The United States of America is beginning its withdrawal from Afghanistan, with the first steps being to close down any jobs in the Kabul embassy that can be moved to a different location.
A government spokesperson commented on the plan to CNN, saying, "By minimizing the number of employees in Afghanistan whose functions can be performed elsewhere, personnel who are urgently needed to address issues related to the drawdown of US forces and to continue the vital work we are doing in support of Afghanistan and its people will be able to remain in place.”
The Biden administration intends to have recalled all forces from Afghanistan, with the first steps beginning not after May 1, 2021. This first stage, according to the State Department, will affect ‘a relatively small number of employees. We do not anticipate any changes to our operations and capabilities resulting from this action." Details of the withdrawal remain classified.
Further governmental statements provided a glimpse of the future for Afghanistan, emphasizing the various ways in which the United States could continue to support the country. “The Ordered Departure at the US Embassy in Kabul ensures that American diplomacy and support for Afghanistan will be sustainable, robust, and effective. This includes our active support of the Afghan peace process and our continued diplomatic, economic, and humanitarian support of the future the Afghan people want, including the gains made by Afghan women."
A travel advisory for US citizens, however, provides a grim outlook on the more immediate future for both civilians and government employees alike.
"The U.S. Embassy's ability to provide routine and emergency services to U.S. citizens in Afghanistan is severely limited, particularly outside of Kabul. Evacuation options from Afghanistan are extremely limited due to the lack of infrastructure, geographic constraints, and the volatile security situation. Family members cannot accompany U.S. government employees who work in Afghanistan. Unofficial travel to Afghanistan by U.S. government employees and their family members is restricted and requires prior approval from the Department of State. U.S. Embassy personnel are restricted from traveling to all locations in Kabul except the U.S. Embassy and other U.S. government facilities unless there is a compelling U.S. government interest in permitting such travel that outweighs the risk. Additional security measures are needed for any U.S. government employee travel and movement through Afghanistan."
According to statements made when the withdrawal was announced, the Biden administration intends to withdraw from Afghanistan any personnel beyond what is necessary to protect the United States’ diplomatic presence. Pentagon sources have reported a group of roughly 650 soldiers to be sent to Afghanistan, although the full extent of the commitment remains uncertain.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin approved the plan last week as part of the larger exit strategy intended to remove US troops from the area by September 11, 2021. Secretary of State Tony Blinken made his way to Afghanistan the day after the announcement to meet with relevant parties, including both Afghanistan officials and US troops.
At a press conference during his visit, Blinken remarked that “this is a time of transition, and with any transition comes uncertainty, comes concern,” but asserted that enough progress had been made between the two countries to warrant a new approach to 2021.
Blinken took extra care to reassure embassy personnel, saying "I can only imagine that for many of you this time feels particularly stressful and maybe even emotional. You all serve one of the most challenging posts in the world. We are committed to Afghanistan and despite the fact that our military forces are leaving Afghanistan, we are not.”