On Thursday, the White House said the US military has officially begun the withdrawal from Afghanistan with the goal of pulling all troops out by September 11th. However, additional forces have been deployed to the country over fears of renewed Taliban attacks.
“Potential adversaries should know that if they attack us in our withdrawal, we will defend ourselves, [and] our partners, with all the tools at our disposal,” Deputy White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters.
“While these actions will initially result in increased forces levels, we remain committed to having all US military personnel out of Afghanistan by September 11th, 2021,” she said.
As part of the surge to aid the withdrawal, the US deployed B-52 bombers and ordered the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower to stay in the Gulf region. Pentagon officials told CNN that the US was sending an additional 650 troops to Afghanistan, mostly Army Rangers.
The US officially has 2,500 troops in Afghanistan, although media reports have said that the real number is somewhere around 3,500. On top of the US presence, there are approximately 7,000 other foreign troops in the country, mostly NATO forces. A NATO official said on Thursday that the alliance has also started its withdrawal.
“NATO Allies decided in mid-April to start the withdrawal of Resolute Support Mission forces by May 1st and this withdrawal has begun. This will be an orderly, coordinated, and deliberate process,” an unnamed NATO official told AFP.
“Any Taliban attacks during the withdrawal will be met with a forceful response. We plan to have our withdrawal completed within a few months,” the NATO official added.
The US and NATO fear Taliban attacks because President Biden broke the US-Taliban peace deal by pushing back the original May 1st withdrawal deadline to September 11th. Extending the presence in Afghanistan does little but risk US casualties. No US troops have died in combat in the country since the Trump administration inked the agreement in Doha in February 2020.
While the plan is to get all troops out by September, the US intends to keep supporting the Afghan military financially, and it’s not clear if Pentagon contractors are leaving. According to the latest figures, there are just under 17,000 contractors employed by the US in Afghanistan, who the Afghan military relies on for the maintenance of their equipment.