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AFP
May 2, 2021

US, Nato troops begin pullout from Afghanistan

Top Story

AFP
May 2, 2021

By Mariana Baabar

KABUL/ISLAMABAD: The United States formally began withdrawing its last troops from Afghanistan Saturday, bringing its longest war nearer to an end but also heralding an uncertain future for a country in the tightening grip of an emboldened Taliban.

US officials on the ground say the withdrawal is already a work in progress -- and May 1 is just a continuation -- but Washington has made an issue of the date because it is a deadline agreed with the Taliban in 2020 to complete the pullout.

The skies above Kabul and nearby Bagram airbase have been buzzing with more US helicopter activity than usual as the pullout gears up, following the start Thursday of a concurrent Nato withdrawal. Afghan security forces were on high alert for any possible attacks on retreating US troops. "The Americans will formally begin their withdrawal from Afghanistan starting May 1 and the Taliban might increase the violence," Acting Interior Minister Hayatullah Hayat told top police commanders, according to an audio clip given to reporters.

Afghan Acting Defence Minister Zia Yasin said US and allied troops will be leaving their bases across the country and gather at Bagram, the biggest American base in Afghanistan.

From Bagram "they will go to their respective countries", Yasin told reporters.

The prospect of an end to the US presence after 20 years comes despite fighting raging across the countryside in the absence of a peace deal. A stark reminder of what remains came late Friday with a car bomb in Pul-e-Alam, south of the capital, killing at least 24 people and wounding 110 more. US President Joe Biden is determined to end what he called "the forever war", announcing last month that the withdrawal of the remaining 2,500 American forces would be complete by the 20th anniversary of the September 11 attacks. "A horrific attack 20 years ago... cannot explain why we should remain there in 2021," he said. The Taliban said the US troop withdrawal was to be completed by May 1 as agreed in last year’s accord with Washington, and it was a "clear violation" that the troops were not fully out. "This in principle opens the way for our mujahideen to take appropriate action against the invading forces," Mohammad Naeem, a Taliban spokesman told AFP, adding that the group was awaiting orders from its leaders. Since the US withdrawal deal was struck, the Taliban have not directly engaged foreign troops, but have attacked government forces in the countryside.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani insists that government forces -- which for months have carried out most of the ground fighting against the Taliban -- are "fully capable" of keeping the insurgents at bay. The US-led military onslaught in Afghanistan began in October 2001 in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks.

Meanwhile, a joint statement by the governments of the United States, Russia, China and Pakistan on the occasion of the Extended ‘Troika’ on Peaceful Settlement in Afghanistan said that the withdrawal of the US and Nato forces from Afghanistan should ensure a steady transition of the situation in Afghanistan. The statement also said that during the withdrawal period, the peace process should not be disrupted, no fights or turbulence shall occur in Afghanistan, and the safety of international troops should be ensured.

On April 30, representatives of the extended ‘troika’ -- comprising the United States, Russia, China and Pakistan -- met in Doha, Qatar, to discuss ways to support intra-Afghan negotiations and help the parties reach a negotiated settlement and a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire.

The extended ‘troika’ also met representatives of Afghanistan’s negotiating team and of the Taliban and host Qatar.

The government of the Islamic Republic and the High Council for National Reconciliation were asked to engage openly with their Taliban counterparts regarding a negotiated settlement.

The ‘troika’ said it did not support the establishment in Afghanistan of any government imposed by force, consistent with the joint statement of the March 18 Expanded Troika.

The joint statement condemned in the strongest terms any attacks deliberately targeting civilians in Afghanistan and called on all parties to respect their obligations under international humanitarian law in all circumstances, including those related to protection of civilians.

It pointed out that that there is no military solution in Afghanistan and a negotiated political settlement through an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned process is the only way forward for lasting peace and stability in Afghanistan.

“We expect the Taliban to fulfill its counterterrorism commitments, including preventing terrorist groups and individuals from using Afghan soil to threaten the security of any other country; not hosting these groups and preventing them from recruiting, training, and fundraising. We expect the Afghan government to continue counterterrorism cooperation with the international community,” the statement said.

Addressing the Taliban, the statement reiterated its call on all parties to the conflict in Afghanistan to reduce the level of violence in the country and on the Taliban not to pursue a spring offensive.

Any peace agreement that is agreed upon must include protections for the rights of all Afghans, including women, men, children, victims of war, and minorities, and should respond to the strong desire of all Afghans for economic, social and political development including the rule of law, the statement said.

Mention was made of diplomatic personnel and property which shall be inviolable, and the perpetrators of any attack or threat on foreign diplomatic personnel and properties in Kabul will be held accountable.

A call was made for a durable and just political resolution that will result in the formation of an independent, sovereign, unified, peaceful, democratic, neutral and self-sufficient Afghanistan, free of terrorism and an illicit drug industry, which contributes to a safe environment for the voluntary, expeditious and sustainable return of Afghan refugees through a well-resourced plan; stability; and global security.