Taliban advances in Afghanistan ‘deeply concerning’, says Pentagon – as it happened

 

TPowered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Taliban advances in Afghanistan ‘deeply concerning’, says Pentagon – as it happened” was written by Sam Levin (now) and Joan E Greve (earlier), for theguardian.com on Saturday 14th August 2021 00.19 UTC

Summary

That’s all for today, thanks for following along. Some key links and developments:

The US education secretary has sent letters to the governors of Texas and Florida criticizing their threats to take funds away from school districts that adopt mask mandates:

The letters made clear that the US education department supports the local governments adopting mask policies in line with CDC recommendations:

“The Department stands with these dedicated educators who are working to safely reopen schools and maintain safe in-person instruction,” US education secretary, Miguel Cardona, wrote to Texas governor Greg Abbott.

To Florida governor Ron DeSantis, Cardona said, “It appears that Florida has prioritized threatening to withhold State funds from school districts that are working to reopen schools safely rather than protecting students and educators and getting school districts the Federal pandemic recovery funds to which they are entitled.” Cardona also said that despite the governor’s threats, school districts will be able to access to the federal funds they are owed.

Oregon is sending up to 1,500 National Guard troops to hospitals to help respond to the worsening Delta surge, the governor has just announced:

David Zonies, an emergency room doctor at Oregon Health and Science University, said earlier today that the hospital had only about three out of 80 intensive care beds available, according to Oregon Public Broadcasting: “Historically we’ve never had to have a waitlist for people to come in for a critical care bed and that’s what we’re now experiencing.”

The White House says the US has seen the strongest 24 hours of vaccinations since before the 4 July holiday:

More than 918,000 doses were administered over the last day, with 576,000 newly vaccinated people, according to the White House’s Covid-19 data director.

Some health officials are hoping that there will be an increase in vaccinations as the Delta surge continues to prompt devastating outbreaks, particularly in Texas and Florida.

Judge partially blocks Texas governor’s ban on mask mandates

A judge has partially blocked Texas governor Greg Abbott’s ban on mask mandates after Harris county sued so it could adopt local mask rules to protect residents as Delta spreads.

The Harris county attorney said he was fighting to the “Governor’s overreach”:

The judge’s restraining order, while temporary, would allow local officials to adopt their own mask mandates without fear of facing retribution from the state government, Houston Public Media reported, citing a statement from county attorney, Christian Menefee:

While this decision is temporary, it’s a victory for residents in Harris County who are concerned about this public health crisis. We need every tool at our disposal to stop the spread of Covid-19, including masks and other measures that are proven to slow the spread.”

School districts are already responding with mask mandates:

In light of the rapidly spreading Delta variant, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommended that all school staff and children age two and up wear masks indoors. But the Republican governors in Florida and Texas have fought to block local school districts from adopting such policies, creating a showdown between state and local government agencies and leading to chaos and conflict as students return to the classroom.

Canada to accept 20,000 vulnerable Afghans

Canada plans to resettle more than 20,000 vulnerable Afghans including women leaders, human rights workers and reporters to protect them from Taliban reprisals, Reuters is reporting, citing immigration minister Marco Mendicino.

This adds to an earlier initiative welcoming thousands of Afghans who worked for the Canadian government, including interpreters and embassy workers.

“As the Taliban continues to take over more of Afghanistan, many more Afghans’ lives are under increasing threat,” said Mendicino, who didn’t offer details about timing, Reuters reported.

Earlier, the Pentagon said it was “deeply concerned” about the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan as the Taliban completed their sweep of Afghanistan’s south weeks before the US is set to officially end its war of two decades.

Washington state and Oregon are enduring scorching temperatures as the region faces its second intense heatwave of the summer. From The Guardian’s Hallie Golden in Seattle and Dani Anguiano in Portland:

Temperatures were expected to soar to triple digits again on Friday in Portland and Seattle. Forecasters said hot weather and wildfire smoke would pose a problem through the weekend.

