Australia has abruptly announced it will close its embassy in Afghanistan this week, expressing fears over the “increasingly uncertain security environment” in Kabul in the wake of the US decision to withdraw its troops from the war-torn country.
The surprise decision comes a month after Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the pullout of Australia’s 80 soldiers deployed as part of the NATO’s Resolute Support mission, which is involved in training and assisting the Afghan forces. The country ended its combat mission in 2013.
On Tuesday, the Australian prime minister said the facility would close as an “interim measure” on May 28 – in just three days – “in light of the imminent international military withdrawal from Afghanistan”.
The United States and allied forces have begun withdrawing troops from Afghanistan, 20 years after they toppled the then Taliban regime in a military invasion in the wake of the September 11 attacks on US soil.
The Taliban on Tuesday pledged to provide a “safe environment” to foreign diplomats after Australia announced it would shutter its embassy over security concerns.
“The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan assures all foreign diplomats and staff of humanitarian organisations that [we] will not pose any threats to them,” Taliban spokesman Mohammad Naeem told AFP news agency. “We will provide a safe environment for their activities.”
The Taliban, which waged an armed rebellion against the US-led NATO troops, has emerged as a strong force controlling many parts of the country. The US withdrawal is part of an agreement Washington signed last year with the Taliban to end the war.
The elected government in Kabul and the Afghan security services remain fragile despite two decades of foreign support, and their success is far from clear without full-scale US backing.
All US troops are expected to leave by September 11, the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
In recent days, violence in the country has soared and Afghan forces have clashed with Taliban fighters not far to the east of Kabul.