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US orders embassy staff to leave Kabul as troops pull-out begins

WASHINGTON DC, USA: The United States has ordered non-essential staff to leave its Kabul embassy, citing increased threats as Washington prepares to end its 20-year war in Afghanistan.

The order came two weeks after President Joe Biden announced that US troops, currently about 2,500, would leave the country by September.

Meanwhile, Zalmay Khalilzad, Washington’s special envoy to Afghanistan, warned in a Senate hearing that US aid could be slashed if a Taliban-dominated government did not respect human rights.

The State Department said in a travel advisory that it had “ordered the departure from US embassy Kabul of US government employees whose functions can be performed elsewhere”.

Ross Wilson, the acting US ambassador in Kabul, said the State Department took the decision “in light of increasing violence and threat reports in Kabul”.

He said the order affected an unspecified “relatively small number” of employees and that the embassy would remain operational.

Related story: US to withdraw all troops from Afghanistan by September 11

“Personnel who are urgently needed to address issues related to the pullout of US forces and the vital work we are doing in support of the Afghan people will be able to remain in place,” Wilson wrote on Twitter.

General Kenneth McKenzie, head of the US Central Command, said on Tuesday the administration remains committed to keeping a functioning embassy in Kabul.

“It is our intention to maintain an embassy in Afghanistan going forward. But we’ll have a very, very minimal military presence there – that which is strictly necessary to defend the embassy,” he said in remarks to the American Enterprise Institute.

Earlier this month Biden said he would withdraw all troops from Afghanistan by September 11, the 20th anniversary of the attacks that led the US to invade and topple the Taliban regime which had harboured al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

Biden concluded that US forces had achieved their objectives and could do little more, but US officials have made no secret of their fears that violence will intensify as the Taliban perceives that they achieved victory.