Top U.S. commander in Afghanistan says steps to end military mission launched
U.S. Army General Scott Miller, the chief of international powers in Afghanistan, said on Sunday that an organised withdrawal of foreign forces and the handover of military facilities and weapons to Afghan forces has started.
Miller said that he was following instructions based on US President Joe Biden’s decision to end America’s longest fight, citing the protracted and intractable struggle in Afghanistan as no longer aligning with American interests.
Biden said earlier this month that he will pull forces from Afghanistan before September 11, the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon that sparked the Afghan conflict.
Miller, who has led US forces and the NATO Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan in their battle against the Taliban and other Islamist insurgent groups since 2018, said that international forces would have “the strategic means and capabilities to completely defend themselves during the current retrograde and will support the Afghan security forces.”
“I’ve had the chance to speak with Taliban Political Commission representatives, and I’ve assured them that a return to bloodshed, an attempt to compel a military judgement, will be a disaster for Afghanistan and the Afghan citizens,” Miller told reporters in Kabul.
The Taliban controlled Afghanistan from 1996 until 2001, when they were overthrown by US-led troops. They have then fought a long-running insurrection and now occupy vast swaths of land.
Security analysts have expressed doubts in recent weeks that the Taliban would encourage US troops, which they refer to as attackers, to leave the country peacefully at a time when clashes between Afghan forces and the Taliban have not subsided.
The withdrawal of foreign forces is set to begin on May 1, 2020, in accordance with an agreement reached with the Taliban in 2020.
“As we reduce U.S. troops to none, we will switch over the (military) bases mainly to the (Afghan) Ministry of Defense and other Afghan forces,” Miller said, adding that the Taliban have committed to severing ties with al Qaeda, the Islamist militant organisation.
The Taliban government’s protection of Al-Qaeda was a major justification for the United States’ invasion of Afghanistan after the September 11, 2001 attacks.
According to a January UN survey, there were up to 500 al Qaeda militants in Afghanistan, and the Taliban established strong ties with them. The Taliban rejects the existence of al Qaeda in Afghanistan.