“A drawdown is underway,” White House deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters aboard the Air Force on Thursday. “While these measures will initially lead to an increase in the armed forces, we continue to advocate that all US military personnel be evicted from Afghanistan by September 11, 2020.”
According to several U.S. Defense officials, fewer than 100 soldiers, along with mostly military equipment, were moved by airplanes to carry out President Joe Biden’s orders to begin the withdrawal process no later than May 1.
In addition, U.S. government contractors and employees are leaving the country, officials said. The Pentagon has said it is concerned that staff will be attacked by the Taliban when they leave. Therefore, it is not clear whether full details of the departure process will be disclosed, which is expected to be completed by September 11th.
There were approximately 2,500 openly recognized US troops in Afghanistan, as well as several hundred additional special forces. All of them will leave on the orders of the President.
Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Mark Milley called the withdrawal “a complex operation and not without risk” in a statement to CNN. “We have started a deliberately coordinated responsible retrograde development of US military personnel from Afghanistan. This is a complex operation and not without risk. It will evolve in the coming weeks,” he added.
A NATO official told CNN that the NATO allies have also begun withdrawing troops and that they plan to have their withdrawal “completed in a few months”. The official said they “will not go into operational details, including troop numbers or national timetables” to ensure the safety of their troops and that “any Taliban attacks during the withdrawal will be responded to with a vigorous response”.
Milley spoke to his NATO counterparts on Thursday to ensure a coordinated withdrawal, a defense official told CNN, stressing the organized, deliberate withdrawal of US and coalition forces from Afghanistan under the promise of “together, together.”
“The President’s intention is clear, the US military withdrawal from Afghanistan will not be hasty … It will be delivered and carried out in a safe and responsible manner to ensure the protection of our armed forces,” added Jean-Pierre.
The military is concerned about a worst-case scenario where the Afghan security forces collapse and watch closely for signs that it is happening on the ground. The threat comes not only from the Taliban, who threatened an attack on US forces on Saturday, but also from guerrilla factions with their own agenda and priorities, a significant risk in a country as diverse and fragmented as it is Afghanistan, said a defense official.
Biden: “Afghanistan was never intended to be a cross-generational company.”
In his first address to a joint congressional session on Wednesday evening, Biden argued that “the war in Afghanistan was never intended to be a cross-generational endeavor to build nations.”
“We went to Afghanistan to get terrorists – the terrorists who attacked us on September 11th – and we said we would follow Osama bin Laden to the gates of hell to do this … and we have bin Laden brought justice. We have reduced the al-Qaeda terrorist threat in Afghanistan. And after 20 years of worth – bravery and sacrifice, it is time to bring these troops home, “the president said.
The Pentagon has assembled a significant defense force to send a strong message to the Taliban that it is ready to respond if they attack US forces on their way out. About 650 more ground troops, mostly Army Rangers, will be sent to Afghanistan as cover troops in the coming days to protect troops as they retreat, especially from remote areas.
The US is also sending additional artillery and missile systems to the army to protect the armed forces. The aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower will remain in the North Arabian Sea to carry out air strikes against the Taliban if necessary. And the Air Force has also positioned several B-52 bombers in the Gulf region.
“All of our armed forces are now preparing to reverse. Officially, the notification deadline will be May 1st, but at the same time as taking local action we have already started,” Miller told reporters when asked at a news conference in Kabul, when the American withdrawal from the bases had begun.
Officials have told CNN that once the withdrawal begins, efforts will be made to remove conventional forces and equipment as soon as possible if such equipment is not handed over to Afghan forces or destroyed on the spot.
The US intends to maintain military influence after the troops are gone
Last week, the senior U.S. general in charge of U.S. forces in the Middle East made it clear that the U.S. intends to maintain military influence and ability to conduct air strikes in Afghanistan after the withdrawal of American and NATO troops.
General Frank McKenzie, the commander of US Central Command, which also includes the Middle East and Afghanistan, told the Senate Armed Forces Committee that military planners are looking for ways to continue operations in the country after the withdrawal.
He said the US wants to be able to carry out counter-terrorism missions at least from the air with manned and unmanned aircraft, as well as carry out surveillance and reconnaissance.
“We will have an architecture in the theater that allows us to look to Afghanistan,” said McKenzie. “It won’t give us the same picture that we have now. It will allow us to look inside. The areas will be bigger, the resources will be bigger, the risks will all be bigger, but it will be possible to do these.” to do again. ” It is certainly not impossible, but we will not have the vision we have now. “
This story has been updated with additional reports.
CNN’s Betsy Klein, Jennifer Hansler, Nicole Gaouette and Arnaud Siad contributed to this report.