Correspondent in New York
The Taliban entered Kabul on Sunday and further agitated the chaotic US exit from Afghanistan, after a two-decade military presence.
The rapid advance of the Taliban, with almost no resistance from the Afghan army – financed and trained by the US – has caused a rout very different from the “safe and orderly exit” from which still this weekend the president of the country, Joe Biden, was speaking.
Smoke billowed out of the US embassy in Kabul. According to several American media, it came from the burning of documents by diplomats. A few days ago, a State Department circular was released instructing consular personnel to destroy sensitive documents, computers and mobile phones in the event of the insurgents taking over the city.
Through the same sky that the smoke came out of the papers, they flew without rest helicopters from the roof of the embassy, loaded with American diplomats and civilians. The image connected with another historic US fiasco, the Vietnam War, and with the accelerated evacuation of Saigon in April 1975, in an operation that removed hundreds of thousands of people from the Vietnamese capital in a few days.
Now, however, the US does not want to use the word “evacuation”, which sounds like a dishonorable exit. Last Thursday, the State Department spokesman used the subterfuge of “reducing the size of our civilian presence.” And Biden, in a statement on Saturday announcing the dispatch of more troops to protect the exit, called it a “retreat” (he did speak of “evacuation,” however, for Afghans who have cooperated with the US. and that they will be at risk with the Taliban in power).
Regardless of the noun chosen by the US, what would happen in the middle of the entry of the Taliban into Kabul is a rout.
Two US government sources assured Reuters that “most of the embassy staff are ready to leave” and that some have already done so.
The constant flights from the embassy – many on Chinook, the main transport helicopter, but also on the lighter Blackhawk – all went with destination to the airport, turned into a chaos of diplomatic delegations from all countries, uniforms of the US allied armies and desperate Afghans looking for a passage out of the country. The airport is the only way out of Afghanistan, with all borders in insurgent-controlled regions.
Those who had flights received a bracelet that served as a safe-conduct and designated them as non-combatant personnel. US diplomatic personnel staying in Kabul will be housed in a consular building at the airport itself.
The evacuation operation is being assisted by the additional troops sent by Biden – there will be a total of five thousand troops – who have the authorization to respond to military attacks.