KABUL, Afghanistan – U.S. Marines secured the grounds of the American embassy in the heart of Kabul on Monday, more than 12 years after the United States closed it in the wake of the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan.
It was a preliminary step toward the eventual re-establishment of a U.S. diplomatic presence — and marked the first known U.S. military presence in the Afghan capital.
After an explosives team swept the grounds, a U.S. State Department assessment team went to work inside, guarded by the Marines, a U.S. military spokesman said.
The spokesman, Army Maj. Victor Harris, told journalists at the embassy that no timetable had been set for any reopening. It had not even been decided whether the United States would keep this site or find a new one, he said.
Harris refused to comment on the condition of the embassy grounds, which have been closed since 1989. The complex is overgrown with weeds, and scattered debris can be seen from the gates.
The only other U.S. Marines in Afghanistan are those holding a desert air base outside the southern city of Kandahar.
However, Harris said the group in Kabul was an embassy security detail, working under the auspices of the State Department, and should not be regarded as a combat contingent.
The Marines, whose numbers were not disclosed, landed at Bagram airfield north of Kabul after being flown from the USS Bataan in the Arabian Sea, the military spokesman said.
The embassy compound in Kabul was attacked on Sept. 26 by a mob of anti-U.S. protesters who set guardhouse ablaze and tore down the large metal U.S. seal at the entrance while Taliban police looked on.
Other nations are beginning to make moves toward a diplomatic presence in Kabul. Only three countries — Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia — had maintained ties with the Taliban. All three severed ties after the U.S.-led military campaign began Oct. 7.
Iran has already reopened an embassy, and Russia, India and France have sent special envoys pending the reopening of theirs.
The United States closed its embassy on Jan. 30, 1989, citing fears that security would deteriorate because of the Soviet departure from Afghanistan. The Soviet Union, which sent troops to its southern neighbor nine years earlier to prop up a teetering Marxist client government, was in the final stages of withdrawing its troops.