As U.S. forces are preparing to start the final withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan in the coming days, the Pentagon expressed wariness about the potential for renewed Taliban attacks on those forces leaving the country.
In a Tuesday press briefing, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said, “It would be irresponsible for us not to assume that this drawdown and — and forces drawing down, both American and from our NATO allies, could be attacked by the Taliban.”
Kirby provided that comment in response to a question about whether the U.S. expects the Taliban to intensify the fighting in Afghanistan in a so-called “spring offensive.”
“Without getting into intelligence assessments, you know, certainly, we have seen in these last 20 years that in the spring and summer months, the Taliban increased their activities,” Kirby said. “And as I’ve said, regardless of the season in which we are, we have to assume, and we are assuming that this drawdown could be opposed and resisted by the Taliban.”
Kirby’s comments come after President Joe Biden announced earlier this month that the U.S. would begin its final withdrawal from Afghanistan on May 1 and complete it by Sept. 11, on the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 Al Qaeda attacks, for which the U.S. responded with the invasion of Afghanistan. Biden’s timeline pushes back a withdrawal deadline negotiated by President Donald Trump, which would have all U.S. troops out of the country by May 1.
Even before Biden announced his delayed troop withdrawal, the Taliban launched a rocket attack at a U.S. base in Afghanistan. As Biden officially announced the withdrawal timeline, the Taliban threatened those who stayed beyond the May 1 deadline would face repercussions.
The U.S. has already taken measures to protect troops withdrawing from Afghanistan over the coming months. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has approved an extension of the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower’s current deployment in the Middle East for an undisclosed “period of time” during the U.S. withdrawal period and Kirby said two U.S. Air Force B-52 bombers have arrived in the region as part of an effort to bolster security during the withdrawal.
Military sources have also claimed elite U.S. Army Rangers will deploy to provide an extra ground force security for the withdrawing troops.
“We already talked about the carrier,” Kirby said on Tuesday. “We talked about the bombers yesterday. And as I said yesterday, there’s certainly, without getting into details, the likelihood that, you know, some additional ground force elements, too, could be introduced into Afghanistan to help us with a safe and orderly drawdown.”
On Tuesday, Kirby faced additional questions about whether the U.S. would continue to provide air support for the Afghan government during the troop withdrawal, or whether the U.S. mission to advise and assist Afghan forces would end on May 1st. Kirby said, “I’m not going to get into hypotheticals . . . or specific tactical potentialities.”