Temperatures in Portland reached 103F (39C) by late afternoon on Thursday – 20 degrees above average – and Seattle reached highs in the 90s. In Bellingham, Washington, the high hit 100F for the first time on record. Although the temperatures were not due to be as severe as during the heatwave in late June, when some areas exceeded 115F (46C), several cities declared excessive heat warnings.

Much of the north-west was under such a warning through Saturday. The National Weather Service said heat advisories and warnings were also in effect from the midwest to the north-east and mid-Atlantic through at least Friday.

In July, officials reported that the record-breaking heatwave in the region had killed nearly 200 people.

Lawmakers to suspend Cuomo impeachment case after resignation

New York lawmakers will suspend its investigation into governor Andrew Cuomo once he steps down, a top Democratic leader said today:

Cuomo resigned on Tuesday, saying he would depart after two weeks. Some legislators wanted the Assembly to continue its impeachment proceeding, possibly to block the governor from holding state office in the future, the AP reported.

But Carl Heastie, the speaker of the Assembly, said in a statement that lawyers had advised the legislature’s judiciary committee that doing so would be unconstitutional. He added:

Let me be clear — the committee’s work over the last several months, although not complete, did uncover credible evidence in relation to allegations that have been made in reference to the governor. This evidence — we believe — could likely have resulted in articles of impeachment had he not resigned.”

Updated

Hi all – Sam Levin here, taking over our live coverage for the next few hours.

The Oxford vaccine group has warned that many more people around the world will die of Covid if western political leaders “reject their responsibility to the rest of humanity” by prioritising booster shots for their own populations instead of sharing doses, the Guardian’s Haroon Siddique reports.

Prof Sir Andrew Pollard, and Seth Berkley, the chief executive of Gavi, the vaccine alliance, said the scientific and public health case for large-scale boosting has not been made:

This is a key moment for decision-makers. Large-scale boosting in one rich country would send a signal around the world that boosters are needed everywhere. This will suck many vaccine doses out of the system, and many more people will die because they never even had a chance to get a single dose. If millions are boosted in the absence of a strong scientific case, history will remember the moment at which political leaders decided to reject their responsibility to the rest of humanity in the greatest crisis of our lifetimes.”

In the US, the CDC has announced that it recommends booster shots for immunocompromised people. The CDC director said today that the recommendation would apply to about 3% of the US population, and she noted the agency “does not recommend additional doses or booster shots for any other population at this time”.

Updated

Today so far

That’s it from me today. My west coast colleague, Sam Levin, will take over the blog for the next few hours.

Here’s where the day stands so far:

  • Taliban forces made more advances in Afghanistan, taking control of the country’s second and third largest cities, Kandahar and Herat. The Taliban now controls more than two-thirds of Afghanistan, as the group continues its march toward Kabul.
  • The Pentagon said the Taliban’s territorial gains were “deeply concerning”, while the US military prepares to deploy thousands of troops to assist evacuation efforts at the American embassy in Kabul. Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said Kabul is “not right now in an imminent threat environment,” but he added, “If you just look at what the Taliban’s been doing, you can see that they are trying to isolate Kabul.”
  • Joe Biden’s pandemic-related eviction moratorium survived its first legal test, with a federal judge ruling the policy can remain in effect for now. The White House celebrated the judge’s decision, but press secretary Jen Psaki acknowledged that the ruling would likely be appealed, potentially putting renters at risk of eviction.
  • July was the world’s hottest month ever recorded, according to the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration (Noaa). “In this case, first place is the worst place to be,” said Rick Spinrad, the administrator of Noaa. “This new record adds to the disturbing and disruptive path that climate change has set for the globe.”
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officially recommended coronavirus vaccine booster shots for immunocompromised people. The announcement from CDC director Rochelle Walensky came hours after the agency’s vaccine advisory panel unanimously endorsed Pfizer and Moderna booster shots for immunocompromised people.

Sam will have more coming up, so stay tuned.

