The Pentagon expects formal orders to begin the U.S. exit from Afghanistan to come very soon, as concerns grow about renewed Taliban attacks on U.S. forces once they miss the May 1 deadline to withdraw from the country, according to two defense officials.
A day after President Joe Biden announced his decision to leave Afghanistan by Sept. 11, the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks that plunged America into the nation's longest war, no formal orders have yet come down through official channels. One of the defense officials familiar with the discussions said they expect formal orders to begin withdrawing troops and equipment "ASAP."
This means U.S. troops could start leaving Afghanistan before May 1, the date Biden said the withdrawal is expected to start, the officials said.
"The United States will begin our final withdrawal, begin it on May 1 of this year. We will not conduct a hasty rush to the exit. We'll do it responsibly, deliberately and safely," Biden said on Wednesday in a speech announcing the decision.
The Pentagon will likely first reinforce the roughly 3,500 troops currently in Afghanistan with logistics and security to ensure a safe withdrawal, said the defense officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss future plans. That could mean sending additional personnel into the country before the full exit, but the details are still being worked out.
A spokesperson for U.S. Forces-Afghanistan did not immediately respond to a request for comment. A Pentagon spokesperson declined to comment. A spokesperson for the National Security Council also declined to comment beyond the president's remarks.
Even as they plan for a full exit, U.S. commanders are concerned that the Taliban will renew attacks on U.S. troops in Afghanistan, which had largely stopped since the February 2020 peace agreement. That deal stipulated that U.S. forces would leave Afghanistan by May 1.
The Taliban signaled on Wednesday that Biden's decision to extend the presence of U.S. forces in Afghanistan would prompt violence.
“If the [Doha] agreement is breached and foreign forces fail to exit our country on the specified date, problems will certainly be compounded and those whom failed to comply with the agreement will be held liable,” Taliban spokesperson Zabiullah Mujahid tweeted Wednesday.
The Taliban also indicated that they would not cooperate with intra-Afghan peace talks until all U.S. and NATO troops leave Afghanistan. Hours after the news of Biden's decision broke on Tuesday, the group announced its representatives would not attend a planned peace conference in Turkey aimed at reviving stalled talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government.
"Until all foreign forces completely withdraw from our homeland, the Islamic Emirate will not participate in any conference that shall make decisions about Afghanistan,” tweeted Mohammad Naeem, the spokesperson for the Taliban’s political office.
In announcing the unconditional withdrawal, Biden went against the advice of his top military advisers, including Gen. Mark Milley, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who argued for leaving a small U.S. presence on the ground to keep the Taliban in check and prevent Afghanistan from once again becoming a haven for terrorists, POLITICO reported Wednesday.
Asked during a visit to NATO headquarters on Wednesday whether the military supported the decision to withdraw, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said the decision-making process was “inclusive.”
“Their voices were heard and their concerns taken into consideration as the president made his decision,” Austin said. “But now the decision has been made, I call upon them to lead their forces … through this transition.”
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