US formally begins withdrawing troops from Afghanistan after 20 years
- US officials on the ground say the withdrawal is already a work in progress - and May 1 is just a continuation - but Washington has made an issue of the date because it is a deadline agreed with the Taliban in 2020 to complete the pullout.
Kabul security was ramped up on Saturday as the city braced for reaction from the Taliban with the final phase of ending America’s “forever war” in Afghanistan after 20 years formally began on Saturday: the withdrawal of the last US and Nato troops by the end of summer.
US officials on the ground say the withdrawal is already a work in progress - and May 1 is just a continuation - but Washington has made an issue of the date because it is a deadline agreed with the Taliban in 2020 to complete the pullout. The skies above Kabul and nearby Bagram airbase were buzzing with more US helicopter activity than usual as the pullout gears up, following the start on Thursday of a concurrent Nato withdrawal.
Afghan security forces were on high alert for any possible Taliban attacks on retreating American troops. The US military said an airfield in the southern province of Kandahar where it has a base “received ineffective indirect fire” on Saturday afternoon that caused no damages.
“The Americans will formally begin their withdrawal from Afghanistan starting May 1 and the Taliban might increase the violence,” acting interior minister Hayatullah Hayat told top police commanders, according to an audio clip given to reporters.
Afghan acting defence minister Zia Yasin said US and allied troops will be leaving their bases and will gather at Bagram, the biggest American base in Afghanistan. From there “they will go to their respective countries”, Yasin told reporters.
The prospect of an end to the US presence after 20 years comes despite fighting raging across the countryside in the absence of a peace deal. A stark reminder of what remains came late on Friday with a car bomb in Pul-e-Alam, south of the capital, killing at least 24 people and wounding 110 more.
US President Joe Biden is determined to end what he called “the forever war”, announcing last month that the withdrawal of the remaining 2,500 American forces would be complete by the 20th anniversary of the September 11 attacks.
“A horrific attack 20 years ago... cannot explain why we should remain there in 2021,” he said.
The Taliban said the US troop withdrawal was to be completed by May 1 as agreed in last year’s accord with Washington, and warned it was a “clear violation” that the troops were not fully out. Since the US withdrawal deal was struck the Taliban have not directly engaged foreign troops, but have mercilessly attacked government forces in the countryside and waged a terror campaign in urban areas.