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An Afghan soldier stands guard at a mosque in Kabul. Photo: Wakil Kohsar/AFP via Getty

As Afghan President Ashraf Ghani was making his way to Washington to meet with President Biden, the Wall Street Journal revealed that the U.S. intelligence community believes his government may be toppled within six months of America's withdrawal.

Why it matters: As the Taliban gains territory and the U.S. pulls its remaining forces out, hopes of a potential peace deal in Afghanistan are giving way to fears of a rapid Taliban capture of Kabul.

Driving the news: Ghani will arrive at the White House Friday seeking assurances that the U.S. will keep up its diplomatic push for a peace deal and financial support for the beleaguered Afghan military, says Michael Kugelman of the Wilson Center.

  • The atmosphere leading up to his trip could hardly be more foreboding, with a stream of reports describing checkpoints, towns and U.S.-provided military equipment falling into Taliban hands.
  • "The combination of large amounts of territory seized, the capture of a border post with Tajikistan and all of these surrenders coming in — it's sort of like a perfect storm of successes for the Taliban" that has the makings of an "unprecedented assault," Kugelman says, though he notes that Afghan security forces have recaptured some ground.
  • "It's just a matter of how far the Taliban is willing to go and to what degree certain mitigating factors — like continued financial assistance to the Afghan military — prevent it from doing what many fear it'll be able to do in just a matter of months," he adds.

The big picture: When Biden announced that all U.S. forces would depart by Sept. 11, he never claimed to be leaving behind a stable Afghanistan. But now he has to contemplate a scenario akin to the fall of Saigon in 1975.

  • It emerged Thursday that the administration is planning to evacuate thousands of Afghans who worked with the U.S. military and could now be targeted by the Taliban, but no detailed plan has been released.
  • The administration has warned that the Taliban won't receive international aid or recognition if it attempts to take Kabul by force, and argued that the group should thus seek a power-sharing deal.
  • But the Taliban says it won't talk until all foreign troops are out, and offered little indication that international legitimacy is a primary concern. In the meantime, it's strengthening its position by the day.

What to watch: Ghani arrived in Washington along with Abdullah Abdullah, his top political rival and also the government's representative for intra-Afghan peace talks.

  • They will aim to convey a "unity of purpose to try to ease concerns in Washington that you've got a disunited, dysfunctional Afghan government," Kugelman says.
  • Even with the Taliban gains, though, the White House has remained committed to a full withdrawal by September.

Go deeper

Jun 24, 2021 - World

U.S. to evacuate some Afghans who helped troops before withdrawal

A U.S. Marine (L) and Afghan interpreter (R) in the Korengal Valley in 2008. Photo: John Moore/Getty Images

The Biden administration plans to move thousands of Afghans who worked with the U.S. military out of the country before completing a troop withdrawal by Sep. 11.

Why it matters: With the Taliban rapidly gaining ground as America's exit approaches, Afghans known to have worked with the U.S. — including interpreters, embassy aides and drivers — could be in danger. Pressure has been growing on the White House to get them out.

Updated 10 mins ago - Sports

Katie Ledecky wins gold in first women's 1500m freestyle

Katie Ledecky at the Tokyo Games. Photo: Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Katie Ledecky took home the gold medal in the women's 1,500-meter freestyle swimming race Tuesday evening, becoming the first female swimmer to win the newly added division. Team USA's Erica Sullivan won silver.

Of note: The Tokyo Games mark the first time that the long-distance race has been open to women, and Ledecky paid tribute to her predecessors after the race. "I just think of all the great U.S. swimmers who didn’t have a chance to swim that event," she said on NBC.

Updated 20 mins ago - Sports

Olympics dashboard

Katie Ledecky celebrates with teammate Erica Sullivan after winning the women’s 1500m freestyle final. Photo: Tom Pennington/Getty Images

🚨: Katie Ledecky wins gold in first women's 1500m freestyle

🤸🏾‍♀️: Simone Biles pulls out of gymnastics team finals, citing her mental health

🎾: "This one sucks more than the others," Naomi Osaka says on upset loss

⚽️: USA women's soccer ties Australia, propelling them to the quarterfinals

🏊‍♀️: Teen swimmer Lydia Jacoby wins first U.S. women's Tokyo Games gold

👟: World Athletics president supports reviewing marijuana rules in doping

🏄‍♀️: American Carissa Moore wins first-ever women's Olympic gold in surfing

Go deeper: Full Axios coverage - Medal tracker