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Iran Expresses Concern, West Draws Down Embassy Staff Over Taliban Advances In Afghanistan

Taliban militants drive a police vehicle as they gather around a provincial government office after taking control of Herat on August 13.

Iran is calling on the Taliban to ensure the safety of its diplomats and staff at its consulate in the western Afghan city of Herat, as Western embassies and aid groups are evacuating staff from Afghanistan.

The Taliban has seized Kandahar; the country's second-biggest city, Herat; and a string of other Afghan provincial capitals in recent days as international forces withdraw from the country after a two-decade presence, raising fears of the collapse of the Western-backed government in Kabul.

"The Islamic republic is concerned over the escalating violence in Afghanistan, and in light of the Taliban taking control of Herat, calls for guarantees of complete safety for its diplomatic missions and the lives of its staff," Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh tweeted on August 13.

Khatibzadeh said the ministry was "in contact" with its staff in the city, which lies just 115 kilometers from the Iranian border.

Shi'ite-dominated Iran, which has long been wary of the Sunni Muslim Taliban, has closed its consulates in Herat and the northern city of Mazar-e Sharif over security fears.

The Iranian Foreign Ministry's West Asia chief, Rusoul Mosavi, said staff in Herat were inside the mission and that "the forces that now control the city gave guarantees of full protection for the consulate, diplomats, and other staff," the official IRNA news agency reported.

In 1998, when Afghanistan was ruled by the Taliban, its militants killed at least eight Iranian diplomats and an Iranian journalist at the consulate in Mazar-e Sharif in an incident that nearly triggered an Iranian military intervention.

As the Taliban's rapid advance sent shock waves through the international community, the Taliban said in a statement that "diplomats and staff of embassies, consulates, and institutions, whether foreign or domestic, will not only be safe from the Islamic emirate, but will also be provided with an atmosphere of security and trust."

The U.S. military said it would send about 3,000 extra troops within 48 hours to help evacuate U.S. Embassy staff, while Britain said it would deploy around 600 troops to help its citizens leave.

Meanwhile, Denmark's Embassy in Kabul is closing temporarily, and Danish television quoted Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod as saying that staff were being evacuated.

"We have decided to temporarily close our embassy in Kabul," Kofod told journalists, adding that the evacuation would be closely coordinated with Norway, with which it shares a compound.

Norwegian Foreign Minister Ine Soreide said it would also shut its embassy and evacuate Norwegian diplomats, local employees, and their close relatives.

Sigrid Kaag, foreign minister of the Netherlands, said it would keep its embassy open as long as possible, but a ministry spokesman confirmed a drawdown was under way.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said Berlin was reducing its embassy staff to "the operationally necessary, absolute minimum," and that a "crisis support team" was being sent immediately to the Afghan capital to increase security at the diplomatic mission.

Planned charter flights would be brought forward to fly diplomats and local staff working for the embassy out of the country, Maas told reporters.

With reporting by Reuters, AFP, and AP
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