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U.S. Lowers Flag in Kabul, Shuts Mission : Diplomats Say They’ll Come Back; Rebels Circle Afghan Capital

From Times Wire Services

U.S. diplomats lowered the Stars and Stripes and closed their mission in embattled Kabul today as Muslim rebels encircled the capital awaiting a Soviet withdrawal.

American diplomats said they will return once peace is restored.

“Today we leave at a moment that is both happy and sad,” said the charge d’affaires, Jon D. Glassman, after a flag-lowering ceremony in the embassy’s snow-covered compound.

“We are pleased that the people of Afghanistan are going to be relieved of their suffering but we know their struggle is not over. The people of the United States are with them,” he said. “We will be back as soon as the conflict is over.”

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At the ceremony, three Marine guards took down the U.S. flag, folded it and handed it to Glassman.

Move Ordered Last Week

The State Department last week ordered the 11-member embassy staff to leave, citing fears that the Afghan army may not be capable of protecting foreign diplomats once the Soviets leave.

West Germany, Britain, Japan, France and Austria have all withdrawn or are withdrawing their embassy staffs. Italy and some of Moscow’s East Bloc allies are considering similar action.

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Heavy snow that has blanketed the Afghan capital since Sunday disrupted air traffic and stalled the evacuation of the embassy’s staff and Marine guards.

An Indian Airlines official said the U.S. personnel probably will leave Tuesday for New Delhi aboard a charter flight of India’s main domestic carrier.

After the embassy staff departs, 10 Americans will remain in Kabul. All are missionaries.

‘Very Unsafe in Kabul’

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The Afghan government has denounced the embassy closures as unnecessary and aimed solely at encouraging the U.S.-backed Muslim insurgents to intensify their fighting.

James Schumaker, a U.S. political officer, said all essential documents have been removed or destroyed, vehicles immobilized and vital equipment shipped out on commercial flights during the five days since Washington ordered the embassy closed.

“My feeling is that it will become very unsafe in Kabul after the Soviets leave, although it appears placid at the moment,” Schumaker said.

Four large diplomatic bags crammed with documents were in the embassy lobby, but all other fixtures and furniture remained untouched. The building will be protected by paramilitary personnel of the Soviet-backed Kabul regime.

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