Updated

CDC officially recommends vaccine boosters for immunocompromised people

The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr Rochelle Walensky, has officially signed off on recommending coronavirus vaccine booster shots for immunocompromised people.

The announcement from Walensky comes just hours after a CDC vaccine advisory panel unanimously endorsed administering an extra dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine to immunocompromised people. (The recommendation did not apply to those who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.)

“This official CDC recommendation — which follows FDA’s decision to amend the emergency use authorizations of the vaccines — is an important step in ensuring everyone, including those most vulnerable to COVID-19, can get as much protection as possible from COVID-19 vaccination,” Walensky said in a statement.

The CDC director said the recommendation would apply to about 3% of the US population, and she noted the agency “does not recommend additional doses or booster shots for any other population at this time”.

“At a time when the Delta variant is surging, an additional vaccine dose for some people with weakened immune systems could help prevent serious and possibly life-threatening COVID-19 cases within this population,” Walensky said.

CDC panel votes to recommend vaccine booster shot for immunocompromised people

A vaccine advisory panel at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has unanimously voted to recommend a coronavirus vaccine booster shot for immunocompromised people.

The vote came one day after the Food and Drug Administration issued guidance saying transplant recipients and certain people with weakened immune systems could receive an extra dose of the Pfizer or Moderna coronavirus vaccine. (The recommendation did not apply to those who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.)

“Today’s action allows doctors to boost immunity in certain immunocompromised individuals who need extra protection from Covid-19,” Dr Janet Woodcock, the FDA’s acting commissioner, said in a statement yesterday.

Dr Rochelle Walensky and Dr. Anthony Fauci testify before the Senate health, education, labor and pensions committee.
Dr Rochelle Walensky and Dr. Anthony Fauci testify before the Senate health, education, labor and pensions committee. Photograph: J Scott Applewhite/EPA

Now that the panel has voted, it will be up to the CDC director, Dr Rochelle Walensky, to make a final decision on recommending the booster shots.

Walensky noted yesterday that the recommendation would apply to less than 3% of the US population, but that still means millions of Americans would be eligible to receive a third shot.

“As we’ve been saying for weeks, emerging data show that certain people who are immunocompromised, such as people who have had organ transplant and some cancer patients, may not have had an adequate immune response to just two doses of the Covid vaccine,” Walensky said.

“An additional dose could help increase protections for these individuals, which is especially important as the Delta variant spreads.”

July was world’s hottest month ever recorded, US scientists confirm

July was the world’s hottest month ever recorded, US government scientists have confirmed, a further indication of the unfolding climate crisis that is now affecting almost every part of the planet.

The global land and ocean surface temperature last month was one degree Celsius, 0.9C (1.6F), hotter than the 20th-century average of 15.8C (60.4F), making it the hottest month since modern record keeping began 142 years ago.

It has beaten the previous record set in July 2016, according to the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration (Noaa).

“In this case, first place is the worst place to be,” said Rick Spinrad, the administrator of Noaa. “July is typically the world’s warmest month of the year, but July 2021 outdid itself as the hottest July and month ever recorded. This new record adds to the disturbing and disruptive path that climate change has set for the globe.”

Read the full report:

The secretary-general of the United Nations, António Guterres, specifically expressed concern about “the hard-won rights of Afghan girls and women being ripped away from them” as the Taliban advances toward Kabul.

For Afghan women who have had opportunities to get educated and start careers over the past 20 years, the Taliban’s territorial gains are terrifying.

The AP reports on one woman, Zahra of Herat, who had to watch as the Taliban rolled into her city:

Zahra grew up in a mostly Taliban-free Afghanistan, where women dared to dream of careers and girls got an education. For the past five years, she has been working with local nonprofit organizations to raise awareness for women and press for gender equality.

Her dreams and ambitions came crashing down Thursday evening as the Taliban swept into the city, planting their white flags emblazoned with an Islamic proclamation of faith in a central square as people on motorcycles and in cars rushed to their homes.

