U.S. troops in Afghanistan are preparing to begin the final troop withdrawal from the country after nearly 20 years at war.
During a Sunday press conference, Gen. Austin “Scott” Miller, the commander of U.S. Forces-Afghanistan, said, “All of our forces are now preparing to retrograde. Officially the notification date will be the first of May, but at the same time as we start taking local actions, we’ve already begun that.”
Miller’s comments align with an order announced two weeks ago by President Joe Biden for U.S. troops to begin the final withdrawal from Afghanistan on May 1 and complete it by Sept. 11, on the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks that set off the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan and the larger War on Terror.
There are currently between 2,500 and 3,500 U.S. troops remaining in Afghanistan.
Miller vowed U.S. forces would withdraw from Afghanistan in an orderly manner but warned the Afghan government “must be ready” to take over.
“I often get asked how are the security forces? Can the security forces do the work in our absence?” Miller said, according to the New York Times. “And my message has always been the same: They must be ready.”
Miller said as U.S. forces in Afghanistan draw down to zero, the U.S. will turn over many bases to the Ministry of Defense and other Afghan forces.
Miller said there is “certain equipment that we must take back” but, wherever possible, the U.S. will turn over equipment to the Afghan government forces to ensure that the Afghan security forces have the bases, pieces of equipment, parts that are necessary for the functioning of the military.”
Miller also called on the Taliban to meet its end of a U.S.-Taliban peace agreement, by cutting ties with terrorist groups like Al Qaeda.
“As far as the relationship between the Taliban and Al Qaeda, the Taliban have to break that relationship,” Miller said. “That is something that they have committed to and the world expects them to break that relationship and certainly that Afghanistan will never be used again as a safe haven for terrorism.”
Biden’s decision to start the final withdrawal of U.S. troops by May 1 and complete it by Sept. 11, pushes back a timeline set out by President Donald Trump, to complete the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan by May 1.
The Taliban has called the new timeline a violation and has vowed to hold responsible those forces remaining in Afghanistan after May 1.
“The Taliban have claimed we’ve violated the agreement and that they have no violations. We know that’s not true. If the Taliban attack US or any coalition forces, we will have a forceful response if our forces are attacked,” Miller said.
The Associated Press reported Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin approved an extension of USS Dwight D. Eisenhower’s current deployment in the Middle East for an undisclosed “period of time” during the U.S. withdrawal period. Pentagon spokesman John Kirby also 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.
Two other defense officials told the Associated Press that hundreds of Army Rangers will be deployed in Afghanistan to provide security while the main component of U.S. forces withdraws.