KABUL: The US on Saturday ordered its nationals to leave Afghanistan “immediately” as the Taliban widened control over several areas, taking over two towns from Afghan government forces.
“The US Embassy urges US citizens to leave Afghanistan immediately using available commercial flight options,” the US mission in Kabul said in a statement.
“Given the security conditions and reduced staffing, the embassy’s ability to assist US citizens in Afghanistan is extremely limited even within Kabul,” it added.
It follows a similar warning by Britain on Friday asking its nationals to “confirm their departure plans as soon as possible,” citing the “worsening security situation” in Afghanistan.
The Taliban have overrun dozens of districts, and border crossings with Pakistan, Iran and Central Asia, since the drawdown of US-led troops from Afghanistan began on May 1 to end nearly 20 years of occupation.
The group’s advances have sparked concerns it will regain power by force similar to its move in the 1990s, amid fears that the war-scarred nation could descend into another civil war when foreign troops complete their exit by month-end.
The development comes less than a day after UN special envoy for Afghanistan, Deborah Lyons, said that the war in Afghanistan had entered a “new, deadlier and more destructive phase” with more than 1,000 civilians killed in the past month during a Taliban offensive.
“This is now a different kind of war reminiscent of Syria, recently, or Sarajevo, in the not-so-distant past,” she said during a special meeting of the UN Security Council on Afghanistan in New York.
Major powers such as the US and Britain refused to “support the restoration of the Islamic Emirate” of the Taliban during the meeting.
Since Friday, the group has overrun two provincial capitals and assassinated a top government spokesman in Kabul, intensifying its campaign to defeat the US-backed Kabul government since April, amid a breach left by departing foreign forces.
Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, took to social media on Friday, proclaiming victory over government forces in Afghanistan’s southwestern Nimruz province with the fall of its capital, Zaranj.
“The governor house, police HQ, intelligence HQ & all related buildings were cleared of stooge enemy presence,” Mujahid said in a Twitter post.
Zaranj became the first big town to fall to the Taliban since Washington reached a deal with the group in February 2020 for the pullout of troops, while Shiberghan city in Jawzjan became the second Afghan provincial capital to fall to the insurgents in less than 24 hours.
Shiberghan, which acts as a gateway to northern Afghanistan, is far from the Taliban’s traditional bastion of power in the south and southeastern regions.
Local security sources, requesting anonymity as they are not authorized to speak to the media, told Arab News that while Zaranj “fell to the Taliban without any resistance by government forces who fled to Iran,” Afghan forces and militia troops “put up some resistance in Shiberghan but could not prevent the Taliban’s advances.”
While the Taliban has consolidated its gains near the city of western Herat, Kandahar and Lashkar Gah in the south since last week, the fall of Zaranj and Shiberghan represents a massive blow to the government’s diminishing authority. The Taliban has reportedly freed hundreds of prisoners, including comrades, from prisons in both provincial capitals.
The fall of Zaranj would allow the Taliban to take control of another key trade border crossing with Iran and “earn tens of thousands of dollars in customs and revenue routinely.”
Government infighting, poor war management, corruption and Afghan leaders’ failure to supply troops with arms and essential supplies are being cited as reasons for the Taliban’s battlefield victories.
To avert the group’s advances and infiltration into large cities, President Ashraf Ghani announced a nighttime curfew in 31 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces and offered to provide weapons and cash to local militia forces in the war against the Taliban.
Washington has also stepped up its air strikes to support local forces struggling hard to prevent the Taliban’s conquests, but it remains unclear if the US would continue to back Kabul once all foreign troops exit the country.
Experts say that the US and Britain’s measures to safeguard their citizens was a harbinger of “tough times ahead.”
“The order by the British and American embassies for the exit of their nationals from here is indicative that there will be some tough times ahead,” Taj Mohammad, a Kabul based analyst, told Arab News.
“They perhaps have taken this decision after realizing that the government is not capable of stopping the Taliban’s advances in major cities, and it is time that their nationals withdraw now ahead of the full exit of troops when things could possibly become worse and bloodier,” he added.