Like most other residents, Zahra, her parents and five siblings are now hunkering indoors, too scared to go out and worried about the future. The Associated Press chose not to identify her by her full name to avoid making her a target.

‘I am in big shock,’ said Zahra, a round-faced, soft-spoken young woman. How can it be possible for me as a woman who has worked so hard and tried to learn and advance, to now have to hide myself and stay at home?’

UN calls on Taliban to ‘immediately halt the offensive’ in Afghanistan, citing humanitarian concerns

The secretary-general of the United Nations, António Guterres, is calling on Taliban forces to “immediately halt the offensive” in Afghanistan, as the group takes control of more provincial capitals.

“Afghanistan is spinning out of control,” Guterres said in a prepared statement to reporters. “The fighting between the Taliban and Afghan security forces in urban environments is causing tremendous harm.”

The UN leader noted that more than 1,000 people have been killed or injured as the Taliban has made its territorial gains. Another 241,000 people have been forced to flee from their homes.

“It is particularly horrifying and heartbreaking to see reports of the hard-won rights of Afghan girls and women being ripped away from them,” Guterres said.

“I call on the Taliban to immediately halt the offensive and to negotiate in good faith in the interest of Afghanistan and its people.”

One reporter asked Guterres to respond to criticism that the international community has abandoned the Afghan people as the Taliban continues its march toward Kabul.

“This is the moment to halt the offensive,” Guterres replied. “This is the moment to start serious negotiation. This is the moment to avoid a prolonged civil war or the isolation of Afghanistan.”

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby was asked for his thoughts on comparisons that have been made between US embassy staffers evacuating Kabul and Americans departing Vietnam in 1975.

“We’re not focused on the history of the Vietnam war,” Kirby said. “We are focused on meeting the requirements that we have today.”

The Pentagon spokesperson acknowledged that he had seen “the punditry and the commentary” making that analogy, but Kirby said he would “leave that to historians”.

Some critics of Joe Biden’s decision to withdraw all US troops from Afghanistan, including Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, have indeed compared the embassy evacuation efforts to “the humiliating fall of Saigon in 1975”.

“Afghanistan is careening toward a massive, predictable, and preventable disaster,” McConnell said in a statement released last night.

Updated

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said Kabul is “not right now in an imminent threat environment,” even as Taliban forces continue to take control of more provincial capitals in Afghanistan.

But Kirby added, “If you just look at what the Taliban’s been doing, you can see that they are trying to isolate Kabul. Now what they want to do if they achieve that isolation I think only they can speak to.”

Asked if Kabul is isolated now, Kirby deflected, saying, “I don’t want to get into a special intelligence assessment on the battlefield.”

Taliban advances in Afghanistan are ‘deeply concerning,’ Pentagon says

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby held a press conference to provide an update on the military mission to assist evacuation efforts at the US embassy in Kabul.

One reporter asked Kirby whether Pentagon leaders were surprised by the rate at which Taliban forces have been taking control of provincial capitals in Afghanistan.

“We are certainly concerned by the speed with which the Taliban has been moving,” Kirby said.

But Kirby added that “no outcome has to be inevitable here,” and the spokesperson argued this moment represents an opportunity “for the Afghans to unite”.

“I’m not going to speculate about ‘surprise,’” Kirby said of the most recent developments in Afghanistan. “We’re obviously watching this just like you’re watching this and seeing it happen in real time, and it’s deeply concerning.”

Kirby noted that the “deteriorating conditions” in Afghanistan were a major factor in Joe Biden’s decision to approve the military mission to assist embassy staffers’ departure, which was announced yesterday.

Biden receives briefing on Afghanistan as Taliban advances

Joe Biden received a briefing from his national security advisers today about the security situation in Afghanistan, the White House said.

“Earlier today, the President was briefed by members of his national security team on the ongoing efforts to safely drawdown the civilian footprint in Afghanistan,” the White House said in a statement provided to the press pool.

