US Starts Troop Withdrawal from Afghanistan, Base Turnovers Begin

The U.S. military has begun withdrawing from Afghanistan, Gen. Austin Miller, the head of the U.S.-led coalition, confirmed in a press conference Sunday.

“I now have a set of orders,” Miller said. “We will conduct an orderly withdrawal from Afghanistan, and that means transitioning bases and equipment to the Afghan security forces.”

Miller’s announcement comes almost two weeks after President Joe Biden announced that all U.S. forces would be withdrawn from Afghanistan by Sept. 11, the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center that launched the U.S. into its 20 year war with Afghanistan.

Biden’s announcement was met with uncertainty in Afghanistan, as it prepares for a future without U.S. and NATO military forces to combat the Taliban insurgency.

Although Afghan military and police forces together have been said to be around 300,000 personnel, the true number is thought to be much lower.

Regarding Afghanistan’s security forces, Miller said, “I often get asked how are the security forces? Can the security forces do the work in our absence? And my message has always been the same: They must be ready.”

Miller added that while certain equipment must return to the U.S., the U.S. and international forces will leave behind material for Afghan forces “wherever possible.”

There are nearly 3,500 U.S. troops in Afghanistan and around 7,000 NATO and allied forces. Those NATO forces will most likely withdraw from Afghanistan as the United States does, as many countries in the coalition are dependent upon the U.S. for support. New Zealand plans to withdraw its last troops in May and Australia in September, in line with the U.S.

Alongside the international military forces, there are roughly 18,000 military contractors in Afghanistan, almost all of whom are expected to leave. Miller said some of the contracts “will have to be adjusted” to allow Afghan security forces, which remain heavily dependent on contract forces, continued support.

Per last year’s peace agreement with the Taliban, U.S. and international forces were supposed to withdraw by May 1. In February of last year, the U.S. began closing its smaller bases. In accordance with the agreement, the Taliban have mostly refrained from attacking U.S. troops. However, it is unclear if the insurgent group will attack withdrawing forces due to Biden’s decision to push back the final withdraw deadline to September.

In Sunday’s press conference, Miler said, “We have the military means and capability to fully protect our force during retrograde, as well as support the Afghan security forces.”

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