European NATO-led troops leave Afghanistan, US ‘may complete withdrawal’ before July 4

Several European countries, including Germany, have announced full troop withdrawals from Afghanistan. The US may formally complete its own withdrawal within days, though some Americans will stay behind. Read Full Article at RT.com

European NATO-led troops leave Afghanistan, US ‘may complete withdrawal’ before July 4

Several European countries, including Germany, have announced full troop withdrawals from Afghanistan. The US may formally complete its own withdrawal within days, though some Americans will stay behind.

German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer announced that the country’s troops have completely pulled out of Afghanistan after being part of a NATO mission for nearly two decades.

“Tonight, the last soldiers of the Bundeswehr have safely left Afghanistan,” she wrote on Twitter on Tuesday. “After 20 years, our most intensive overseas deployment has come to an end.

“This marks the end of a historic chapter – an intense commitment that has challenged and shaped us,” Kramp-Karrenbauer said.

The minister thanked more than 150,000 personnel who served in Afghanistan since Germany joined the US-led NATO invasion of the country in 2001. The allies launched their campaign shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks to fight the Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants.

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According to German media, around 20 commandos took off on a final flight from Camp Marmal air base near the northern Afghan city of Mazar-i-Sharif, after which the base was formally handed over to the Afghan Army. 

Roughly 1,300 German troops were providing training for Afghan military and security forces as part of NATO’s Resolute Support mission. During the war, Germany lost 59 soldiers, including 35 who were killed in combat, according to the Tagesschau news website.

Italy likewise moved its troops out of Afghanistan, the country’s Defense Ministry announced on Wednesday, after dozens of soldiers traveled from the city of Herat to the international airport in Pisa. Italy had more than 800 troops deployed as part of the NATO-led force.

“Last night, the Italian mission in Afghanistan officially ended,” Defense Minister Lorenzo Guerini said in a statement. He added that “the international community’s commitment to Afghanistan, starting with Italy, does not end here. It will continue in other forms, from strengthening development cooperation to supporting Afghan republican institutions.”

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Also this week, the last soldiers from the Czech Republic and Georgia returned from Afghanistan to their respective home nations. Georgia, which is not a NATO member, maintained a contingent roughly the same size as Italy’s. The Eastern European ally contributed some 50 troops.

The European pullout comes as the Pentagon is set to recall its own forces from Afghanistan by September 11, 2021, as ordered by President Joe Biden in April. However, the leading NATO member may announce the completion of the “retrograde,” as it is dubbed by the US military, before the national holiday on July 4, according to CNN’s sources. The news channel said the formal conclusion of the withdrawal may happen “within days,” citing unnamed defense officials.

This, however, will not mean there would be no US military service members left on the ground in Afghanistan. As many as 1,000 of them will stay behind to secure the US embassy in Kabul and the city’s airport. Special operations troops, of which there are said to be dozens, are expected to maintain their presence as well. Before Biden’s order, there were some 2,500 US troops reportedly stationed in Afghanistan, excluding the secretive commandos.

The withdrawal was first ordered by the Donald Trump administration, which signed a peace deal with the Taliban in February 2020. The Biden administration didn’t complete the extraction by the deadline set in that agreement, but decided to carry it out on its own schedule, despite pressure from generals to reverse the decision altogether.

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The looming withdrawal of US soldiers increases fears that the Taliban, who have been gaining ground in recent months, will crush the Western-backed government in Kabul and once again take control of the country.

The militants seized the town of Sher Khan Bandar near the Afghan-Tajik border this month and claimed to have captured 90 districts since mid-May. NBC News quoted a Taliban commander as saying last week that the militants were surprised at the speed of their own advance.

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