US and NATO troops have started to withdraw from Afghanistan, the White House and several alliance officials say, amid a reported surge in Taliban attacks.
"NATO Allies decided in mid-April to start the withdrawal of Resolute Support Mission forces by May 1 and this withdrawal has begun. This will be an orderly, coordinated, and deliberate process," a NATO official said.
The White House said earlier Thursday that US troops had started withdrawing, confirming comments made over the weekend by a senior US general.
President Joe Biden earlier this month announced the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan by September 11, four months later than the May 1 deadline agreed to with the Taliban by the previous administration of Donald Trump.
The decision came amid warnings by Taliban militants to resume attacks on US-led forces in the country.
The NATO official threatened a “forceful response” to any attacks by Taliban militants, who have opposed Biden’s postponement of withdrawing US forces from Afghanistan.
"Any Taliban attacks during the withdrawal will be met with a forceful response. We plan to have our withdrawal completed within a few months," the NATO official added, refusing to elaborate further on details about the timeline of the pullout.
Members of the US-led alliance agreed earlier this month to end their 9,600-strong mission in Afghanistan after Biden announced his decision to end Washington's longest war in US history.
Biden vowed to complete the troop withdrawal on September 11, 2021 on the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks that triggered the military invasion of Afghanistan.
Despite its pledge to withdraw, Washington has announced that it will temporarily deploy additional forces to Afghanistan to protect troops as they leave, thereby extending the presence of a US aircraft carrier in the region to support the pullout.
"The president's intent is clear: the US military departure from Afghanistan will not be rushed or hasty. It will be deliberate and conducted in a safe and responsible manner that ensures the protection of forces," White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre declared on Thursday.
"Potential adversaries should they attack us, our withdrawal, we will defend ourselves, our partners, with all the tools at our disposal. These deployments represent some of those tools," she said.
Taliban threaten to forcibly expel US forces
The Taliban have blamed Washington for “shamefully” breaching its agreement with the group on the withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan, threatening to drive out US troops from the country by force.
"The US shamefully breached the agreement on troop withdrawal from Afghanistan and the Americans have failed to adhere to their commitments," said Taliban spokesman Mohammed Naeem Wardak during an exclusive interview with Press TV on April 15, vowing the group will now forcibly expel the US forces from the country.
"Afghans have been engaged in jihad against the occupiers and defending themselves against foreign forces for 20 years," Wardak emphasized. "We have been fighting to make our country independent. We want to have an independent establishment to protect our people."
The Taliban spokesman further blamed US-led forces for a recent surge in violence across the war-ravaged country, saying, “US bombardments have forced us to expand our operations.”
The group has already threatened to resume attacks against foreign troops in Afghanistan if Washington fails to meet its original May 1 withdrawal deadline.
Washington claims it has achieved its aim of stopping Afghanistan from becoming a "haven for terrorists" after “uprooting” al-Qaeda networks, noting that it risks a never-ending military involvement in the Asian country if it does not pull out.
Study: US war cost $2.26 trillion, 241,000 lives
A recent US study found that Washington’s nearly 20-year military occupation of Afghanistan has cost the country $2.26 trillion, further insisting that the costs will continue to accumulate even after the US total withdrawal from the country.
In its Costs of War report released on April 16, Brown University’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs tallied the astounding expense of the longest US war by collecting estimated congressional appropriations for the military engagement, including operations in both Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan.
According to the report, the greatest single expense -- $933 billion, or 41 percent of the war's total costs -- came in the US Defense Department's Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) spending.
The report also revealed that the war’s second-largest cost was accrued interest expenses -- totaling $530 billion -- from borrowing funds to pay for the military engagement.
According to the report, up to 241,000 people have so far died in Afghanistan and Pakistan as a direct result of the war, including 2,442 American troops, six DoD civilians, 3,936 US contractors, and 1,144 allied troops.
The war also took the lives of between 66,000 and 69,000 Afghan national military members and police, as well as another 9,314 Pakistani troops and police forces, it added.
The study also estimated that more than 71,000 civilians -- roughly 47,000 in Afghanistan and 24,000 in Pakistan – were killed, along with over 51,000 opposition fighters in Afghanistan and nearly 33,000 more in Pakistan.