US seeks guarantees from Taliban to keep embassy open

US seeks guarantees from Taliban to keep embassy open
US Special Representative for Afghanistan is seeking to obtain assurances that the American Embassy will not come under attack as the Taliban approach Kabul.
3 min read
15 August, 2021
The US says its embassy in Kabul remains open [Getty]

The US has met with the Taliban to ensure that American troops will not be attacked as they withdraw from Afghanistan, as the militant group gains control of important provincial capitals throughout the country and begins approaching the capital, Kabul.

Zalmay Khalilzad, the US Special Representative for Afghanistan, travelled to Doha, Qatar, earlier this week to plead with the Taliban not to overrun the US embassy in Kabul, Bloomberg reported.

The administration of President Joe Biden conveyed the message that the entry of the Taliban into Kabul will be more easily accepted if the group does not interfere with the evacuation of US personnel, according to the report.

The Taliban leadership wants to be seen as a legitimate representative of Afghanistan and is seeking relations with other countries, especially Russia and China, to receive diplomatic and economic support.

The Taliban on Saturday captured Mazar-e-Sharif, the country's fourth largest city in northern Afghanistan, and began approaching the capital.

Khalilzad has sought to convince the Taliban that, if the group hopes to receive American financial aid and other assistance as part of a future Afghan government, the US embassy in Kabul must remain open and secure.

The New York Times also reported on Friday that American negotiators were trying to extract assurances from the Taliban that they will not attack the embassy if the country’s government ever wants to receive foreign aid.

Khalilzad’s effort sought to stave off a full evacuation of its diplomatic contingent, the newspaper said.

Ned Price, the State Department’s spokesperson, said on Thursday that "the embassy remains open and we plan to continue our diplomatic work in Afghanistan".

Price referred to the American embassy as a "core diplomatic presence".

However, the New York Times cited five current and former officials who described the mood inside the embassy as increasingly tense and worried, with officials trying to determine how soon they may need to fully evacuate the embassy.

The current situation sparked comparisons with the American withdrawal from Vietnam in 1975, when Americans stationed at the US Embassy in Saigon were evacuated from a rooftop by helicopter.

Biden warned the Taliban on Saturday that any action "that puts US personnel or our mission at risk there, will be met with a swift and strong US military response".

The Pentagon estimates it will need to evacuate about 30,000 people before it completes its withdrawal from Afghanistan by August 31, a deadline set by Biden.

More American military personnel has been sent Kabul to ensure the safe evacuation of American embassy employees and Afghan civilians who worked for US forces.

The order came as the Taliban took control of Kandahar, the nation's second-biggest city in the insurgency's heartland, leaving only Kabul and pockets of other territory in government hands.

The group has also taken control of Lashkar Gah, the capital of neighbouring Helmand province.

The first wave of the offensive was launched in early May after the United States and its allies began withdrawing their forces from Afghanistan.

Afghan President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani said in a televised speech on Saturday that "the country is in serious danger of instability".