Pentagon Prepares for Taliban Assault Throughout US Withdrawal – WISH-TV | Indianapolis Information | Indiana climate
WASHINGTON (AP) – The Pentagon is preparing for possible Taliban attacks on US and coalition forces withdrawing from Afghanistan. This prospect complicates the prospect of ending America’s longest war.
May 1 was the date all U.S. and other foreign forces were supposed to leave Afghanistan under a February 2020 agreement between the Taliban and the Trump administration. Under that deal, the Taliban stopped attacks on US troops, and no more have been killed since then. However, the Taliban said they would consider the United States to be in violation of the agreement because it missed the deadline for full withdrawal. Their representatives weren’t sure if they wanted to attack from May 1st.
President Joe Biden’s decision to proceed with a final but belated withdrawal adds a new element to the security risk as the remaining 2,500-3,500 American troops depart along with approximately 7,000 coalition troops and thousands of contractors. Biden has announced that by September 11th, the date of the 2001 terrorist attacks that led the US to invade Afghanistan in the first place, everything will be gone.
“We have to assume that this drawdown will be rejected,” Pentagon press secretary John Kirby explained on Tuesday why Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin decided to keep an aircraft carrier in the Middle East and at least four B-52 bombers and parts thereof to move an Army Ranger Task Force in the region as a precaution.
“It would be irresponsible for us not to assume that this withdrawal and withdrawing forces – both by Americans and our NATO allies – could be attacked by the Taliban,” added Kirby.
General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters who traveled with him Thursday that the withdrawal was “complex and not without risk.”
The military usually plan worst-case scenarios so as not to be caught off guard. The withdrawal from Afghanistan involves ground and air movements of troops, supplies and equipment that could be vulnerable to attack. Withdrawal details will not be released for security reasons, but the White House and several defense officials confirmed Thursday that the drawdown has begun. Defense officials, who discussed sensitive movements on condition of anonymity, said some troops – referred to as “dozen” – and military equipment have left the country in the past few days.
The State Department is also making arrangements. On Tuesday, it ordered all embassy staff in Kabul to leave unless their job requires them to be in Afghanistan. For security reasons, the order went far beyond the usual restriction on the number of employees.
Even the most seasoned American analysts on the Afghanistan conflict are unsure what to expect from the Taliban. Bruce Riedel, a Middle East analyst at the Brookings Institution and a former CIA analyst, wrote this week that it was unclear whether the insurgents will try to disrupt the retreat, but he says they could escalate the war.
Seth Jones, a counter-terrorism expert and Afghanistan director of the international security program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the Pentagon is wise to prepare for attack, although he believes the Taliban are likely to show restraint.
“They just want us to go,” he said in an interview. “And anything that starts to complicate things at least runs the risk of backfiring.” Among other things, the assassination of Americans could lead the Biden administration to reconsider the withdrawal, which is already very unpopular with many Republicans.
The ability to resume conflict with the Taliban is one of several uncertain aspects of the US withdrawal beyond the key question of whether the withdrawal will lead to the collapse of the Afghan government. The US intends to continue fighting terrorism against al-Qaeda and possibly other extremist groups in Afghanistan as needed, but it is not yet clear where these forces will be positioned. It is also unclear to what extent American and coalition forces will continue to provide air and other military support to Afghan security forces during and after the withdrawal.
General Frank McKenzie, head of US Central Command responsible for US military operations in Afghanistan, has said little publicly about the likelihood of Taliban resistance.
“I would advise the Taliban that we are well prepared to defend ourselves during the entire withdrawal process,” he said at a Pentagon press conference last week.
The extent to which the Taliban continue to attack Afghan government forces during the US withdrawal is also a concern of the Pentagon. Milley said Wednesday that Afghan security forces form “an outer layer of security” for American and coalition forces.
“If we pull back, that will be an important component that we will be monitoring very, very closely – the scale of the Taliban’s attacks on the Afghan security forces,” Milley said during an appearance at the McCain Institute’s Sedona Forum. The latest trend is worrying, with the Taliban carrying out a few dozen to 100 or more attacks a day, despite hopes for a ceasefire that will lead to a peace deal.
The US military ended its ground combat operations against the Taliban in 2014 and switched to training, advising and supporting the Afghan armed forces, including providing air protection against the Taliban. The hope was that the Afghan government troops would assert themselves against the Taliban and that a political agreement could be reached. The withdrawal of US and coalition forces will test the resolve of the Afghan government in unpredictable ways, Milley said.
“At worst, you have a possible collapse of the government, a possible collapse of the military, a civil war and the humanitarian catastrophe that goes with it,” he said. On the other hand, the Afghan military has a lot of experience in fighting the insurgents. “So it cannot be taken for granted that Kabul will fall automatically, so to speak,” he added.