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Pentagon sending troops to Kabul to help evacuation of U.S. Embassy

U.S. troops deploying to Afghanistan in 24 to 48 hours
Details emerge in "limited" military operation to evacuate U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan 01:29

The Pentagon is sending troops to Karzai International Airport in Kabul to help drawdown personnel at the U.S. Embassy as the Taliban continues its offensive in Afghanistan. In the past week, the Taliban has overtaken at least 10 provincial capitals and Kandahar City is "in the process of falling" according to a U.S. official. 

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby confirmed Thursday afternoon that more 3,000 military personnel are being sent to Kabul in the next 24-48 hours, plus an additional 1,000 personnel to Qatar to help with the processing of Special Immigrant Visa applicants in the coming days.

Kirby told reporters that it would be "wrong" to conclude any one event led to the deployment.

"There's a confluence of things you guys have all been reporting, over the last 24 to 36 hours," Kirby said. "The Taliban's advances and where they are. And I think again, cognizant of that security situation, this administration believed that this was a prudent action to take."

The evacuation plan had been ready to go for two weeks.  A U.S. official said the fall of Ghazni, so close to Kabul, on Wednesday is what pushed it to a decision.

Displaced Afghans Flee To Kabul As Taliban Make Gains In Northern Provinces
Displaced Afghans arrive at a makeshift camp from the northern provinces desperately leaving their homes behind on August 10, 2021, in Kabul, Afghanistan.  Paula Bronstein / Getty Images

In addition to the personnel in Kabul and in Qatar, the Pentagon is sending an Infantry Brigade Combat Team to Kuwait to be prepared if there is additional security needed at the airport. 

The Pentagon anticipates having to facilitate the airlift of embassy personnel and the forward movement of Special Immigrant Visas applicants and is working through the final plans now, according to Kirby. 

In total, the Department of Defense is sending around 8,000 personnel to assist with drawing down some civilian personnel from the embassy and processing the Special Immigrant Visa applications. At the start of the drawdown, there were approximately 2,500 personnel in Afghanistan.

A State Department official told CBS News there are about 4,200 staff at the U.S. Embassy, including Americans and Afghans. 

State Department spokesman Ned Price said Thursday that the embassy is not closing, and the U.S. will continue to operate consular services and special immigrant visa applications. 

"This is not an abandonment," Price said. "This is not an evacuation. This is not a wholesale withdrawal."

Price said the U.S. is going to a smaller diplomatic presence, given the security situation. Price said this is a contingency plan for which the U.S. had been prepared.

President Biden earlier this year announced all U.S. troops would withdraw by the end of August, but the U.S. would maintain a diplomatic presence.

Pentagon says moving troops to Afghanistan airport is "prudent" action 34:10

Christina Ruffini contributed to this report.

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