President Biden called a meeting of his senior national security team on Wednesday evening based on the Taliban’s quick wins over the past few days, according to a senior US official.
The president was briefed on the situation on the battlefield and the plan that had been developed to withdraw embassy staff and send US forces to facilitate this effort.
At 7:30 a.m. ET Thursday, national security officials gathered to review the latest plan and their response to Biden. They unanimously approved the plan which would be presented as final, the official said.
As CNN reported earlier, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin then informed Biden of the full recommendation. Biden signed and ordered Austin to execute him.
Biden spoke with Secretary of State Antony Blinken about the diplomatic engagement with allies and partners, which U.S. officials pursued throughout the day, the source said.
This included the call between Blinken and Austin with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, as well as American engagement with partner officials on the ground, those with a diplomatic presence in the country, and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.
There is a high-level US team in Doha that will engage on the issue, including directly with the Taliban negotiators who are currently there.
The official said comprehensive efforts are already underway to reduce the number of embassy staff, although the precise number of staff to leave the embassy has not been finalized.
The official made it clear that the Taliban’s gains are faster than the United States estimated when it made the decision to withdraw its troops. But the possibility of significant Taliban gains and concerns about the capacity of the Afghan national security forces were always things the administration knew it would face.
A little more context: The current deterioration did nothing to change Biden’s thinking about his decision and in many ways, it reinforced it, with the performance of the Afghan security forces stressing that no further delay was going to drastically change the dynamics on field. There also remains the view inside the White House that there was no option to simply leave 2,500 troops in the field and expect a similar posture from the Taliban after May 1.
The administration estimated the Taliban’s military capacity to be the strongest since 2001, and after May 1 there was every reason to believe it would be directed against US troops if a withdrawal schedule had not been established. established. The only options, according to this official, were to reduce or add thousands of additional American troops.
US officials have communicated directly to the Taliban that if US personnel are endangered, the United States will defend them. No commitments or agreements were made regarding US forces on the ground with the Taliban prior to Biden’s decision.
From now on, the plan is to keep the Embassy in business with its core diplomatic presence. But it is recognized that this could change in the days, weeks or months to come.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the Defense Department “aims to facilitate the reduction of such civilian personnel by August 31,” to align with the US troop withdrawal deadline. by President Biden, but added that he could not “speculate on what the footprint will look like after August 31,” at a Pentagon press conference Thursday.
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