The United States and Britain said on Thursday they would send thousands of troops to Afghanistan to protect and help evacuate civilians, as the Taliban stood poised for their two biggest military victories since they began a broad offensive in May.
JOHN KIRBY: "The president has ordered the reduction of civilian personnel at our embassy in Kabul." The United States on Thursday urged U.S. citizens to leave Afghanistan immediately and said it was significantly reducing staff at its embassy in Kabul, as Taliban fighters continued their rapid advance across the country.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the U.S. was also sending 3,000 additional troops to Afghanistan in the next 24 to 48 hours to assist at the airport.
REPORTER: "So, are you concerned that they're going to be under attack?" KIRBY: "Our commanders will have the right of self-defense and any attack upon our forces will be met with a swift and appropriate response." News of the embassy drawdown, first reported by Reuters, is one of the most worrying signs for the Biden administration about the security situation and the failure of the Afghan government to protect key cities.
On Thursday, the country's second and third largest cities were on the verge of being captured by the Taliban.
On the same day, the militant group also established a foothold in the strategic city of Ghazni, some 90 miles away from Kabul.
NED PRICE: "This is not abandonment.
This is not an evacuation." State Department spokesman Ned Price on Thursday insisted that the embassy in Kabul remains open but that staff would shrink to a "core diplomatic presence." PRICE: "This is about doing all we can to ensure the safety and security of our personnel as we reduce the size of our civilian footprint in Kabul." Earlier, a notice on the embassy's website urged U.S. citizens to leave the country immediately using available commercial flight options, citing the deteriorating security conditions.
Meanwhile, the U.S. military mission in Afghanistan is set to end on Aug.
31, and roughly 650 troops are currently in the country to protect the airport and embassy.
A U.S intelligence assessment this week said the Taliban could isolate Kabul within 30 days and take it over in 90.