US Embassy shredding, burning documents in case Taliban wins

Washington: The US Embassy staff in Kabul, Afghanistan, has been told to start destroying sensitive material, underscoring that the Biden administration is preparing for the possibility that the embassy will be overrun by the Taliban despite public assurances that the building remains in operation.

The management notice to all American personnel, sent on Friday from the embassy facilities manager, asks staff to “reduce the amount of sensitive material on the property”, according to a copy obtained by Bloomberg News. It asks that they destroy anything with US logos, flags “or items which could be misused in propaganda efforts.”

Murals are seen along the walls at a quiet US embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan.Credit:Getty Images

The email details the ways diplomats can destroy material: Use burn bins and shredders for paper, a disintegrator for electronics, incinerators for medical waste and a compactor that “can crush items that are too big for the disintegrator.” It says the embassy will offer what it calls “destruction support” between 8.30am and 4pm until further notice.

“These destruction methods are not appropriate for weapons, ammunition and similar items,” it reads.

Two administration officials, who discussed the internal memo on condition of anonymity, said the destruction procedure is standard when a US outpost abroad is being scaled down. One of the officials said it’s consistent with established plans for most US forces in Afghanistan to depart by the end of the month but acknowledged the Taliban’s advances played a role.

Defence spokesman John Kirby told reporters that it appeared the Taliban was “trying to get Kabul isolated” but that the capital city wasn’t under “imminent threat”. He said the speed at which the Taliban has taken over provincial capitals is “deeply concerning”. The first of 3000 troops being brought in to help evacuate many of the embassy’s employees has arrived.

State Department spokesman Ned Price said at a briefing on Thursday that the embassy remained open for now. “This is not abandonment, this is not an evacuation, this is not a wholesale withdrawal,” Price said.

The Taliban took three more cities across Afghanistan on Friday, adding to the tally of major population centres they’ve taken in recent days. Bismillah Jan Mohammad and Qudratullah Rahimi, MPs from Afghanistan’s southern Uruzgan province, said local officials surrendered Tarin Kowt to the Taliban. Tarin Kowt is the former base of Australian soldiers who were there as part of the western coalition forces. Many Afghan civilians who worked alongside the Australians are thought to be still trapped there.

The US has been similarly surprised — and frustrated — by the Afghan army’s inability or, in some cases, unwillingness, to fight back. Many fighters and officials have given up their weapons and surrendered to the Taliban.

Bloomberg, AP

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