U.S. officials watching armed Taliban fighters move into the Afghan capital of Kabul say American forces “firmly control” the U.S. embassy and the city’s international airport, even as the top U.S. diplomat described the scene as “heart-wrenching.”Taliban leaders declared victory Sunday in the lightning-like offensive as the last of the Afghan security forces melted away, leaving the gates to the Afghan capital open to the insurgent forces.But despite claims by Taliban that their fighters were securing parts of the capital, a U.S official told VOA that the U.S. embassy itself, as well as Hamid Karzai International Airport, were safe.“Our forces continue to flow in and firmly control HKIA [the airport] and the embassy,” the official told VOA on condition of anonymity.Afghan security forces stand guard at the entrance gate of Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Aug. 15, 2021.The leading edge of three U.S. infantry battalions, some 3,000 troops, began arriving in Kabul Friday. On Saturday, U.S. President Joe Biden authorized another 1,000 to head to Afghanistan, as Taliban forces crept ever closer to the Afghan capital.Still, it appears the U.S. is not intending to hold the grounds of its embassy in Kabul for long.An official at the embassy confirmed to VOA that staff are being relocated to a secure location at the airport to help oversee flights out and to be ready to evacuate themselves. An Anti-missile decoy flares are deployed as U.S. Black Hawk military helicopters and a dirigible balloon fly over the city of Kabul, Afghanistan, Aug. 15, 2021.NATO Sunday said it was doing what it could to help at the airport.“We are helping to maintain operations at Kabul airport to keep Afghanistan connected with the world,” a NATO official told VOA, adding the alliance was, for the moment, maintaining its diplomatic presence in Kabul.“The security of our personnel is paramount, and we continue to adjust as necessary,” the official added.Spoke with #UK PM @BorisJohnson and the Foreign Ministers of our Allies #Canada, #Denmark and #Netherlands on the situation in #Afghanistan. #NATO is helping keep Kabul airport open to facilitate and coordinate evacuations.
— Jens Stoltenberg (@jensstoltenberg) The entrance gate of the Green Zone is pictured after the evacuation in Kabul, Afghanistan, Aug. 15, 2021.President Biden’s withdrawal plan is a continuation of a proposal set in motion by his immediate predecessor, Donald Trump. The Trump administration negotiated a deal with the Taliban in February 2020, setting a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops in Afghanistan in return for the insurgents ending attacks on Americans and entering into talks with the Afghan government.But the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee said Sunday the onus falls squarely on the Biden administration.“They totally blew this one. They completely underestimated the strength of the Taliban,” Representative Michael McCaul told CNN’s State of the Union. “They didn’t listen to the intelligence community because every time I got an I.C. briefing assessment it was probably the grimmest assessment I’ve ever heard on Afghanistan.”In contrast, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi issued a statement commending President Biden for “the clarity of purpose of his statement on Afghanistan and the actions he has taken.”The top Democrat in the House of Representatives also warned the Taliban that “the world is watching its actions.”“We are deeply concerned about reports regarding the Taliban’s brutal treatment of all Afghans, especially women and girls,” Pelosi said. “The U.S., the international community and the Afghan government must do everything we can to protect women and girls from inhumane treatment by the Taliban.”Still, outside observers cautioned that the fallout from Afghanistan could have a lingering impact on the Biden White House.“Biden has a process problem in the national security structure. That is part of the reason we have seen events play out so tragically in Afghanistan. They are far too insular and don’t take on board enough input from institutional experts,” Brett Bruen, a former director of global engagement in the Obama White House, told VOA on Sunday.Biden “needs to take a long hard look at what went wrong and more importantly how things need to change. It should start with his national security advisor.  If nothing changes, I fear we will see more avoidable adversity,” added Bruen, president of the Global Situation Room, a crisis management consultancy.(Steve Herman and Patsy Widakuswara contributed to this report.) 

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