It’s Situation Normal for U.S. Diplomats in Kabul, Despite Taliban Gains

WASHINGTON — A Taliban rampage throughout Afghanistan is stoking fears that extremists might overrun the capital, Kabul, and drive the evacuation of the U.S. Embassy. But contained in the constructing, American diplomats rising from a monthlong coronavirus lockdown are returning to enterprise as regular.

The embassy final week restarted processing immigration visas for Afghan interpreters and others who might be focused for working with the U.S. authorities because the practically 20-year battle quickly involves a detailed.

As of Sunday, officers deliberate to interview as many as 200 candidates every day. American envoys returning to their workplaces will once more be allowed to depart the sprawling U.S. compound for diplomatic conferences in Kabul’s worldwide safety zone.

And a brand new crop of American diplomats assigned to the embassy will arrive this week for a one-year stint.

“I have had people reach out to me and say, ‘Will I still have a job? Should I still come out here?’” Scott Weinhold, the embassy’s assistant chief of mission, stated on Thursday. “We fully intend to have the embassy here and open.”

Most American fight troops have left Afghanistan, and the highest U.S. commander in the nation, Gen. Austin S. Miller, stepped down on Monday. The navy withdrawal has raised considerations about safety in Kabul, and embassy officers described rising worries amongst American diplomats and different workers.

In an interview from Kabul, Mr. Weinhold stated that American diplomats there had been informed they may go away their posts with out penalty, however that he didn’t know of anybody who had accepted the supply.

“People signed up for a danger pay post, a hardship post, in what’s essentially been a war zone for quite a while,” Mr. Weinhold stated. “These are people who put up their hand and said, ‘Yes, I’ll serve.’ So I think there is some sort of acceptance that there is risk involved, and this is what they signed up for.”

A decade in the past, when American forces withdrew from Iraq, State Department officers stayed behind. The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad stays a frequent goal for extremists, and American bases in the northern metropolis of Erbil and in western Anbar Province had been shelled final week.

The U.S. Embassy in Kabul started permitting American envoys to return to their workplaces on Sunday after a monthlong coronavirus lockdown.Credit…Rahmat Gul/Associated Press

Officials had largely assumed that the American diplomatic presence in Afghanistan would face an analogous state of affairs. But the Taliban advance has sowed doubts about whether or not U.S.-trained Afghan safety forces can stop a takeover of Kabul.

James F. Jeffrey, the previous American ambassador to Iraq, was ready to shutter the embassy in Baghdad when troops left in 2011. But it remained open, even after the Islamic State threatened it in 2014 and Iranian-backed militias practically breached it in 2019.

The U.S. Embassy in Kabul needs to be able to evacuate or scale back staffing to a naked minimal, stated Mr. Jeffrey, an Army veteran who served in Vietnam.

“You don’t want a scenario where you can’t get them out,” he stated, elevating the specter of the 1975 evacuation of the U.S. Embassy in Saigon, the place diplomats and different Americans escaped the North Vietnamese military in a frantic airlift from the compound’s rooftop.

Mr. Jeffrey stated the destiny of the embassy in Kabul would hinge on whether or not the Taliban have interaction in peace talks with the Afghan authorities — negotiations which have foundered for greater than a yr.

“You can test the Taliban, to see if they are willing to negotiate, and if there can be a cease-fire,” stated Mr. Jeffrey, who’s the chairman of the Middle East program on the Wilson Center, a assume tank in Washington. “Then the embassy can stay on. But if things start collapsing, like they did in 1975, then we’ve got to get these guys out.”

President Biden has forcefully rejected comparisons to Vietnam.

“There is going to be no circumstance where you’re going to see people being lifted off the roof of an embassy of the United States from Afghanistan,” he stated on the White House final week.

The president stated he supposed to keep up a diplomatic presence in Afghanistan. “We’re going to engage in a determined diplomacy to pursue peace and a peace agreement that will end this senseless violence,” he stated.

