Washington (AP) – The Pentagon is preparing for a possible Taliban attack on US coalition forces as soon as it withdraws from Afghanistan, complicating the prospect of ending America’s longest-running war.
May 1 was the date when all other US foreign forces were due to leave for Afghanistan in 2020, between the Taliban and the Trump administration. According to the deal signed in February. Under the agreement, the Taliban stopped attacking US troops, and no one has been killed since. However, the Taliban said that the United States would consider violating the agreement in order to miss the full withdrawal deadline. Their representatives were unsure whether they intended to attack on May 1.
President Biden’s decision to continue the final but delayed withdrawal adds a new element of security risk as the remaining 2,500 to 3,500 US troops, as well as some 7,000 coalition troops and thousands of contractors, begin to leave. Biden said that everything would disappear by September 11, the day of the terrorist attacks in 2001, which prompted the United States to invade Afghanistan in the first place.
“We have to assume that this setback will be reversed,” Pentagon spokesman John von Kirby said Tuesday, explaining why Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin had decided to keep an aircraft carrier in the Middle East, move at least four B-52 bombers and parts. As a precautionary measure, a Ranger working group is leaving for the region.
“It would be irresponsible for us to assume that this tug-of-war, which is falling on both the US and our NATO allies, could be attacked by the Taliban,” Kirby added.
The chief of staff, General Mark Millie, told reporters on Thursday that leaving was “difficult, without risk”.
The newcomers usually plan worst-case scenarios to try to avoid surprises. Withdrawal from Afghanistan implies the movement of troops, materials, equipment, land and air, which may be vulnerable to attack. For security reasons, the details of the recall have not been released, but several White House and defense officials confirmed on Thursday that the delay had begun. Defense officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media, said some troops, described as “dozens”, had left the country in recent days.
The State Department is also taking precautions. On Tuesday, all embassy staff in Kabul were instructed to leave until their jobs were required in Afghanistan. The order exceeded the usual staff reductions for safety: safety reasons.
Even the most experienced American analysts on the Afghan conflict are not sure what to expect from the Taliban. Brux Riedel, a Middle East analyst at the Brooksing Institute and a former CIA analyst, wrote this week that it was unclear whether the rebels would try to disrupt the withdrawal, but he said it could escalate the war.
Afghanistan’s counter-terrorism expert Seth Jones, director of the Center for International Security’s international security program, says the Pentagon has wisely prepared for the attacks, although it believes the Taliban are likely to exercise restraint.
“They just want us to go,” he said in an interview. “And anything that complicates it, at least endangers the antidote.” Among other things, the assassination of the Americans may prompt the Biden administration to reconsider its withdrawal, which is already unpopular with many Republicans.
The possibility of resuming the conflict with the Taliban is one of the few uncertain aspects of the US withdrawal. The key question is whether the withdrawal will lead to the collapse of the Afghan government. The United States intends to continue counter-terrorism operations, if necessary, against al-Qaeda and other extremist groups in Afghanistan, but it is unclear where these forces will be located. It is unclear to what extent US coalition forces will continue to provide air and other military assistance to the Afghan security forces during and after the withdrawal.
General Frank McKenzie, who is in charge of US military operations in Afghanistan as head of US Central Command, has said little publicly about the possibility of resisting the Taliban.
“I would advise the Taliban that we be prepared to defend ourselves throughout the withdrawal process,” he told a Pentagon news conference last week.
The Pentagon is also concerned about the extent to which the Taliban continue to attack Afghan government forces during the US withdrawal. Milli said Wednesday that Afghan security forces are an “outer layer” of security for US coalition forces.
“When we go out, it will be a very important component, which we will watch very carefully. “The level of attacks by the Taliban on Afghan security forces,” said Millin McCain at the Sedona Forum. The latest trend is worrying, he says, with the Taliban carrying out dozens to 100 attacks a day, despite hopes of a ceasefire leading to a peace deal.
The U.S. military completed ground combat operations against the Taliban in 2014, providing training, consulting, and assistance to Afghan forces, including providing them with air support against the Taliban. The hope was that Afghan government forces could maintain their strength against the Taliban, a political settlement could be reached. Milli said the withdrawal of US coalition forces would test the Afghan government’s determination in unpredictable ways.
“In case of analysis of the worst cases, you have a possible collapse of the government, a possible military loss, you have a civil war, you have all the humanitarian catastrophe that comes with it,” he said. On the other hand, the Afghan military has extensive experience in countering insurgents. “So, it is not a predicted conclusion that, so to speak, Kabul will fall automatically,” he added.