KABUL, Afghanistan — The United States is sending another 1,000 troops to Afghanistan, raising the U.S. deployment to roughly 6,000.
A defense official told The Associated Press on Sunday that 1,000 troops from the 82nd Airborne are going directly to Kabul instead of going to Kuwait as a standby force. The defense official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss a deployment decision not yet announced by the Pentagon.
On Saturday, President Joe Biden authorized the U.S. troop deployment to rise to roughly 5,000 by adding about 1,000. Since then, the Taliban have entered the capital of Kabul and Afghanistan’s president has fled the country.
Helicopters have been evacuating personnel from the U.S. Embassy, and several other Western missions also are preparing to pull their people out.
A Taliban spokesman and negotiator told The Associated Press that the militant group is holding talks aimed at forming an “open, inclusive Islamic government” in Afghanistan.
Suhail Shaheen spoke to the AP after the Taliban overran most of the country in a matter of days and pushed into the capital, Kabul, as the United States scrambled to withdraw diplomats and other civilians.
Earlier, a Taliban official said the group would announce a new government from the presidential palace, but those plans appear to be on hold.
Senior U.S. military officials said Kabul’s international airport has been closed to commercial flights as military evacuations continue.
The suspension of commercial flights cuts off one of the last avenues to escape the country for Afghans fearful of Taliban rule. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss ongoing operations.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani left the country Sunday, joining his fellow citizens and foreigners in a stampede fleeing the advancing Taliban and signaling the end of a 20-year Western experiment aimed at remaking Afghanistan.
Helicopters raced overhead throughout the day to evacuate personnel from the U.S. Embassy. Smoke rose near the compound as staff destroyed important documents, and the American flag was lowered. Several other Western missions also prepared to pull their people out.
Afghans fearing that the Taliban could reimpose the kind of brutal rule that all but eliminated women’s rights rushed to leave the country as well, lining up at cash machines to withdraw their life savings. The desperately poor — who had left homes in the countryside for the presumed safety of the capital — remained in their thousands in parks and open spaces throughout the city.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken rejected comparisons to the U.S. pullout from Vietnam, as many watched in disbelief at the sight of helicopters landing in the embassy compound to take diplomats to a new outpost at Kabul International Airport.
“This is manifestly not Saigon,” he said on ABC’s “This Week.”
The American ambassador was among those evacuated, said officials who spoke condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss ongoing military operations. He was asking to return to the embassy, but it was not clear if he would be allowed to.
Ghani flew out of the country, two officials told The Associated Press, speaking on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to brief journalists. Abdullah Abdullah, the head of the Afghan National Reconciliation Council, later confirmed that Ghani had left.
“The former president of Afghanistan left Afghanistan, leaving the country in this difficult situation,” Abdullah said. “God should hold him accountable.”
In a stunning rout, the Taliban seized nearly all of Afghanistan in just over a week, despite the billions of dollars spent by the U.S. and NATO over nearly two decades to build up Afghan security forces. Just days earlier, an American military assessment estimated it would be a month before the capital would come under insurgent pressure.
The fall of Kabul marks the final chapter of America’s longest war, which began after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks masterminded by al-Qaida’s Osama bin Laden, then harbored by the Taliban government. A U.S.-led invasion dislodged the Taliban and beat them back, though America lost focus on the conflict in the chaos of the Iraq War.
For years, the U.S. has been looking for an exit for the war. Washington under then-President Donald Trump signed a deal with the Taliban in February 2020 that limited direct military action against the insurgents. That allowed the fighters to gather strength and move quickly to seize key areas when President Joe Biden announced his plans to withdraw all American forces by the end of this month.
Afghanistan’s acting defense minister, Bismillah Khan Mohammadi, didn’t hold back his criticism of the fleeing president.
“They tied our hands from behind and sold the country,” he wrote on Twitter. “Curse Ghani and his gang.”
“No one's life, property and dignity will be harmed and the lives of the citizens of Kabul will not be at risk."
The insurgents tried to calm residents of the capital, insisting their fighters wouldn’t enter people’s homes or interfere with businesses. They also said they’d offer an “amnesty” to those who worked with the Afghan government or foreign forces.
“No one’s life, property and dignity will be harmed and the lives of the citizens of Kabul will not be at risk,” the insurgents said in a statement.
But there have been reports of revenge killings and other brutal tactics in areas of the country the Taliban have seized in recent days. One female journalist, weeping, sent voice messages to colleagues after armed men entered her apartment building and banged on her door.
“What should I do? Should I call the police or Taliban?” Getee Azami cried. It wasn’t clear what happened to her after that.
Many chose to flee, rushing to the Kabul airport, the last route out of the country as the Taliban now hold every border crossing. NATO said it was “helping to maintain operations at Kabul airport to keep Afghanistan connected with the world.”
The U.S. Embassy in Kabul later suspended all operations and told Americans to shelter in place, saying it has received reports of gunfire at the international airport.
One Afghan university student described feeling betrayed as she watched the evacuation of the U.S. Embassy.
“You failed the younger generation of Afghanistan,” said Aisha Khurram, 22, who is now unsure of whether she’ll be able to graduate in two months’ time. “A generation ... raised in the modern Afghanistan were hoping to build the country with their own hands. They put blood, efforts and sweat into whatever we had right now.”