“Core” US team members were working from the Kabul airport, a US official said, while a NATO official said several EU staff had moved to a safer, undisclosed location in the capital.
Helicopters are landing at the US Embassy in Kabul as diplomatic vehicles leave the compound.
The rapid shuttle runs by helicopters came on Sunday morning local time as wisps of smoke rose from the embassy’s roof. US officials previously said that diplomats inside had begun destroying sensitive documents.
Taliban fighters were in the city districts of Kalakan, Qarabagh and Paghman. The insurgents did not immediately acknowledge their presence in the capital. However, government offices suddenly began sending workers home early on Sunday as military helicopters buzzed overhead.
An Afghan official said forces at Bagram air base, home to a prison housing 5000 inmates, have surrendered to the Taliban.
Bagram district chief Darwaish Raufi said on Sunday that the surrender handed the one-time American base over to the insurgents.
The Taliban earlier seized Jalalabad, the last major city outside of Kabul held by the country’s increasingly isolated central government, cutting off the capital to the east and tightening their grip on the nation as tens of thousands fled their rapid advance.
The fall of the last major city outside the capital secured for the insurgents the roads connecting Afghanistan to Pakistan, a Western official said.
It followed the Taliban’s seizure of the major northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif.
“There are no clashes taking place right now in Jalalabad because the governor has surrendered to the Taliban,” a Jalalabad-based Afghan official said. “Allowing passage to the Taliban was the only way to save civilian lives.”
The fall of Mazar-i-Sharif, confirmed by a provincial council official, was another important capture for the hardline militants, who have swept through the country in recent weeks as US-led forces withdrew.
US President Joe Biden said on Sunday he had approved additional military forces to go to Kabul to help safely draw down the American embassy and remove personnel from Afghanistan.
In a lengthy statement, Biden defended his decision to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan, arguing that Afghan forces had to fight back against Taliban fighters sweeping through the country.
“Based on the recommendations of our diplomatic, military and intelligence teams, I have authorised the deployment of approximately 5000 US troops to make sure we can have an orderly and safe drawdown of US personnel and other allied personnel,” Biden said.
A US defence official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said of the 5000 Biden announced, 4000 were already previously announced. About 1000 were newly approved and would be from the 82nd Airborne Division.
Britain is also rushing troops back into the country to evacuate citizens amid concern Kabul could soon be overrun.
Security forces from Mazar-i-Sharif were escaping towards the border, Afzal Hadid, head of the Balkh provincial council, told Reuters.
“The Taliban have taken control of Mazar-I-Sharif,” he said. “All security forces have left Mazar city.” The city appeared to have fallen largely without a fight, although sporadic clashes were continuing nearby, he said.
Earlier in the day, the rebels seized a town south of Kabul that is one of the gateways to the capital.
Many Afghans have fled from the provinces to the capital, driven out by fighting and fearful of a return to hardline Islamist rule.
As night fell on Saturday, hundreds of people were huddled in tents or in the open in the city, by roadsides or in carparks, a resident said.
“You can see the fear in their faces,” he said.
Residents said many people in Kabul were stocking up on rice, other food and first aid.
Earlier the Taliban, facing little resistance, took Pul-e-Alam, capital of Logar province and 70 kilometres south of Kabul, according to a local provincial council member, who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity.
The Taliban have made major advances in recent days, including capturing Herat and Kandahar, the country’s second- and third-largest cities.
AP, Reuters, Bloomberg