President Joe Biden spoke with Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, and national security adviser Jake Sullivan on Friday “about the ongoing efforts to safely drawdown the civilian footprint in Afghanistan,” according to a White House tweet.
In preparation of that effort, Friday’s embassy notice said facilities would provide “destruction support” daily and called on personnel to “please take advantage and reduce the amount of sensitive material on the property,” including papers and electronics.
“Please also include items with embassy or agency logos, American flags, or items which could be misused in propaganda efforts,” it said.
The notice said there would be a variety of means to destroy these materials, including burn bins, a disintegrator, an incinerator and a compacter and heavy-duty equipment.
The State Department said that this was part of the standard procedure applied when minimizing the US footprint.
“Drawdowns at our diplomatic posts around the world follow a standard operating procedure designed to minimize our footprint across various categories, including staffing, equipment, and supplies. Embassy Kabul is conducting their drawdown in accordance with this standard operating procedure,” a State Department spokesperson said.
The situation on the ground is incredibly challenging for US diplomats, who say that plans are changing by the minute, one diplomat explained to CNN.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Friday that at this point, the Defense Department does not believe that Kabul is “in an imminent threat environment,” but he acknowledged that the Taliban appears to be trying to isolate Kabul.
Blinken and Austin spoke with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Thursday to discuss the situation on the ground and the withdrawal of embassy personnel. The top US diplomat also had a similar call with his counterpart in Kazakhstan on Friday, according to State Department readouts.
The Afghan Air Force has significantly increased the number of airstrikes it is carrying out against the Taliban, according to the diplomatic source, concentrating those strikes on the southern part of the country.
In the past 72 hours, the Afghan Ministry of Defense claims on Twitter it killed approximately 1,000 Taliban militants in districts throughout the country, including the south.
“They have an air force – a capable air force – which, oh by the way, is flying more airstrikes than we are every day,” Pentagon spokesperson Kirby said at a press briefing Friday. “They have the material – the physical, tangible advantages [over the Taliban]. It’s time now to use those advantages.”
However, experts on the region and former American diplomats have said that Biden’s decision to pull US forces from Afghanistan regardless of the conditions on the ground, combined with government ineffectiveness in Kabul, have hampered the Afghan national forces’ ability to fight back.
As the Taliban rapidly surges and American diplomats and military leave, many in Afghanistan have been left in a state of unease, fear and despair. There is particular concern among women, minorities, and those who worked for the US government — groups who now face repression and reprisal by the Taliban.
The Biden administration said it will increase the pace of relocation for Afghan Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) applicants and their families, but there are 20,000 applicants in the pipeline and thousands more who have worked alongside US organizations and don’t qualify for the SIV program.
CNN’s Oren Liebermann, Ellie Kaufman, and Maia Noah contributed to this report.