The United States has dispatched two additional bombers to Qatar to carry out airstrikes in Afghanistan if needed, as the Pentagon and NATO begin a complete troop withdrawal from the Asian country in earnest in the coming days.
The US Air Force said in a statement that two B-52H Stratofortress bombers had “arrived at al Udeid Air Base, Qatar,” on Monday.
The bombers, it said, “are joining two other B-52 bombers” that arrived at the base last week and would be responsible for ensuring the protection of US and other NATO forces on the ground in Afghanistan if needed as they will be leaving the country, starting on May 1.
That withdrawal process is supposed to be completed by September 11.
In addition to the aircraft deployment, the Pentagon is also assembling a force of around 650 troops to send to Afghanistan to protect US forces as they leave the Asian country, according to several military officials.
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin approved the deployment late last week.
Citing US military officials, CNN previously reported that military equipment was already being packed and shipped out of Afghanistan.
Austin has previously admitted extending the deployment of an aircraft carrier and bombers to the region to carry out strikes if needed.
General Scott Miller, who has been commanding the foreign forces in Afghanistan, said on Sunday that the forces would continue to have “the military means and capability to fully protect themselves during the ongoing retrograde and will support the Afghan security forces.”
“As we retrograde to zero US forces, we will turn over the (military) bases primarily to the (Afghan) Ministry of Defense and other Afghan forces,” Miller said.
US President Joe Biden plans to end the US’s longest war, but he is trying to maintain military influence and the ability to carry out airstrikes in Afghanistan at the same time, US military officials say.
Frank McKenzie, the commander of US Central Command, also told the Senate Armed Services Committee last week that military planners were looking at ways to continue operations in the country following the withdrawal.
He acknowledged that the Pentagon sought to be able to conduct airstrikes through the use of manned and unmanned aircraft, as well as carry out surveillance and reconnaissance in Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, the Taliban have threatened to resume attacks against foreign troops in Afghanistan if Washington fails to meet a May 1 deadline agreed between the militants and the former US administration.
The US attacked Afghanistan in 2001, claiming that the Taliban were harboring al-Qaeda. The invasion removed a Taliban regime from power, but prompted widespread militancy and insecurity across the Asian country.
The war has taken countless lives, including of Afghan civilians.