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The US embassy in Kabul has warned US citizens should leave Afghanistan “immediately” after Taliban insurgents seized a key provincial capital in an escalating campaign of violence.
The warning, published on Saturday, comes as the Taliban has made a series of gains across the country following the Biden administration’s decision to pull out remaining US forces ahead of a self-imposed deadline at the end of this month.
“The order for American citizens to leave is an indication of the deteriorating security situation,” a US defence official told the Financial Times.
The Biden administration has been making a last-ditch effort to secure a negotiated political settlement that would give the Taliban a role in the government rather than pursue its advantage on the battlefield, but to little effect.
US diplomats have urged the Taliban to strike up talks or risk becoming an international pariah, but the group’s military campaign has escalated.
The US embassy said on Saturday that the Taliban’s violent new offensive against Afghan cities had resulted in the seizure of Zaranj, capital of Nimroz province, and there were reports that the group had also taken Sheberghan, capital of Jowzjan province. It also continues efforts to take over Lashkar Gah, capital of Helmand province, and other provincial capitals.
“These Taliban actions to forcibly impose its rule are unacceptable and contradict its claim to support a negotiated settlement in the Doha peace process,” said the statement.
US forces have been carrying out air strikes in a bid to deter the Taliban and boost the morale of Afghan national security forces, but the US defence official said the strikes amounted to only “a handful” each day.
Analysts warn of the prospect of protracted civil war, impending break-up of the country, or the possibility of the Taliban overrunning Kabul.
On Friday, Deborah Lyons, the UN special representative for Afghanistan, said the Taliban had started attacking large cities after making gains in its rural campaign during June and July, saying at least 104 civilians had been killed and 403 wounded in Lashkar Gah since the Taliban started its onslaught on the city 10 days earlier.
The insurgents also claimed responsibility for a deadly attack this week in Kabul that targeted the defence minister, who was not present. On Monday, the UN Security Council said deliberate attacks targeting civilians, UN personnel and UN compounds by the Taliban may constitute war crimes.
Joe Biden ordered the drawdown of US troops in a bid to bring America’s longest-running war to a close, upholding a deal the Trump administration struck with Taliban that foresaw US withdrawal.
Both presidents took the decision against the advice of some US defence and military officials, who warned pulling out troops risked emboldening the Taliban and damaging fragile gains in Afghanistan.
The Taliban came to power in Afghanistan in the late 1990s. They were deposed by a US invasion in response to the 9/11 attacks, which were conducted by al-Qaeda, a jihadi group that established ties to the Islamist Taliban militancy.
The US embassy warning said it could provide a repatriating loan for US citizens who could not afford to buy a ticket home, adding that security conditions and reduced staffing meant that the embassy’s ability to assist US citizens in Afghanistan was “extremely limited even within Kabul”.