Collapse: Marine vanguard to Kabul

AP Photo/Gulabuddin Amiri

The Taliban retook four more provincial capitals on Friday, with most of them surrendering without a fight. Increasing numbers of Taliban fighters are being seen in and around the capital city of Kabul, where many Americans, allies, and thousands of Afghan citizens who worked with the current government are still waiting to be evacuated. In a signal that the White House now realizes how close this operation is to becoming a complete catastrophe, some elements of a Marine battalion arrived in the city yesterday to provide cover for those preparing to flee. They are the first of three Marine and Army battalions being sent to the capital in the coming days. This could make the Taliban fighters less likely to press their luck, but it also means we now have that many more people to evacuate when the final planes take off. (Associated Press)

The first forces of a Marine battalion arrived in Kabul at week’s end to stand guard as the U.S. speeds up evacuation flights for some American diplomats and thousands of Afghans, spurred by a lightning Taliban offensive that increasingly is isolating Afghanistan’s capital.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said “elements” of a battalion were now in Kabul, the vanguard of three Marine and Army battalions that the U.S. was sending to the city by the end of the weekend to help more Americans and their Afghan colleagues get out quickly.

The Taliban, emboldened by the imminent end of the U.S. combat mission in the country, took four more provincial capitals Friday, heightening fears they would move soon on the capital, which is home to millions of Afghans. “Clearly from their actions, it appears as if they are trying to get Kabul isolated,” Kirby noted at a Pentagon briefing.

A Marine battalion typically consists of three rifle companies and a weapons company, numbering from 700 to 1,200 troops. So by the time everyone is in place, that could represent a force of more than 3,000 new American fighters. That’s a potent force, to be sure, but as I already mentioned, it’s also another 3,000 souls that we’ll have to get out of the country before the Taliban’s final assault on Kabul.

Simultaneously, we’re sending another four to five thousand troops to American bases in Qatar and Kuwait. Some of them will be assigned to speed up the processing of visas for Afghan translators and other helpers, but the majority will be “on standby” in case they have to be flown into Kabul to guard the evacuation. On the plus side, assuming we manage to get them out of there, Canada has agreed to take in up to 20,000 Afghan refugees, focusing on women’s rights leaders and human rights workers. The State Department said we are also in talks with Qatar and Kuwait about keeping some of the refugees at our bases there while their visas are processed.

There doesn’t seem to be anyone left who is pretending that Joe Biden’s plan to keep the embassy in Kabul in operation is going to happen. One sign of reality setting in is the fact that embassy workers have been ordered to destroy all sensitive documents and data at the embassy. Even the New York Times was forced to remind us that we’ve spent 20 years building up the Afghan military, asking how it managed to collapse so quickly.

We’ve previously discussed the bleak future awaiting the women of Afghanistan once the Taliban fully retakes the country. Now some of the few remaining Associated Press reporters have interviewed several young women who are unable to leave but falling into despair. The women of Afghanistan are already crying out for help

Like most other residents, Zahra, her parents and five siblings are now hunkering indoors, too scared to go out and worried about the future. The Associated Press chose not to identify her by her full name to avoid making her a target.

“I am in big shock,” said Zahra, a round-faced, soft-spoken young woman. “How can it be possible for me as a woman who has worked so hard and tried to learn and advance, to now have to hide myself and stay at home?”

In multiple provinces, the Taliban have already begun burning down schools that accepted girls as students. In Takhar province earlier this week, three women who were riding home in a rickshaw were stopped by Taliban fighters and lashed and beaten in the street for wearing “revealing sandals.”

It’s still possible that we’ll pull off this evacuation without any additional loss of life to Americans or the Afghan workers inside the green zone. But it’s also possible that we won’t. As I’ve said here in the past, right now is a time for action, but when all of this is said and done, we will need to have full congressional hearings to determine how the planning for this exit was botched so badly and who should have had the foresight to know that the Taliban was always going to do precisely what they are doing right now.