The situation appears to be going far from safe, though. People are desperate to get out of there.
According to live updates from The New York Times, Mazar-i-Sharif fell to the Taliban on Saturday night.
From the update:
KABUL, Afghanistan — The last major city in northern Afghanistan fell to the Taliban on Saturday night, marking the complete loss of the country’s north to the Taliban as the insurgents appear on the verge of a full military takeover.
The collapse of Mazar-i-Sharif, the capital of Balkh Province and one of the last three major cities that had remained under government control, comes just a day after two key cities in southern and western Afghanistan were lost to the Taliban.
The Taliban seized the last northern holdout city barely an hour after breaking through the front lines at the city’s edge. Soon after, government security forces and militias fled — including those led by the infamous warlords Marshal Abdul Rashid Dostum and Atta Muhammad Noor — effectively handing control to the insurgents.
“Government forces and popular uprisings all left the city,” said Hashim Ahmadzai, a pro-government militia commander. “The Taliban seized government and military buildings. There was no resistance.”
The insurgents now effectively control the southern, western and northern regions of the country — just about encircling the country’s capital, Kabul, as they press on in their rapid military offensive. The Taliban blitz began in May, but the insurgents have managed to seize more than half of Afghanistan’s provincial capitals in just over a week.
Previous reporting from the AP, before Mazar-i-Sharif fell, noted that “the insurgents now hold half of Afghanistan’s 34 provincial capitals and control more than two-thirds of the country.” While such a report emphasizes Kabul is still held, that doesn’t look to be the narrative for long.
Earlier on Saturday, Axios’ Jonathan Swan and Glen Johnson warned that “Biden braces for brutal loss,” including and especially when it comes to the fate of Kabul:
The Biden administration is preparing for the fall of Kabul and a retreat from any U.S. diplomatic presence in Afghanistan — a stunning reversal of expectations.
It’s looking increasingly likely to high-ranking aides to President Biden that the U.S. will have no enduring diplomatic presence in Afghanistan beyond Aug. 31 — the date Biden has promised the full troop withdrawal will be complete.
Why it matters: It’s a major reversal from even a few weeks ago.
The working assumption in Biden’s inner circle had been that Kabul could hold for the short term, allowing the U.S. to stay diplomatically engaged and help Afghan women secure their rights beyond the U.S. withdrawal.
The big picture: The U.S. embassy in Kabul wasn’t just a diplomatic building. It also was a major intelligence center with paper records and equipment there that the U.S. will remove or destroy. Protocols are in place for just such an emergency.
Unlike Tehran in 1979, when the Iranian fundamentalists gained access to some sensitive material, the U.S. staff still in Kabul will ensure there’s nothing to gain.
American diplomats at the embassy have been instructed to destroy important papers and desktop computers before they leave, according to a memo obtained by NPR.
Despite the efforts to secure intelligence and safeguard U.S. personnel and their Afghan supporters, Biden must brace for the symbolic defeat of seeing the Taliban overrun the space that housed the embassy.
That includes the ambassador’s residence — and the landmark “Duck and Cover” bar frequented by generations of troops, diplomats and journalists….
One U.S. official in touch with a former contact in Kabul asked Friday morning how the locally employed staff — the Afghans working for the United States — is faring.
“LES are freaking out,” the contact replied. “Everyone wants to get out of this country.”
“I’m so worried about my family.”
President Biden will be at Camp David until Wednesday, Aug. 18. No public events will be scheduled.