“He will get further briefings later today. Additionally, the President received an update from the COVID-19 team on today’s increase in vaccinations, and the roll out of third-shot boosters for the immunocompromised. Finally, he consulted with his legislative affairs team on next steps on his economic agenda in the House of Representatives.”

Joe Biden has now departed Wilmington, Delaware, for Camp David, where he will be spending the weekend.

The president did not take any questions from reporters (about the situation in Afghanistan or anything else) as he and first lady Jill Biden boarded Marine One for the short trip to Camp David.

The first lady was spotted with a medical boot on her left foot, after undergoing a successful procedure to remove debris from a puncture wound that she sustained while visiting Hawaii late last month.

The Biden administration applauded a federal judge’s decision to leave the pandemic-related eviction moratorium in place, although the White House acknowledged that the ruling will likely be appealed.

“The Administration believes that CDC’s new moratorium is a proper use of its lawful authority to protect the public health,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a new statement.

“We are pleased that the district court left the moratorium in place, though we are aware that further proceedings in this case are likely.”

Psaki added that Joe Biden is once again calling on states to “move aggressively to distribute the $46.5 billion in emergency rental assistance funds” and thus prevent future evictions if the moratorium is later blocked by higher courts.

“And, the President calls on landlords to seek out rental assistance and not evict tenants from their homes, and echoes Attorney General Garland’s calls for state and local courts to implement policies to discourage eviction filings until landlords and tenants have sought emergency rental assistance funds,” Psaki said.

The Guardian’s “politics weekly extra” podcast has an intriguing title today: Are the Democrats doomed in 2022?

An intriguing question for US data analyst and Bernie-voter and Obama-campaign aide David Shor, who scotches any idea that as the shrinking white US population is overtaken the new majority automatically translates into a reliable majority vote for Democrats.

Here, Shor talks to the Guardian’s Jonathan Freedland.

The supreme court previously ruled that the pandemic-related eviction moratorium could not be extended past July 31 without congressional authorization.

In response, the Biden administration issued a new, slightly more limited moratorium to continue to protect renters from eviction as states try to distribute more rent assistance funds from the American Rescue Plan.

However, even Joe Biden has acknowledged the new moratorium is unlikely to withstand legal scrutiny, given the supreme court’s previous ruling.

“The bulk of the constitutional scholarship says that it’s not likely to pass constitutional muster,” the president said last week, just before the new moratorium was unveiled. “But there are several key scholars who think that it may and it’s worth the effort.”

Biden added, “At a minimum, by the time it gets litigated, it will probably give some additional time while we’re getting that $45 billion out to people who are, in fact, behind in the rent and don’t have the money.”

Missouri Congresswoman Cori Bush speaks to demonstrators, who joined her in protest against residential evictions, following the news that the CDC issued a new 60-day moratorium on residential evictions, on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, on August 3.
Missouri Congresswoman Cori Bush speaks to demonstrators, who joined her in protest against residential evictions, following the news that the CDC issued a new 60-day moratorium on residential evictions, on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, on August 3. Photograph: Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters

Missouri Democrat Cori Bush had camped out on the steps of the US Capitol for four days to protest the end of the eviction moratorium, before the last-minute move by the Biden administration to keep it going in a more limited form, especially in coronavirus hotspots.

Updated

Biden’s eviction moratorium survives first legal test

A federal judge has decided to leave Joe Biden’s pandemic-related eviction moratorium in place – for now at least.

The AP reports:

U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich on Friday said her ‘hands are tied’ by an appellate ruling the last time courts considered the evictions moratorium in the spring.

Alabama landlords who are challenging the moratorium are likely to appeal.

Friedrich wrote that the new temporary ban on evictions the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention imposed last week is substantially similar to the version she ruled was illegal in May. At the time, Freidrich put her ruling on hold to allow the administration to appeal.

This time, she said, she is bound to follow a ruling from the appeals court that sits above her, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

The Biden administration issued the new moratorium last week, after a days-long protest on the Capitol steps, which was led by progressive congresswoman Cori Bush.

