ISLAMABAD - The top U.S. military commander in Afghanistan says the process of completely removing American troops from the conflict-torn country has already begun.
Gen. Scott Miller told local reporters in the Afghan capital, Kabul, Sunday that all of his troops “are now preparing to retrograde” under orders he had received.
Miller spoke nearly two weeks after U.S. President Joe Biden announced the last remaining 3,000 or so U.S. troops will be withdrawn by September 11 — the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon outside Washington. Biden said the military drawdown will start May 1 to close nearly 20 years of war, America’s longest.
Miller commands both U.S. troops and NATO’s noncombatant Resolute Support military mission in the country.
NATO allies have promised to match the action and withdraw around 7,000 of their forces, as well, in line with an agreement Washington negotiated with the Afghan Taliban insurgency a year ago.
“We will conduct an orderly withdrawal from Afghanistan, and that means transitioning bases and equipment to the Afghan security forces,” the general said.
The United States and its allies launched a military invasion of the country days after the deadly September 11, 2001, terror strikes to punish the then-Taliban rulers for harboring and allowing al-Qaida leaders to plot the carnage.
The military action swiftly ousted the Islamist group from power in Kabul before the Taliban regrouped and launched a deadly insurgency against Afghan and U.S.-led international forces, reestablishing control over wide swathes of Afghanistan.
The February 2020 U.S.-Taliban agreement had required all foreign forces to leave Afghanistan by May 1, a week from now, but Biden cited logistical reasons for pushing back the deadline.
The insurgents, who halted attacks on foreign troops after signing the agreement, denounced the delay as a violation of the mutually agreed upon deadline, and threatened to resume hostilities against U.S. forces as they withdraw from Afghanistan.
Miller said his forces continue to retain "the military means and capability to fully protect themselves during the ongoing retrograde and will support the Afghan security forces.”
He rejected allegations the United States had violated the deal and warned of a forceful response if the Taliban attacked foreign forces.
The American general, who was part of the U.S. team that negotiated the landmark pact with the insurgents, advised the Taliban to follow a political path to peace and desist from “senseless violence” to help bring an end to the years of hostilities.
"I've had the opportunity to talk to Taliban members with the Taliban Political Commission, and I've told them a return to violence, an effort to force a military decision, would be a tragedy for Afghanistan and the Afghan people,” said Miller, who spoke at the U.S. military headquarters in Kabul.
There are fears Afghan security forces will collapse in battles against the Taliban in the absence of U.S. assistance that could lead to more conflict and bloodshed.
The U.S. general reminded the Taliban they are bound under the agreement to break ties with al-Qaida militants to ensure Afghanistan will never be used as a haven for terrorism.
The United Nations reported this past January that there were about 500 al-Qaida operatives in Afghanistan and that the Taliban maintained close contacts with them. The Taliban denied an al-Qaida presence in the country and rejected charges they were in close contact.
The Afghan war to date has claimed an estimated 241,000 lives, including civilians and both local as well as combatants from international forces, and cost the U.S. at least $2.4 trillion, according to a new U.S. study published last week.