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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

Updated Oct 1, 2021 - World

Taliban: Twitter account claiming to be university chancellor was fake

Female students, some with Taliban flags, at a university in Kabul earlier this month. Photo: Aamir Qureshi/AFP via Getty Images

Editor's note: A previous version of this story was based on statements from a Twitter account claiming to be chancellor Mohammad Ashraf Ghairat. The headline and the bulk of the story have been corrected and updated after the Taliban told Axios that the account was not from Ghairat.

The Taliban told Axios Friday that a Twitter account claiming to be Kabul University's newly appointed chancellor Mohammad Ashraf Ghairat is "fake" following outrage over tweets from the account that said women will be barred from the university for work and study.

What they're saying: "[T]he account [belonging] to the university chancellor, it is [a] fake account," Taliban spokesperson Suhail Shaheen told Axios via WhatsApp. "Women have right of access to education and work while observing hijab. Work is underway to formulate a mechanism in this regard."

40 mins ago - World

Blinken to visit Ukraine as Russia invasion threat looms

Blinken (R) with President Zelensky. Photo: Efrem Lukatsky/Pool via Getty

Secretary of State Antony Tony Blinken will travel to Ukraine on Tuesday as the country faces an ongoing threat of Russian invasion.

Driving the news: Blinken will meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, as well as officials at the U.S. embassy in Kyiv to discuss contingency planning. He'll then travel to Berlin to meet German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock and attend a meeting of the "Transatlantic Quad" — France, Germany, the U.K. and U.S.

Updated 46 mins ago - World

At least 3 dead after Tonga volcano eruption and tsunami

A satellite image of the explosive eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai volcano on Saturday. Photo: UNICEF/NOAA

At least three people are confirmed to have died in Tonga following the undersea volcanic eruption that sent tsunami waves toward the island nation and across the Pacific over the weekend, officials said Tuesday.

The big picture: Officials reported major damage along the western coast of the main island of Tongatapu, where the capital, Nuku'alofa, was covered in ash and dust, including on the runway of the airport. Officials in Tonga confirmed three deaths in the country's first official statement since the crisis began.