Marine guards lowered the Stars and Stripes in a brief ceremony Monday outside the U.S. Embassy, temporarily closing the mission as Muslim rebels encircled the Afghan capital awaiting a Soviet withdrawal.
“We are honored to have served and helped the Afghan people toward peace and freedom,” U.S. Charge d’Affaires John Glassman said. “We will be back as soon as the conflict is over. We say goodby, and God bless the United States of America. We are going home.”
Snow Disrupts Traffic
Heavy snow that has blanketed the Afghan capital since Sunday disrupted air traffic and stalled the evacuation of the embassy’s seven staff members and four Marines.
An Indian Airlines official said the U.S. personnel likely would leave today for New Delhi aboard a charter flight of India’s main domestic carrier.
The 11 Americans leaving the embassy include Glassman and his political counselor, James Shumaker; a four-man Marine guard contingent commanded by Gunnery Sgt. James Blake of Fontana, Calif., and five technical staffers.
The State Department last week said the embassy would be closed because of fears that Afghanistan’s army could not protect foreign diplomats after the Soviets leave.
The building is in the heart of Kabul near the presidential palace, the state radio and secret police headquarters, all of which would be prime guerrilla targets in a battle for the city.
Remaining in the Afghan capital are about 10 American missionaries who have worked at a hospital here for some time and a handful of American reporters. The missionaries are expected to leave within a week or so, as are many of the reporters.
The embassy was closed in a simple ceremony involving three unarmed Marines in fatigues who marched single-file out the front door of the austere two-story building to the flag pole. They then lowered the Stars and Stripes, folded it into a tight triangular bundle and handed it to Glassman.
Makes Brief Speech
Glassman then made a brief speech at an embassy memorial to the late U.S. Ambassador Adolf Dubs, who was abducted by unknown extremists on Feb. 14, 1979. He and his kidnapers were killed when Afghan forces stormed the Kabul hotel where they were holed up.
“We believe the leadership of the Soviet Union has made a wise decision to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan,” Glassman said. “We only ask that they cease their military actions and give the people of Afghanistan the peace they deserve.”
Glassman was apparently referring to continued Soviet air strikes and to a massive Soviet-Afghan offensive last week along the strategic Salang Highway that reportedly killed hundreds of civilians.
In Washington, the Bush Administration accused the Soviets on Monday of carrying out “a scorched-earth policy” of intense bombing raids in Afghanistan.
State Department spokesman Charles Redman said Soviet forces are conducting “very intensive air activity” with warplanes based inside Afghanistan as well as bombers based in the Soviet Union. In addition, he said, the Soviets continue to launch ground-to-ground missiles, which are considered terror weapons though inaccurate.
In contrast, Redman said, U.S.-backed Afghan rebels “have been exercising a very considerable degree of restraint when it comes to withdrawing Soviet forces.”
Soviet troops entered Afghanistan’s civil war nine years ago and are to be gone by Feb. 15 under a U.N.-mediated agreement.