Joe Biden withdraws non-essential staff from the Kabul embassy
27th April 2021

Biden withdraws non-essential staff from the Kabul embassy because of mounting threats and amid fears the Taliban will take over when US troops leave

  • State Department is ordering home most remaining staff at the U.S. embassy in Kabul due to security concerns 
  • Order comes after President Joe Biden announced earlier this month a full troop withdrawal from Afghanistan by September 11, 2021 

The State Department is ordering home most remaining staff at the U.S. embassy in Kabul due to security concerns after President Joe Biden announced earlier this month a full troop withdrawal from Afghanistan by September 11, 2021.

All personnel have been instructed, according to a Tuesday report, to depart Afghanistan unless their jobs require them to be physically located there or ‘whose functions can be performed elsewhere.’

Guidance from State also says American citizens should not travel to Afghanistan and those already there ‘should leave as soon as possible on available commercial flights.’

The order comes just two days after America’s top general in Afghanistan Austin Miller said they already began closing down operations there. He asserted Afghanistan’s security forces had to be ready to take over after a full withdrawal.

The State Department ordered most remaining staff at the U.S. embassy in Kabul leave Afghanistan after threats from the Taliban ramped up

Joe Biden’s announced earlier this month a full troop withdrawal from Afghanistan by September 11, 2021 – the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks

U.S. forces began shutting down smaller bases in February 2020 and earlier this month, Biden announced troops would begin pulling out by May 1 and be fully out by the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Miller said the pullout had already begun.

The new order also comes after footage of an Afghan woman being lashed 40 times by the Taliban has emerged in a stark reminder of the state of the region as the U.S. pulls out of the country. 

The Islamists, emboldened by Joe Biden’s decision to pull troops out of the country, have warned the US and its Nato allies there will be ‘problems’ should they fail to beat a swift retreat in September. 

Firefighters clean up the site of a suicide attack near the embassy in Kabul September 17, 2019 

Video of the woman being whipped, for reportedly having a phone call with a man, serves to underline the power which the Taliban still holds over the country despite Washington’s two decades of military intervention and trillions of dollars poured into trying to improve life for Afghans.

Dozens of local men watched the punishment being meted out as villagers turn to the Taliban to enforce justice, having no faith in the toothless government in Kabul.  

Biden announced earlier this month his plan to withdraw the United States’ remaining 2,500 troops on September 11, the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.  

This appeared to be a unilateral decision which ignored the dates set down by the Taliban and Afghan government in their Doha Agreement in February last year following peace talks brokered by Washington.   

The woman hunches over under her burqa as the vicious punishment is dished out before a crowd of dozens of men in the  village of Haftgola, close to the city of Herat. The woman is alleged to have had ‘immoral relations’ with a man by speaking with him on the phone

The woman is led into the circle by one of the Taliban elders (left) before she is lashed as dozens of locals watch on (right)

One man first takes up the whipping before handing over to another who appears to lash the woman harder as she writhes under her burqa, crying out: ‘I repent, it’s my fault, I messed up.’

Dozens of spectators watch as the woman is beaten, several are seen filming the incident on their smart phones

The incident is believed to have taken place in late 2020 in the village of Haftgola, outside Herat, a city in Afghanistan’s northwest

It was billed as an ‘agreement for bringing peace’ and stated that US and NATO allies would have to withdraw from Afghanistan within 14 months, by May 1, 2021, provided both parties upheld their side of the treaty. 

Biden’s new timeline to September infuriated the Taliban which has now sought to distance itself from the US-led push for peace.

The group said earlier this month that its delegates would no longer travel to Turkey for a peace conference intended to jump start negotiations.  

Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said those responsible for delaying the removal of US and NATO troops from Afghanistan would be ‘held liable’. 

Writing on Twitter two weeks ago, Mujahid said: ‘If the [Doha] agreement is breached and foreign forces fail to exit our country on the specified date, problems will certainly be compounded and those whom failed to comply with the agreement will be held liable’. 

The news has sparked concerns the Taliban will push its spring offensive, a rise in attacks that usually takes place as the weather gets warmer. 

