The Latest developments on Afghanistan, where a weeklong Taliban offensive is now approaching the outskirts of the capital, Kabul, after the insurgents captured most of the north, west and south of the country, just weeks ahead of the final pullout of all U.S. and NATO troops:
WASHINGTON — A defense official says President Joe Biden has authorized an additional 1,000 U.S. troops for deployment to Afghanistan.
That raises to roughly 5,000 the number of U.S. troops to ensure what Biden calls an “orderly and safe drawdown” of American and allied personnel. U.S. troops will also help evacuate Afghans who worked with the military during the nearly two-decade war.
The Pentagon said earlier that 3,000 troops are being sent to Kabul to join the nearly 1,000 already there. Biden's statement on Saturday didn’t explain the breakdown of the 5,000 troops he said had been deployed.
But a defense official tells The Associated Press that the president has approved Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s recommendation that the lead battalion of the 82nd Airborne Brigade Combat Team assist in the State Department’s drawdown.
The situation in Afghanistan has worsened in recent days with the Afghan government losing control of many parts of the country.
The statement also says Biden has directed Secretary of State Antony Blinken to support Afghan President Asraf Ghani and engage with regional leaders in the pursuit of a political settlement with the Taliban.
The administration also conveyed to Taliban representatives in Qatar, where the insurgents maintain a political office, that any actions in Afghanistan that harm U.S. personnel will be met by a “swift and strong” military response.
-- Robert Burns and Josh Boak in Washington;
MORE ON THE CRISIS IN AFGHANISTAN:
— Taliban approach Kabul’s outskirts, attack north Afghan city
— As Taliban tighten their grip, Kabul airport only way out
— Longest war: Were America’s decades in Afghanistan worth it?
— More Marines arrive in Kabul to aid urgent embassy airlift
— Costs of the Afghanistan war, in lives and dollars
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
KABUL, Afghanistan — The Taliban have appointed a hard-line cleric as the women’s affairs minister in Herat, a province they captured earlier in the week in their blitz across Afghanistan.
The development indicates Taliban intentions to install Islamic rule, or Sharia, in the part of Afghanistan under their control. The Taliban offensive has been unstoppable and they are now approaching the country’s capital, Kabul.
A prominent women’s activist told The Associated Press that the insurgents named Mujeeb Rahman Ansari to the post on Saturday. The activist, who declined to be identified by her name for fear for her safety, spoke from Kabul.
She described Ansari as an extremist cleric who had some following in western Herat.
She said he was “strongly against women’s rights” after rising to prominence around 2015. The activist says Ansari became infamous for the dozens of billboards he installed all over Herat province demonizing those who would promote women’s rights. His billboards told women to wear the Islamic headscarf, or hijab.
—Kathy Gannon in Guelph, Canada;
WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris have held a secure video conference on Saturday morning with national security officials in response to the worsening situation in Afghanistan.
A White House official says they discussed efforts to reduce the number of U.S. civilians in Afghanistan, evacuate Afghans who worked with the U.S. government and the fast-moving changes on the ground. The official insisted on anonymity to discuss private conversations.
The discussions came as a fresh contingent of Marines arrived in the Afghan capital on Saturday as part of a 3,000-troop force intended to secure an airlift of U.S. Embassy personnel and Afghan allies as Taliban insurgents approach the outskirts of the capital.
The last-minute decision to re-insert thousands of U.S. troops into Afghanistan reflects the dire state of security and calls into question whether Biden will meet his Aug. 31 deadline for fully withdrawing combat forces.
—Joshua Boak in Washington;
PRAGUE — Czech Republic’s Foreign Minister Jakub Kulhanek says he has decided to immediately evacuate Czech diplomats from the Czech Embassy in the capital of Afghanistan to Kabul’s international airport.
Kulhanek says the decision was based on information from the allies and the Czech ambassador.
Czech leaders will meet later on Saturday to discuss what to do next due to the serious situation in Afghanistan where a Taliban offensive has now encircled Kabul.
BERLIN — The Green party’s candidate to succeed Angela Merkel as chancellor in next month’s election has accused Germany’s government of abandoning Afghans who worked for the German army.
Annalena Baerbock said during a campaign event in Hannover on Saturday, that “many people in Afghanistan did everything they could to support the Bundeswehr mission as interpreters, by building infrastructure or as drivers.”
“It’s really disastrous that these people have been abandoned in recent days,” she said, calling for those Afghan workers now fearing for their lives to be rescued.
Germany’s foreign minister announced on Friday that his country is preparing charter flights to bring German diplomats and local staff out of Afghanistan.
ROME — Italy is preparing for the possible evacuation of its embassy employees as the Taliban continue its advance, pushing closer to the Afghan capital of Kabul.
“If it is necessary, we will quickly bring everyone to safety in Italy, with the important help of the Defense Ministry,’’ Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio told Corriere della Sera in an interview published Saturday.
In that case, he said that funds that so far have been used to secure Afghan operations could be redirected to provide protection to Afghans who have worked with Italian military and civilian officials there.
Di Maio acknowledged the specter of increased migration ahead of the Taliban’s advance, as well as “the risk of terrorist infiltration.” He said the threat needed to be managed by working with other countries to control flows.
Italy formally withdrew its troops from Afghanistan in June.