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Australia shutters embassy in Afghanistan, sparking exodus fears

Kabul – Australia closed its embassy in Afghanistan on Friday, highlighting security fears for foreign missions and their local workers as US-led troops pull out of the war-torn country.

With President Joe Biden’s September 11 deadline looming, nations are weighing how they might operate without the security blanket provided by US and NATO forces, while scrambling to decide what to do with thousands of Afghan staff who fear being marked as collaborators by the Taliban. Kabul-based political analyst Sayed Nasir Musawi told AFP he expected more foreign missions to close shop in coming months.

“Western countries are not fully sure about the continuation and survival of the incumbent government,” he said. The Afghan government insists it can keep the Taliban at bay, but the insurgents have made huge gains in the countryside in recent months and engage daily with local security forces.

The Taliban are now present in almost every Afghan province, have full or partial control of thousands of districts, and have effectively encircled several cities — a similar situation to 1996, when they took over most of the country.

Their tactics have spurred speculation they are waiting for the last US troops to leave before launching all-out attacks to try and retake power by force.

Announcing the embassy closure earlier this week, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said there was an “increasingly uncertain security environment”.

‘Abandoned once again’ 

The Taliban tried to calm foreign missions, telling AFP earlier this week they can “continue their operations as usual”, but their track record is still fresh in the memory. 

When the Islamist hardliners seized control of Kabul in 1996 they entered the United Nations compound and abducted the country’s former leader, Najibullah Ahmadzai, who they brutally tortured and murdered.

Two years later the Taliban oversaw the killing of 10 Iranian diplomats at their consulate in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-i-Sharif.

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