US military begins final withdrawal from Afghanistan
“I now have a set of orders,” said Gen. Austin S. Miller, leader of the US-led coalition in Afghanistan, at a press conference with Afghan journalists at the headquarters of the US Army in Afghanistan. Kabul, the capital. “We will proceed with an orderly withdrawal from Afghanistan, which means the transition of bases and materiel to Afghan security forces.”
Miller’s remarks come nearly two weeks after the president Joe biden announced that all American forces would be out of the country on September 11, the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks that propelled the United States into its long war in Afghanistan.
Biden’s announcement has been met with uncertainty in Afghanistan, as she prepares for a future without the United States and NATO military presence despite a Taliban insurgency that appears dead on a military victory despite the peace talks.
If the Taliban return to power – whether by force or by being incorporated into government – they risk undermining women’s rights, as they did during their harsh rule in the late 1990s.
Afghan security forces are holding the line for now, which have endured a particularly difficult winter. Taliban offensives in the south and repeated attacks in the north despite the cold weather resulted in mounting losses ahead of what could be a violent summer as US and NATO forces withdraw. Although the combined Afghan military and police force numbers around 300,000, the actual number is believed to be much lower.
“I am often asked how are the security forces? Can the security forces do the job in our absence? Miller said. “And my message has always been the same: they have to be ready.”
Miller added that “some equipment” must be removed from Afghanistan, “but to the extent possible” the United States and international forces will leave equipment for the Afghan forces.
There are approximately 3,500 American troops in Afghanistan and approximately 7,000 NATO and Allied forces. These NATO forces are likely to withdraw alongside the United States, as many of the coalition countries depend on American support.
At the peak of the international military forces in Afghanistan, there are also around 18,000 contractors in the country, almost all of whom will also be leaving. Miller said some of the contracts “will have to be adjusted” so that the Afghan security forces, which rely heavily on assistance from contractors – especially the Afghan Air Force – will continue to be supported. The thousands of private contractors in Afghanistan are responsible for a variety of jobs, including security, logistics and aircraft maintenance.
Under last year’s peace deal with the Taliban, U.S. and international forces were expected to withdraw from the country by May 1. Under the deal, the Taliban refrained – for the most part – from attacking US troops. But what remains unclear is whether the insurgent group will attack the withdrawing forces following Biden’s decision to set the final deadline later, in September.
“We have the military means and capacity to fully protect our force during the demotion, as well as to support the Afghan security forces,” Miller said.
US troops are still spread across a constellation of around ten bases, most of which contain small groups of special operations forces advising the Afghan army. To cover the withdrawal, the US military has committed a significant amount of air support, including the positioning of an aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf, in case the Taliban decides to attack.