KABUL, Afghanistan — American forces began their mission to evacuate U.S. embassy workers on Saturday as Taliban fighters continued to advance on the country’s capital.

The first of 3,000 troops began on Friday what the Pentagon described as a limited mission to evacuate the embassy workers. One U.S. Army and two Marine battalions are expected to arrive by Sunday.

A Taliban spokesman told NBC News the group were aware of the U.S. deployment, but said the militant group would only act against U.S. forces if provoked. He did not say whether the group would halt its advance on the capital while the evacutions were taking place.

Elsewhere in the north of the country, Gul Rahman Hamdard, a lawmaker from the Balkh province, confirmed to NBC News that all of its cities including the capital Mazar-e-Sharif were under Taliban control.

Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani meanwhile sought to reassure the population in a brief and vague televised address early Saturday.

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He said consultations with local leaders and the international community were underway and he still had hopes of being able to “stop the ongoing imposed war on Afghan people, so more people should not die.”

“I know you all are worried about your present and future,” he said. “I, as your president ensure you I (aim) to reduce violence and stop migration of people.”

However, one Taliban commander, told NBC News that the militant group would soon “conquer and free Kabul.”

He added that it would be “as easy” as the recent capture of the key cities of Kandahar and Herat which marked the biggest prizes yet for the militant group’s campaign.

“Once they have Kabul, they have the whole country,” said Bruce Jentleson, a professor of public policy and political science at Duke University.

Jentleson, who served as senior advisor to the State Department Policy Planning Director under the Obama administration added that he thought they could take the city “pretty soon.”

Aug. 14, 202103:07

“That’s why we’re evacuating Kabul,” he said, adding that he thought the Taliban’s rapid gains had “suprised” President Joe Biden’s administration, although he did not think that “the lesson in this was (U.S. troops) staying longer.”

“When you give a country 20 years and hundreds of billions of dollars and American lives…that’s a pretty strong commitment and if it’s not working, there’s a point at which you end it,” he said.

Biden, earlier this week expressed no regrets over his decision to push forward with the U.S.’s withdrawal.

“Afghan leaders have to come together,” he told reporters at the White House on Tuesday. “We lost thousands to death and injury, thousands of American personnel. They’ve got to fight for themselves, fight for their nation.”

Ahmed Mengli reported from Kabul, Mushtaq Yusufzai reported from Peshawar, Pakistan, and Chantal Da Silva and Saphora Smith reported from London.

Source: | This article originally belongs to Nbcnews.com

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