US military begins final withdrawal from Afghanistan

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KABUL, AFGHANISTAN (NYTIMES) – The US military has begun its complete withdrawal from Afghanistan, the top US commander there said Sunday (April 25), marking what amounts to the beginning of the end of the United States’ nearly 20-year-old war in the country.

“I now have a set of orders,” said General Austin S. Miller, the head of the US-led coalition in Afghanistan, to a news conference of Afghan journalists at the US military’s headquarters in Kabul, the capital.

“We will conduct an orderly withdrawal from Afghanistan, and that means transitioning bases and equipment to the Afghan security forces.”

Miller’s remarks come almost two weeks after President Joe Biden announced that all US forces would be out of the country by Sept 11, the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks that propelled the United States into its long war in Afghanistan.

Biden’s announcement was greeted with uncertainty in Afghanistan, as it prepares for a future without a US and Nato military presence despite a Taleban insurgency that seems dead set on a military victory despite talks of peace.

If the Taleban return to power – either through force or being incorporated into the government – they are likely to roll back rights for women, as they did during their harsh rule in the late 1990s.

Holding the line for now are the Afghan security forces, which have endured a particularly difficult winter. Taleban offensives in the south and repeated attacks in the north despite the cold weather have meant mounting casualties ahead of what could be a violent summer as US and Nato forces withdraw. Although the Afghan military and police forces together are said to have around 300,000 personnel, the real number is suspected to be much lower.

“I often get asked how are the security forces? Can the security forces do the work in our absence?” Miller said. “And my message has always been the same: They must be ready.”

Miller added that “certain equipment” must be withdrawn from Afghanistan, “but wherever possible” the United States and international forces will leave behind materiel