Politicians on both sides of the Atlantic have warned that Biden’s plan to withdraw risks creating a power vacuum which the Taliban is already seeking to fill. 

The Taliban has threatened the US and NATO with consequences if the promised military withdrawal from Afghanistan is not completed by May 1 after US President Joe Biden said the exit would not be completed until September 11

Taliban representatives attend the opening session of peace talks in Doha, Qatar in February. They have shunned further peace talks in Turkey as experts fear the group is preparing to fill the power vacuum which will be left when US troops leave

The US President said there will be a phased drawdown on troops until his apparently uni-lateral September 11 deadline

Critics of the military exit will point to the footage which emerged of the woman being whipped in the village of  outside the village Haftgola, outside Herat, in the northwest of the country.

The footage emerged on Facebook on April 13 but is thought to date from late last year, according to France 24. 

It shows the accused being led into a circle formed by dozens of male spectators to receive the punishment handed down by three Taliban elders. 

One man first takes up the whipping before handing over to another who appears to lash the woman harder as she pleads for mercy.

‘I repent, it’s my fault, I messed up,’ the woman cries as she writhes under her burqa.

The smart phone video shows the woman being led into the circle by a man with a white beard, one of the local elders.

It was he, along with two other elders, who acted as the self-proclaimed judges and passed down the sentence for the woman’s ‘immoral relations.’

The young man who spoke to her on the phone was also arrested and was being held in a prison cell at the time the footage was recorded, France 24 reported.

The Taliban court in Obe province meets three times a week, on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, dealing with any complaints of the locals.

Experts say this is the system which is replicated throughout Afghanistan, the result of a failure of government to establish a central judiciary.

Often videos of the capital punishment emerge online as the male spectators film it on their phones and upload it to social media.

Atefa Ghafouri, a women’s rights activist in Herat, told France 24: ‘All of the men who attended the whipping were ordinary citizens, just people who live in the area. Lots of Afghans, especially those in rural regions, support these tribunals. In many parts of Afghanistan, the government has zero presence.

‘There is no court where you can go and file a complaint. And even when there is some kind of court, the judicial proceedings are long and expensive, because you have to pay bribes so that someone actually works on your file.

‘So, unfortunately, the only alternative is a Taliban court, which also happens to be rapid and free. People turn to these tribunals and find solutions for their conflicts and that builds legitimacy. The Taliban then impose their rules. The first victims of this system are women.’ 

The United States’ nearly two decades of fighting and trillions of dollars spent on Afghanistan has done little put an end to the suffering of women in the country.

The Taliban gain more ground by the day despite the central government in Kabul, which will grow weaker as the final American troops leave the country in September.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has called Joe Biden’s plan ‘reckless’ and ‘a grave mistake. It is retreat in the face of an enemy that has not yet been vanquished and abdication of American leadership.’ 

Others argue that it is the only possible conclusion to a fruitless effort to bring peace to a country which has claimed thousands of American lives, as well as those of their allies in Nato including British troops. 

Experts have warned a successful withdrawal of troops hinges on a strong peace deal between the Taliban and Afghan government.

But months of negotiations, launched in Doha, Qatar, in September, have failed to yield tangible results, and violence in Afghanistan has spiked as the talks have stalled.

Relations within the Afghan government have also made negotiating a slow process as President Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, the government’s peace talks representative, continue to bicker over policy.

An annual threat assessment by the US Director of National Intelligence released this week said the chance of a peace deal in the next 12 months ‘remains low’.

It said ‘the Taliban is likely to make gains on the battlefield, and the Afghan Government will struggle to hold the Taliban at bay if the coalition withdraws support’.

After withdrawing, the US aims to rely on Afghan military and police forces, which they have developed with billions of dollars in funding, to maintain security, though peace talks are struggling and the insurgency is resilient.

A key reason for a coordinated withdrawal is the fact that Nato relies on US airlift capabilities and shipping to move valuable equipment back home out of landlocked Afghanistan. 

Nato also wants to avoid any hardware falling into the hands of militants, as happened after the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq.  

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