WASHINGTON — Another 1,000 U.S. troops will be deployed to Kabul to help with the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan's capital city, two Defense Department officials said Sunday.
The additional deployment will bring the total number of troops headed to the area to about 6,000 as the U.S. rushes to leave the country amid a stunning Taliban advance capped Sunday by the breach of Kabul and the collapse of Afghanistan's government.
President Ashraf Ghani fled the country, and the militant group is on the brink of seizing total political power.
A video put out by Al Jazeera appears to show extraordinary images of armed Taliban fighters inside the presidential palace, lounging in chairs, strolling around with their guns and taking pictures of one another. The fighters give a tour to the Al Jazeera journalist, and at one point one rolls up an Afghan flag and puts it on a mantelpiece.
The additional troops are from a battalion of the 82nd Airborne Division, based at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, that was already heading to Kuwait. Now, two of the three battalions have been diverted from Kuwait to fly directly to Kabul.
As of early Sunday evening, there had not been any contact between U.S. military forces and the Taliban, nor any exchange of fire, the Pentagon officials said. There have not been any requests for airstrikes from the Afghan military.
The stepped-up evacuation of all personnel from the U.S. Embassy followed a lightning-fast Taliban offensive across the country.U.S. troops began a rapid withdrawal in April, with the remaining U.S. forces due to depart under an Aug. 31 deadline set by President Joe Biden.
The American flag was lowered from the U.S. Embassy compound and was securely located with embassy staff.
The U.S. military has flown at least 500 embassy personnel out of the country already on military aircraft. The goal is to remove about 5,000 per day, but U.S. forces won’t have that capability for a couple of days, the officials said.
Most U.S. Embassy personnel are now at Hamid Karzai International Airport, where the officials said there had been “security incidents.” Video posted to Twitter Sunday by an Afghan journalist appeared to show massive crowds trying to flee the airport.
The U.S. military is in charge of air traffic control for the facility's civilian and military sides, and commercial traffic has largely stopped, the officials said. The Turkish military is providing perimeter security and the U.S. is bringing in additional troops to help.
“We are not taking the security at the airport for granted,” a defense official said.
On a phone call with members of Congress on Sunday, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Mark Milley and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said they would want to review assessments about whether al Qaeda and other terrorist groups could reconstitute in Afghanistan within two years, in light of the Taliban rapidly taking over the country.
Asked directly if they would revise that assessment, Milley and Austin said yes.
Biden warned the Taliban in a statement Saturday that any actions that put U.S. personnel at risk "will be met with a swift and strong U.S. military response."
A White House official said earlier Sunday that Biden had "spoken to members of his national security team on the situation in Afghanistan and will continue to receive updates and be briefed throughout the day."