US closing in on total pull-out, says more than 90% completed
The withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan is more than 90% completed, the Pentagon’s central command announced on Tuesday. The CENTCOM said it has officially handed over seven bases to the Afghan security forces and evacuated the equivalent of nearly 1,000 C-17 air freighter loads of equipment from the country, ahead of the September 11 deadline to complete the troop pull-out.
On Friday, US forces handed over the sprawling Bagram air base north of Kabul, the main centre of US military operations in the country for most of the past two decades of conflict.
Tuesday’s announcement underscored that most of the process of withdrawing US military and civilian personnel ordered by President Joe Biden in April had been completed.
At the time of Biden’s order, there were officially 2,500 US troops and 16,000 private contractors in Afghanistan. According to reports there were also some 1,000 US special forces operating in the country at the time who were not included in the official tally.
While Biden had set a deadline of September 11, the Pentagon has moved quickly to reduce its presence to a minimum.
“We expect it to be completed by the end of August,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Friday after the Bagram handover. The US is expected to keep a reported 650 or more military personnel in the country to protect the US embassy and diplomats.
Time to retake districts
Afghan authorities on Tuesday vowed to retake all the districts lost to the Taliban group and deployed hundreds of commandos to counter the insurgents’ blistering offensive in the north, a day after more than 1,000 government troops fled into neighbouring Tajikistan.
“There is war, there is pressure. Sometimes things are working our way. Sometimes they don’t, but we will continue to defend the Afghan people,” the country’s national security adviser Hamdullah Mohib told reporters. “We have plans to retake the districts.”
Troops and pro-government militiamen were deployed in the northern provinces of Takhar and Badakshan. Afghan defence officials have said they intend to focus on securing major cities, roads and border towns in the face of the Taliban onslaught.
Afghan ambassador Farid Mamundzay, meanwhile, briefed India’s foreign secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla on Tuesday on the evolving security situation in Afghanistan in the face of escalating violence and the withdrawal of US troops.