WASHINGTON >> U.S. negotiators are trying to extract assurances from the Taliban that they will not attack the U.S. Embassy in Kabul if the extremist group overruns the capital in a direct challenge to the country’s government, two U.S. officials said.
The effort, led by Zalmay Khalilzad, the chief U.S. envoy in talks with the Taliban, seeks to stave off an evacuation of the embassy as the fighters rapidly seize cities across Afghanistan. The Taliban’s advance has put embassies in Kabul on high alert for a surge of violence in coming months, or even weeks, and forced consulates and other diplomatic missions elsewhere in the country to shut down.
U.S. diplomats now are trying to determine how soon they may need to evacuate the U.S. Embassy should the Taliban prove to be more bent on destruction than a détente. Today, the embassy urged Americans who were not working for the U.S. government to leave Afghanistan immediately on commercial flights.
Biden administration officials insist that there are no immediate plans to significantly draw down the embassy’s staff of 4,000 employees, including about 1,400 Americans, as U.S. troops formally complete their withdrawal from the country.
“We are withdrawing our forces from Afghanistan, but we are not withdrawing from Afghanistan,” the State Department said in a statement. “Although U.S. troops will depart, the United States will maintain our robust diplomatic engagement with Afghanistan.”
Khalilzad is hoping to convince Taliban leaders that the embassy must remain open, and secure, if the group hopes to receive U.S. financial aid and other assistance as part of a future Afghan government. The Taliban leadership has said it wants to be seen as a legitimate steward of the country, and is seeking relations with other global powers, including Russia and China, in part to receive economic support.
The State Department’s spokesman, Ned Price, declined to comment Wednesday but said funding would be conditioned on whether future Afghan governments would “have any semblance of durability.”
“Legitimacy bestows, and essentially is the ticket, to the levels of international assistance, humanitarian assistance for the Afghan people,” Price said.
One diplomat said a number of what he described as small military elements have recently been brought in to reinforce the embassy, which is inside what is probably already the most hardened compound in Kabul’s international zone, where diplomatic missions and the Afghan government are based.