United States-led NATO forces began officially withdrawing from Afghanistan on Saturday, May 1, to meet President Joe Biden’s troop drawdown deadline of September 11, 2021, with officials warning the Taliban against attacks on the troops as they leave.
A NATO spokesperson said shortly before the withdrawal began:
NATO Allies decided in mid-April to start the withdrawal of Resolute Support Mission forces by May 1 and this withdrawal has begun. This will be an orderly, coordinated, and deliberate process. The safety of our troops will be a top priority every step of the way, and we are taking all necessary measures to keep our personnel from harm.
“So you will understand that at this point, we will not go into operational details, including troop numbers or timelines for individual nations. 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 spokesperson said on April 29.
The White House approved the deployment of two Air Force B-52 bombers, a Navy carrier strike group, and an Army Ranger Task Force to the region to deter attacks against U.S. forces, amid Taliban warnings that it would no longer be beholden to a Trump administration-agreement not to attack in exchange for a May 1 withdrawal deadline. Biden announced the U.S. would not meet that deadline, but would withdraw by September 11, 2021.
White House deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a statement on April 29:
The President’s intent is clear: the U.S. military’s departure from Afghanistan will not be rushed or hasty. It will be deliberate, and conducted in a safe and responsible manner that ensures the protection of our forces. 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.
Despite these warnings, an air base in southern Afghanistan hosting U.S. forces came under indirect rocket fire on Saturday. The top commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Scott Miller warned against further attacks in a video statement.
“A return to violence would be one senseless and tragic. But make no mistake, we have the military means to respond forcefully to any type of attacks against the coalition and the military means to support the Afghan security forces. That would be a mistake to move in that direction,” he said.
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U.S. Forces-Afghanistan spokesman Col. Sonny Leggett said U.S. forces had conducted a precision strike Saturday evening to destroy additional rockets aimed at the airfield. There was no attribution given for the rocket attack.
U.S. Forces conducted a precision strike this evening, destroying additional rockets aimed at the airfield.
— USFOR-A Spokesman Col Sonny Leggett (@USFOR_A) May 1, 2021
There are approximately 2,500 U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Under an agreement former President Donald Trump negotiated with the Taliban, U.S. troops were due to leave Afghanistan on May 1 in exchange for ceasing attacks against U.S. forces.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid tweeted Saturday that the passing deadline meant “this violation in principle has opened the way for [Taliban fighters] to take every counter-action it deems appropriate against the occupying forces,” according to Reuters.
However, he said fighters were waiting on a decision from Taliban leadership on whether they would agree to an extension of the peace deal or not.
Biden’s September 11 deadline has rankled some veterans and foreign policy experts, since it is the anniversary of the date that the U.S. was attacked by terrorists to whom the Taliban gave safe haven in Afghanistan, precipitating the Afghanistan War.
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