KABUL, Afghanistan – The U.S. military has begun its full withdrawal from Afghanistan, the American commander in chief said Sunday, marking the beginning of the end of the nearly 20-year-old United States war in the country.
“I now have a number of orders,” said General Austin S. Miller, head of the US-led coalition in Afghanistan, at a press conference by Afghan journalists at the US military headquarters in Kabul, the capital. “We will conduct an orderly withdrawal from Afghanistan, and that means that bases and equipment will be handed over to the Afghan security forces.”
General Miller’s remarks come nearly two weeks after President Biden announced that all US forces would be out of the country by September 11, the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks that drove the United States in its long war in Afghanistan.
Mr Biden’s announcement was received with uncertainty in Afghanistan as it prepares for a future without a military presence from the US and NATO, despite a Taliban uprising that, despite peace talks, seems dead set on military victory.
If the Taliban return to power – either through violence or through incorporation into government – they will likely take back women’s rights, as they did during their harsh rule in the late 1990s.
For now, the Afghan security forces, which have survived a particularly difficult winter, are holding the line. Taliban offensives in the south and repeated attacks in the north despite the cold weather have resulted in increasing casualties ahead of a potentially violent summer in which US and NATO forces are retreating. Although the Afghan military and police combined are believed to have around 300,000 employees, the real number is believed to be much lower.
“I am often asked how the security forces are doing. Can the security guards do the work in our absence? “General Miller said. “And my message has always been the same: you have to be ready.”
General Miller added that “certain equipment” must be withdrawn from Afghanistan, “but wherever possible,” the United States and the international armed forces will leave material behind for the Afghan armed forces.
There are approximately 3,500 US troops in Afghanistan and approximately 7,000 NATO and Allied forces. These NATO forces are likely to pull out along with the United States as many countries in the coalition depend on American support.
At the head of the international armed forces in Afghanistan there are also around 18,000 contractors in the country, almost all of whom will also be leaving. General Miller said some of the treaties “need to be adjusted” to continue to support the Afghan security forces, which rely heavily on contractor support, particularly the Afghan Air Force. The thousands of private contractors in Afghanistan perform a variety of roles including security, logistics, and aircraft maintenance.
According to last year’s peace agreement with the Taliban, US and international forces should withdraw from the country by May 1. Under the deal, the Taliban have largely refrained from attacking US troops. However, it remains unclear whether the insurgent group will attack the withdrawing forces after Mr Biden decided to set the final deadline later in September.
“We have the military means and the ability to fully protect our armed forces and support the Afghan security forces during retrograde development,” said General Miller.
American troops are still spread out in a constellation of around a dozen bases, most of which contain small groups of special forces advising the Afghan military. To cover the withdrawal, the American military has provided significant air support, including positioning an aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf in case the Taliban decide to attack.