James F. Jeffrey, the previous American ambassador to Iraq, stated the U.S. Embassy in Kabul needs to be ready to both evacuate or scale back staffing.Credit…Michael Reynolds/European Pressphoto Agency

The U.S. Embassy in Kabul is likely one of the largest American diplomatic missions in the world. Its staffing ranges ballooned throughout a so-called civilian surge that coincided with a rise in navy troops that started in 2010. The embassy compound has since been expanded, with a whole bunch of thousands and thousands of dollars in extra workplace house, worker residences, fortified gates and blast partitions over 15 acres, concerning the measurement of Liberty Island in New York Harbor.

The embassy at the moment has about four,000 workers, round 1,400 of whom are American diplomats, contractors and officers from different U.S. companies. Nonessential workers had been relocated in April, earlier than the beginning of the American navy drawdown, and additional reductions could also be on the horizon.

Military officers have stated that about 650 U.S. troops are anticipated to stay in Afghanistan to supply safety for the embassy. Several hundred extra can be stationed on the worldwide airport in Kabul, probably till September.

The Biden administration is negotiating with Turkey to take over safety of the airport as soon as the U.S. and different NATO troops go away.

“The fact that we still have more questions than answers when it comes to protecting the embassy and the airport is very troubling,” stated Representative Michael McCaul of Texas, the highest Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

“The president keeps promising our humanitarian assistance will continue in Afghanistan,” Mr. McCaul stated. “But you can’t have humanitarian assistance without the embassy. And you can’t have the embassy without the Kabul airport.”

Mr. Biden stated he was “coordinating closely with our international partners in order to continue to secure the international airport.” He made clear that he didn’t belief the Taliban, whose leaders have stated they wish to acquire worldwide credibility by means of diplomacy, and that he believed the Afghan safety forces would defend their nation.

But even when the Taliban advance on Kabul, its fighters might not have the ability to seize management of the complete capital or the closely fortified worldwide safety zone, stated Michael E. O’Hanlon, a senior fellow and the director of analysis in the international coverage program on the Brookings Institution.

If that had been the case, Mr. O’Hanlon stated, “there’s a good chance that you could keep the embassy operational.”

President Biden says he intends to keep up an American diplomatic presence in Afghanistan.Credit…Sarahbeth Maney/The New York Times

Most different international embassies seemed to be digging in, a number of officers stated, and deliberate to remain previous the tip of the fight mission.

Over the subsequent few weeks, American diplomats hope to restart common conferences with Afghan authorities officers, envoys from different embassies in Kabul, civil society and nongovernment organizations, and humanitarian assist teams which have obtained $three.9 billion in U.S. funding since 2002, shortly after the battle started. In that point, the United States has despatched $36 billion in nonmilitary help to Afghans, with Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken pledging in April to launch the second half of $600 million in new assist that the Trump administration budgeted in November.

Shuttering the embassy could be a devastating blow to Kabul’s system of presidency, which Mr. Jeffrey stated the United States helped design over the previous 20 years, and will restrict American affect in the peace negotiations between Afghan leaders and the Taliban.

It would even be seen by the remainder of the world as a retreat.

“That would really, really tarnish the U.S.’s global reputation if the country devolved to the point where the U.S. could not maintain a diplomatic presence,” stated Lisa Curtis, a senior fellow on the Center for a New American Security who labored on Afghanistan coverage on the National Security Council through the Trump administration.

“It’s just a very difficult situation,” she stated. “And I really hope that the government can hold on to Kabul, and that the U.S. will do everything short of keeping troops in the country to support the Afghan government.”

Mr. Weinhold recalled speaking to a colleague who was with the Marines after they reclaimed the American Embassy in Kabul in December 2001. The embassy had closed in 1989, when the Soviet navy withdrew from Afghanistan after a 10-year battle; the American diplomat slept in a sleeping bag on the previous constructing’s ground because the United States labored to reopen it.

“When we’ve closed embassies, it can be decades before we reopen — if we ever reopen in some places,” Mr. Weinhold stated, including that the embassy in Kabul was “a massive operation.”

“What it says to me is the commitment we’ve made to Afghanistan and to the people,” he stated. “We have made, over time, a multibillion-dollar commitment just from the State Department side to the people Afghanistan, and we want to continue to build on that.”