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Taliban Forces Continue Their Offensive As They Approach Kabul

Updated August 14, 2021 at 7:28 PM ET

The Taliban have captured another one of Afghanistan's largest cities and continue to close in on the capital of Kabul, as the government's control is rapidly shrinking. The situation in Kabul was "deteriorating by the hour," a reporter there told NPR Saturday morning, as trust in the nation's government dwindles and the insurgent group continues its sweeping offensive.

The Taliban's latest prize is the city of Mazar-e-Sharif, a crucial part of northern Afghanistan where local militias and Afghan Army soldiers had pledged to fight for the city, according toThe Associated Press.

With that takeover, the militant group now controls virtually all of northern, southern and western Afghanistan.

The Taliban also captured all of the Logar province Saturday — just south of Kabul — and have reached the Char Asyab district, just 7 miles south of the Afghan capital, according toThe Associated Press, which cited local lawmakers. The insurgents also captured the capital of Paktika province along Pakistan's western border.

In a statement issued Saturday afternoon, President Biden announced his administration would be sending additional U.S. troops to "make sure we can have an orderly and safe drawdown" of U.S. and allied personnel. This will bring the number of boots on the ground in Kabul to 5,000. Another two battalions from the 82nd Airborne Brigade Combat Team will be staged in Kuwait ready to act if need be.

As of Saturday morning, Taliban forces had gained control of 18 of 34 of Afghanistan's provincial capitals in just eight days — putting the insurgent group in control of about two-thirds of the nation's geography.

"Some of those 18 provincial cities that have fallen in the past week have fallen without a shot being fired," journalist Lynn O'Donnell told NPR's Weekend Edition.

"They are very, very close to Kabul and the conditions here are deteriorating by the hour as people are flooding into the capital from all parts of the country to escape," she said.

O'Donnell said Afghan security forces have not been paid for months, food is scarce and military supplies are not available where needed. Little trust remains in President Ashraf Ghani's ability to quell the violence.

"The government of Ashraf Ghani has shown no leadership [and] has been incapable of coming up with a strategy," O'Donnell said, noting that many have expected Ghani to resign.

Addressing the Afghan public in a prerecorded statement released Saturday, Ghani said the remobilization of national security forces was a "top priority" and vowed to prevent further instability in the country.

"I understand that you are worried about your future. I assure you as your president that I will concentrate on preventing expansion of instability, violence and displacement of my people," Ghani said.

Biden had been optimistic about Afghanistan's future

Much of the violence has erupted as U.S. forces continue their withdrawal from Afghanistan. Earlier this year, President Biden extended the deadline to Sept. 11 — the de facto 20-year anniversary of the war there — for troops to fully leave the nation.

Even in the face of increased Taliban offensives, Biden had remained optimistic about the future of Afghanistan.

"The jury is still out," Biden said on July 8. "The likelihood there's going to be the Taliban running over everything and owning the whole country is highly unlikely."

But now, little evidence remains to indicate the possibility of a secure Afghanistan with the Taliban closing in on Kabul.

On Saturday, Biden warned Taliban leaders of a "swift and strong" response if U.S. personnel are put at risk. But he showed no sign of changing plans to have U.S. military forces leave the country. "One more year, or five more years, of US military presence would not have made a difference if the Afghan military cannot or will not hold its own country. And an endless American presence in the middle of another country's civil conflict was not acceptable to me."

In an effort to partially evacuate the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, some 3,000 U.S. troops — including Marine and Army forces — were deployed back to the Afghan capital earlier this week. On Saturday, Biden ordered 1,000 paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne's alert brigade out of Fort Bragg in North Carolina to head to Afghanistan as well.

"This is a very narrowly focused mission of safeguarding the orderly reduction of civilian personnel out of Afghanistan," Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said Thursday.

According to the AP, members of the United Nations Security Council are considering issuing a statement that would urge an immediate end to the Taliban offensive in Afghanistan and would reject any government imposed by military force or restoration of the Taliban's Islamic Emirate that ruled the country from 1996 to 2001.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Dave Mistich is the Charleston Reporter for West Virginia Public Broadcasting. A native of Washington, West Virginia, Dave can be heard throughout week on West Virginia Public Radio, including during West Virginia Morning and Inside Appalachia. He also anchors local newscasts during Weekend Edition on Saturday mornings and covers the House of Delegates for The Legislature Today.
Dave Mistich
Originally from Washington, W.Va., Dave Mistich joined NPR part-time as an associate producer for the Newcast unit in September 2019 — after nearly a decade of filing stories for the network as a Member station reporter at West Virginia Public Broadcasting. In July 2021, he also joined the Newsdesk as a part-time reporter.
Dustin Jones is a reporter for NPR's digital news desk. He mainly covers breaking news, but enjoys working on long-form narrative pieces.