Updated

The demands from the nine centrist Democrats could put House speaker Nancy Pelosi in a very difficult position, as she attempts to pass both the bipartisan infrastructure bill and a $3.5tn spending package in the coming weeks.

While the centrists are demanding an immediate vote on the infrastructure bill, some House progressives have indicated they will not support that proposal without assurances about the passage of the reconciliation package.

Pelosi is struggling to keep her caucus together, and she can only afford three Democratic defections because of the party’s very narrow House majority.

The House is scheduled to return early from its August recess in about a week and a half, so time will tell how Pelosi handles the situation.

Centrist Democrats demand immediate House vote on infrastructure bill

In case you missed it this morning: a group of nine centrist Democrats in the House are threatening to block the $3.5tn reconciliation package until the chamber takes up the bipartisan infrastructure bill.

In a letter sent to House speaker Nancy Pelosi and obtained by the Wall Street Journal, the nine members argue the chamber should “immediately pass the legislation” that was approved by the Senate earlier this week.

Pelosi has previously indicated that she will not allow a vote on the bipartisan infrastructure bill until the Senate passes the reconciliation bill, which the upper chamber is currently crafting. The Senate approved a blueprint for the spending package earlier this week.

“We urge our House colleagues to follow the same path as the Senate: vote first on the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and then consider the budget resolution,” the nine members said.

“We will not consider voting for a budget resolution until the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act passes the House and is signed into law.”

The letter is signed by Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey, Carolyn Bourdeaux of Georgia, Jim Costa of California, Jared Golden of Maine, Ed Case of Hawaii, Kurt Schrader of Oregon and Filemon Vela, Henry Cuellar and Vicente Gonzalez, all three of whom are from Texas.

Updated

Molly Montgomery, the deputy assistant secretary of state in the bureau of European and Eurasian affairs, expressed serious concerns for Afghan women and girls as Taliban forces continue their march to Kabul.

“Woke up with a heavy heart, thinking about all the Afghan women and girls I worked with during my time in Kabul,” Montgomery said in a now-deleted tweet.

“They were the beneficiaries of many of the gains we made, and now they stand to lose everything. We empowered them to lead, and now we are powerless to protect them.”

The New Yorker’s Susan Glasser is out with a new column about the potential ramifications of the US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Glasser writes:

When I spoke on Thursday with experts who have decades of Afghan experience between them about the week’s events, they were contemplating even more apocalyptic scenarios for what may come. ‘Is this going to be Biden’s Rwanda?’ asked one longtime acquaintance, whom I met in Kabul in the spring of 2002, full of determination to build a modern, functioning state out of the post-Taliban, post-9/11 rubble. Or, perhaps, ‘Al Qaeda/isis 3.0’? The possibilities, from large-scale human-rights atrocities to a new center for international jihadist terrorism, are bloodcurdling.

Journalist Peter Bergen, the author of “The Rise and Fall of Osama bin Laden,” described the situation in Kabul this way: “It’s a fucking mess.”

House minority leader Kevin McCarthy fiercely criticized Joe Biden’s decision to withdraw all US troops from Afghanistan, accusing the president of failing to “execute a responsible exit”.

“But in a matter of months, the Biden admin has led a botched withdrawal process that has now handed an entire country over to terrorists,” the Republican leader said on Twitter.

The Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell, has similarly condemned the US withdrawal from Afghanistan as Taliban forces advance, comparing the military’s departure to “the humiliating fall of Saigon in 1975”.

“Afghanistan is careening toward a massive, predictable, and preventable disaster,” McConnell said in a statement.

Updated

Taliban seize four more provincial capitals in Afghanistan

The Guardian’s Luke Harding and agencies report:

The Taliban’s seemingly unstoppable advance across Afghanistan continued on Friday, as insurgents took control of four more provincial capitals after their seizure on Thursday of Kandahar and Herat, the country’s second and third biggest cities.

