In the past week, the Taliban has waged a devastatingly effective campaign against the Afghan Armed Forces, capturing at least 12 provincial capitals, including Herat and Kandahar, the country’s second- and third-largest cities. Toward the beginning of the week, President Joe Biden said he did “not regret” his decision to stick to the previously agreed-upon timeline for the (almost) full American withdrawal by the end of August. “Afghan leaders have to come together,” Biden said on Tuesday while noting the trillions of U.S. dollars wasted and thousands of American lives lost there since 9/11. “They’ve got to fight for themselves, fight for their nation.”
Despite this commitment to Afghanistan-ization, the prospect of the fall of Kabul before the 20-year anniversary of 9/11 has the Pentagon at least temporarily rethinking the plan. As these things often go in the forever war on terror, the drawdown has been temporarily reversed. On Thursday, Department of Defense spokesperson John Kirby announced the U.S. would send an additional 3,000 troops to the Afghan capital to help provide security for the evacuation of the American embassy. Two infantry battalions from the Marines and one from the Army will be stationed at Hamid Karzai International Airport and will be “postured to support” the airlift of civilian personnel and Afghani Special Immigrant Visa candidates who worked with U.S. forces. As for the increase of combat troops amid the agreed-upon retreat, Kirby said, “We want to make sure that we’ve got enough on hand to adapt to any contingencies.”
In recent days, contingencies in Kabul have included assassinations of government officials, car bombings, and refugees from north of the city being forced to live in its parks. As the U.S. provides more security for the exit, negotiators are trying to get the Taliban to agree not to overrun the embassy by reportedly claiming the Biden administration will permanently cut off aid to a Taliban-controlled Afghanistan if the embassy is attacked.
The Taliban’s swift military successes and reports of atrocities in its wake have already shown that a smooth U.S. departure was never a real option. If the situation worsens, the Washington Post reports, the U.S. could send as many as 3,500 more combat troops to Kabul. That would double the number of soldiers in-country above the levels seen there in April, when Biden agreed not to renege on a Trump-era promise to withdraw U.S. forces after 20 years of continuous war.