Helicopters are evacuating staff from the US embassy in Kabul as the Taliban enter the Afghan capital ‘from all sides’

Us embassy Kabul evacuation
A U.S. Chinook helicopter flies near the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, Sunday, Aug. 15, 2021. Helicopters are landing at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul as diplomatic vehicles leave the compound amid the Taliban advanced on the Afghan capital. AP Photo/Rahmat Gul
  • US embassy officials are being evacuated to safety.
  • Smoke could be seen rising from the roof of the building as officials destroyed sensitive documents.
  • Locals are lining up outside banks, visa offices, and foreign embassies as fear grips the city.
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The US has begun evacuating diplomats and staff from its embassy in Kabul as Taliban militants stormed the Afghan capital early Sunday.

“We have a small batch of people leaving now as we speak. A majority of the staff are ready to leave,” a US official told Reuters.“The embassy continues to function.”

Helicopters were photographed leaving the embassy compound. Two US military officials told the Associated Press that smoke could be seen rising from the roof of the building as officials destroyed sensitive documents.

The Biden administration has deployed 5,000 extra troops to help with the evacuation operation, with embassy officials taken to Kabul airport, where they have been seen boarding military planes.

A US official told CNN that the US embassy would continue operating from Kabul airport with limited staff.

Only weeks ago, Biden dismissed the prospect of the Taliban taking back control of the country as highly unlikely. The collapse of Afghan security forces appears to have taken the White House by surprise. The original date for the full withdrawal of US forces in Afghanistan was September 11, the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

Taliban militants have begun entering the city “from all sides” Reuters reported early Sunday. A Taliban leader in Doha told the agency that fighters had been instructed not to perpetrate violence in the city, and allow all who wanted to flee to leave the city.

In a statement, the Taliban said it had instructed fighters to remain at the city’s gates until the transition to a new government takes place.

An Afghan MP in Kabul, Farzana Kochai, told the BBC that there did not appear to be any means of escaping, with flights from the country all filled.

“I don’t know, they can’t go to anywhere, there’s nowhere left. The aircraft may be full and the flights from Kabul today, I checked with some friends who are going there, out of Kabul, like to India or any other neighboring countries,” said Kochai.

Pictures on social media show locals lining up outside banks, visa offices, and foreign embassies as fear of the Taliban advance grips the city.

In a message on Twitter, the office of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said the situation was “under control.”

“There have been sporadic shootings in Kabul, Kabul has not been attacked, the country’s security and defense forces are working together with international partners to ensure the security of the city, the situation is under control,” the post said.

Ghani is under increasing pressure to resign, having effectively lost control of the country.

On Saturday, Taliban militants had seized the key provincial capital of Jalalabad, leaving Kabul the only city still under government control. They rapidly began advancing on the outskirts of Kabul early Sunday.

In a lightning campaign, the militant group has seized back control of swaths of the country since the US evacuated most of its military forces in July. Local Afghan security forces have collapsed in the face of the advance, and thousands of refugees have fled to Kabul to escape the militant group.