Afghan spy chief, said: “This may create an unnecessary concern among beleaguered Afghan citizens.”

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