Australia is set to close their embassy in Kabul this week as US and NATO troops continue efforts to fulfill a final withdrawal from Afghanistan by Sep. 11. Australian concerns for the safety and security of their personnel has prompted the temporary closure.
Following an uptick in attacks which have targeted journalists and Shiite Muslims in the Afghan capital, several other foreign embassies have sent home non-essential workers with fears of further violence following the continued departure of foreign troops, the Associated Press reported.
American forces were originally set to be fully withdrawn by May 1, 2021 under a peace deal established during the Trump Administration between the US, Taliban and the Afghan government in Kabul. The plan “envisaged US troops leaving Afghanistan within 14 months, as long as the militant group sticks to the agreement,” reported Sputnik News.
However, President Biden has extended the deadline to Sep. 11 following the immense logistical burden of removing American forces from the middle eastern nation. The date serves as a symbolic withdrawal from 20 years of fighting, the longest war fought by American forces, commonly touted by American leaders as the “forever war.”
“In a statement earlier this week, U.S. Central Command said it had completed about 25% of its withdrawal. The logistics of withdrawing are tremendous and according to the CENTCOM statement departing troops have already packed military equipment on to 160 C-17 cargo aircraft and shipped them back to America,” wrote The Washington Post.
Although the Kabul government and US Special Representative to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad both stated they do not believe the Taliban will take over the entire country following the pullout, US Marine General Kenneth McKenzie, head of US Central Command, stated during a April 22 Senate Armed Services committee hearing that he is concerned that the Afghan military will collapse following the withdrawal.
“I am concerned about the ability of the Afghan military to hold on after we leave, the ability of the Afghan Air Force to fly, in particular, after we remove the support for those aircraft,” McKenzie stated during the hearing, reports CNBC.
McKenzie stated Afghan forces fighting the Taliban for control over the nation have grown to rely on American and NATO support over several years and the withdrawal of forces could leave Afghan forces struggling to defend the Kabul government. The Taliban has already made significant advances.
“Dozens of temporary Taliban checkpoints now dot the main highways leading into and out of the Afghan capital, according to eight local officials, and more than 10 permanent outposts have been established by militants along the country’s main north-south highway. Many of the new permanent outposts are checkpoints abandoned by government forces stretched thin by the U.S. drawdown, pushed out by expanding Taliban influence, or both,” reports The Washington Post.
“The Taliban’s encroachment on critical roadways is one of many signs that the group is undiminished after 20 years of war and appears to be pressing for a military victory as foreign military support for Afghan security forces is cut back.”
Following the delay of American troops, the Taliban threatened US forces in a statement on Twitter, stating the US had violated the Trump-era agreement in their eyes.
“As withdrawal of foreign forces from #Afghanistan by agreed upon May 1st deadline has passed, this violation in principle has opened the way for [Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan] Mujahidin to take every counteraction it deems appropriate against the occupying forces,” Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid tweeted.
Despite the threats, President Biden has maintained his commitment to withdraw American forces which has raised speculation the US could be searching for a neighboring country to establish air bases. Speculation centers on Pakistan.
However, in a statement made on Wednesday, the Taliban warned neighboring nations to not host American forces. Considering Pakistan granted America several air bases on its soil following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Taliban was most likely aiming the threat towards Islamabad.
“If such a step is taken again, it will be a great and historic mistake and disgrace,” the insurgents said, adding that they would “not remain silent in the face of such heinous and provocative acts,” reports Radio Free Pakistan.
However, U.S. military spokesman in Afghanistan, Sonny Leggett, stated “that speculations the United States is seeking to set up military bases in Pakistan are ‘false.'”
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