Taliban close in on Kabul as US scrambles to evacuate

Taliban close in on Kabul as US scrambles to evacuate

The Afghan Taliban tightened their territorial stranglehold around Kabul on Saturday, as refugees from the insurgents' relentless offensive flooded the capital and US Marines returned to oversee emergency evacuations, France 24 reports. 

With the country's second- and third-largest cities having fallen into Taliban hands, Kabul has effectively become the besieged, last stand for government forces who have offered little or no resistance elsewhere.

Insurgent fighters are now camped just 50 kilometres (30 miles) away, leaving the United States and other countries scrambling to airlift their nationals out of Kabul ahead of a feared all-out assault.

US embassy staff were ordered to begin shredding and burning sensitive material, as units from a planned re-deployment of 3,000 American troops started arriving to secure the airport and oversee the evacuations.

A host of European countries -- including Britain, Germany, Denmark and Spain -- all announced the withdrawal of personnel from their respective embassies on Friday.

For Kabul residents and the tens of thousands who have sought refuge there in recent weeks, the overwhelming mood was one of confusion and fear of what lies ahead.

"We don't know what is going on," one resident, Khairddin Logari, told AFP.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he was "deeply disturbed" by accounts of poor treatment of women in areas seized by the Taliban, who imposed an ultra-austere brand of Islam on Afghanistan during their 1996-2001 rule.

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

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