With Afghan forces in disarray, and amid reports that the country’s vice-president has fled, the Taliban are heading inexorably towards Kabul. They control more than two-thirds of the country, just as the US plan to pull out its last remaining troops.

The latest US military intelligence assessment suggests Kabul could come under insurgent pressure within 30 days. If current trends continue, the Taliban are likely to gain full control of the country in a matter of months, it says.

The situation on the ground is changing at a dizzying pace. After a remorseless offensive in the north in which Herat fell, the Taliban have effortlessly consolidated ground in the south, the group’s traditional ethnic Pashtun base.

As the US military deploys thousands of troops to Kabul to assist embassy evacuation efforts, most embassy employees are getting ready to leave Afghanistan, with only a small number expected to go to another location.

According to NPR’s Pentagon correspondent, embassy staffers are preparing for their departure by packing their things and beginning to destroy sensitive documents and devices.

The UK defence secretary has criticised the US decision to leave Afghanistan as a “mistake” that has handed the Taliban “momentum”.

Speaking to Sky News, Ben Wallace warned that “the international community will probably pay the consequences” and said he was worried al-Qaida would regain a base in Afghanistan.

He confirmed UK plans to deploy 600 troops to Afghanistan to help 3,000 people including interpreters and British passport holders to leave, as officials said on Friday the Taliban had captured Afghanistan’s second biggest city, Kandahar, as well as Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand province in the south.

Wallace said the withdrawal agreement negotiated in Doha, Qatar, by the Trump administration was a “rotten deal” which the UK tried to resist.

Joe Biden is currently in Wilmington, Delaware, after leaving Washington yesterday, and he will soon travel to Camp David for the weekend.

It’s unclear whether the president will offer any kind of comment on the situation in Afghanistan as he makes his way to Camp David.

The White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, is not scheduled to hold a briefing today, and neither is state department spokesperson Ned Price, who just yesterday announced the start of military-assisted evacuation efforts at the US embassy in Kabul.

As one provincial capital after another has fallen to the Taliban, the message from Washington to the Afghans facing the onslaught has been that their survival is in their own hands.

“They’ve got to fight for themselves, fight for their nation,” Joe Biden said. Jen Psaki, the White House spokeswoman, added: “They have what they need. What they need to determine is whether they have the political will to fight back.”

But despite more than $80bn in US security assistance since 2002 and an annual military budget far in excess of other developing nations, Afghan military resistance to the Taliban is collapsing with greater speed than even most pessimists had predicted. There is talk among US officials of Kabul falling in months – if not weeks.

Interviews with former officials who have been intimately involved in US policy in Afghanistan point to an interconnected webs of factors behind the implosion, some of them long in the making, some a result of decisions taken in the past few months.

While there is consensus that a failure of leadership and unity in Kabul has played an important part in the domino-fall of defeats, there is also agreement that the attempt to put all the blame on the Afghans obscures the share of responsibility of the US and its allies for the military disaster.

Pressure builds for Biden as Taliban secure more territorial gains

Greetings from Washington, live blog readers.

Criticism of Joe Biden is mounting as Taliban forces continue their territorial advances in Afghanistan, now capturing the country’s second biggest city, Kandahar.

As fears intensify over the Taliban taking Kabul, the US military is deploying thousands of troops to the capital city to assist evacuation efforts at the American embassy.

Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell has condemned the White House for sticking to Biden’s plan of withdrawing all US troops from Afghanistan by the end of the month.

“Afghanistan is careening toward a massive, predictable, and preventable disaster,” McConnell said in a statement.

“The latest news of a further drawdown at our Embassy and a hasty deployment of military forces seem like preparations for the fall of Kabul. President Biden’s decisions have us hurtling toward an even worse sequel to the humiliating fall of Saigon in 1975.”

But Biden has continued to defend his policy, saying earlier this week, “They’ve got to fight for themselves, fight for their nation. … We’re going to continue to keep our commitment. But I do not regret my decision.”

The blog will have more coming up, so stay tuned.

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