The first of thousands of U.S. forces being sent to Afghanistan to assist in the evacuation of U.S. Embassy staff and secure the airport have begun arriving in the country as the Taliban's sweeping offensive bring the militants closer to Kabul.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said that most of the 3,000 additional troops will be in place by August 15 and "will be able to move thousands per day" out of Afghanistan.
Their arrival comes as the Taliban offensive has accelerated in recent days with the capture of Herat in the west and Kandahar -- the group's spiritual heartland -- in the south.
The insurgents on August 13 also took control of the capitals of Zabul and Uruzgan provinces in the south, while in the west the provincial capital of Ghor also fell.
The city of Pul-e Alam was also overrun by Taliban forces just a day after they took control of nearby Ghazni. Each of those cities lies on a main road leading to Kabul.
With the fall of Kandahar, the country's second-largest city, and Herat, the third-largest, there are fears that an assault on Kabul could be just days away.
Kirby acknowledged that it appeared Taliban fighters were trying to isolate the city, but said the capital was not "in an imminent threat environment."
The Taliban's rapid offensive has picked up pace as U.S.-led international troops aim to complete their withdrawal by August 31. The deadline was set after U.S. President Joe Biden announced in April that he was ending U.S. involvement in the war after nearly 20 years.
Biden, who spoke with his national security team about the drawdown on August 13, is facing criticism, especially from Republicans in Congress, who have called the withdrawal a mistake and ill-planned.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Republican-Kentucky) said on August 13 that the United States should start conducting air strikes against the Taliban and provide support to Afghan forces.
“It is not too late to prevent the Taliban from overrunning Kabul,” McConnell said in a statement."The administration should move quickly to hammer Taliban advances with air strikes, provide critical support to the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces defending the capital, and prevent the seemingly imminent fall of the city."
Failing to do so, would increase the security threat to the United States "and the humanitarian cost to innocent Afghans will be catastrophic," he warned.
Biden has stood by his decision to withdraw troops, saying the United States long ago achieved its main goal of defeating Al-Qaeda after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and rejecting the notion that a Taliban takeover in Afghanistan is "inevitable."
The more than 300,000 Afghan troops trained by the Americans "have got to fight for themselves, fight for their nation," Biden said earlier this week.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on August 13 expressed concern about the situation and urged the Taliban to halt its offensive and "negotiate in good faith."
"The message from the international community to those on the warpath must be clear: seizing power through military force is a losing proposition. That can only lead to prolonged civil war or to the complete isolation of Afghanistan," Guterres said.
Guterres also said he was "deeply disturbed" by accounts of poor treatment of women in areas seized by the Taliban.
"It is particularly horrifying and heartbreaking to see reports of the hard-won rights of Afghan girls and women being ripped away," Guterres said.