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Thursday, June 24, 2021

US fighter jets arrive in Qatar’s Al Udeid Air Base amid Afghanistan withdrawal

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The US has been preparing for a complete troop withdrawal from Afghanistan by September 11th.

Two additional US Air Force B-52H Stratofortress aircrafts arrived in Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar on Tuesday, the US Air Forces Central announced.

The latest arrival of jets follow four other B-52’s in late April, in a move to ensure protection as Washington withdraws its troops from Afghanistan.

“US Central Command is committed to providing the necessary force protection to ensure the drawdown is conducted in a safe manner,” read the statement on Tuesday.

The Al Udeid Air Base is is the biggest American military outpost in the MENA region and hosts at least 10,000 US military members as well as over 100 aircrafts.

Read also: ‘Extended Troika’ urges calm as US begins troop withdrawal

The US Central Command said on Tuesday that the estimated completion of the  withdrawal process currently stands at about 2-6%.

“Since the President’s decision, the US has retrograded the equivalent of approximately 60 C-17 loads of material out of Afghanistan and have turned over more than 1,300 pieces of equipment to the Defense Logistics Agency for destruction,” it said in a statement.

The US formally began the withdrawal of its forces on Saturday, in efforts to pull out the remaining 2,500-to-3,500 troops and 7,000 NATO soldiers by September 11th.

The New York Times [NYT] reported that the Pentagon has been discussing with allies where to reposition forces amid potential threats during the withdrawal process.

“We will not take our eye off the terrorist threat. We’ll reorganise our counterterrorism capabilities and the substantial assets in the region to prevent reemergence of terrorists of the threat to our homeland from over the horizon,” said US President Joe Biden in a televised address from the White House on April 14th.

The report said the repositioning could possibly take place in Tajikistan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, the NYT cited US officials.

Last month, Head of of the US Central Command Kenneth McKenzie said his country is willing to remain involved in Afghanistan despite the withdrawal, expressing concerns over the Afghan military’s ability to “hold the ground” after troops exit the country.

“I am concerned about the ability of the Afghan military to hold on after we leave, the ability of the Afghan air force to fly, in particular, after we remove the support for those aircraft,” said McKenzie during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing.

Meanwhile, tensions have surfaced in the ongoing Afghan peace process since Biden’s announcement to completely pull out US forces by September 11th without conditions, as opposed to the initial May 1st deadline stipulated in a February agreement signed with the Taliban in Doha last year.

“We’ll hold the Taliban accountable for its commitment not to allow any terrorists to threaten the United States or its allies from Afghan soil. The Afghan government has made that commitment to us as well,” added Biden in the televised statement.

The Taliban responded to the announcement of the new deadline last month by accusing Washington of failing to fulfill its obligation to the February accord.

In a statement on Saturday, Taliban military spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the passing of the May 1 deadline “opened the way for [Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan] mujahidin to take every counteraction it deems appropriate against the occupying forces”.

Deadly clashes

More than 100 insurgents were dead in clashes that erupted between Afghan government forces and the Taliban this week as the US handed over Camp Antonik in the southern Helmand province to Afghan forces.

Afghanistan’s Ministry of Defence reported clashes between the Taliban and government forces across several provinces, including in Kandahar where the US military carried out a “precision strike” on Saturday.

Camp Antonik will reportedly be used by Afghanistan’s special forces that have been trained in counter-terrorism operations by the US military and NATO.

Russia, the US, China, and Pakistan have called on all parties involved in the Afghan conflict to reduce the level of violence in Kabul, urging the Taliban to “fulfill its counterterrorism commitments” and not to pursue its spring offensive.

“We stress that during the withdrawal period, the peace process should not be disrupted, no fights or turbulence shall occur in Afghanistan, and the safety of international troops should be ensured,” read a statement by the extended troika.

The initial peace process to end the decades-long conflict initially began in Qatar in 2019, when all parties involved in the war first met face-to-face in efforts to reach a settlement.


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