Plumes of smoke could be seen rising from the United States Embassy in Kabul over the weekend as the military raced to evacuate staff and sensitive equipment and documents were hastily burned. After an initial pause on the outskirts of the capital, Taliban forces flooded into the city early on August 16. Embassy staff and American troops in Kabul, apparently caught completely off guard by the speed of the collapse, scrambled to relocate citizens and allies.
Taliban secures Kabul
The United States began working to urgently evacuate Americans from Afghanistan last week, though Biden Administration officials refused to publicly call the evacuation an evacuation.
Initial plans called for a small diplomatic presence to remain at the Kabul Embassy while U.S. Army and Marine units assembled to protect Hamid Karzai International Airport.
Taliban spokesmen have claimed that diplomats and embassies will not be harmed, though the State Department apparently had no confidence in those promises.
The insurgents, perhaps stunned somewhat by their own success, announced that they intended to remain outside of Kabul until a formal handover of power could be completed.
As President Ashraf Ghani fled the country and police and military forces evaporated overnight the Taliban moved in to take control, claiming that the change in plans was necessary to maintain law and order in the city.
Taliban leaders were soon sitting behind the desk in the Presidential Palace where Ghani had been filmed only hours before.
U.S. scrambles to evacuate
The United States continued to evacuate people from the Embassy and worked to complete the destruction of sensitive material there.
Most Western embassies in Kabul rushed to do the same, though both Russia and China have chosen to trust the Taliban assurances and will keep their embassies open.
American helicopters were seen over the Kabul skyline ferrying people from the Embassy to the airport, where the NATO presence is almost exclusively concentrated.
At least one helicopter was seen using anti-missile countermeasures, though there have been no reports of Taliban fighters openly attempting to disrupt the foreign evacuation efforts.
The Taliban appears to be happy to see NATO forces leave as quickly as possible; the extent to which negotiations with the U.S. may be playing a role in that decision is unclear.
While violence in the city itself has been minimal as the Taliban assumes control , the airport has descended into chaos as tens of thousands of people seek to evacuate via the one remaining route out of the city.