Major airfield comes under attack as US formally begins withdrawing from Afghanistan

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
In this file photo taken on October 27, 2014, US Marines board a C-130J Super Hercules transport aircraft headed to Kandahar. (By AFP)

A major international airfield in Afghanistan has come under attack as the United States officially begins pulling out its troops from the country in what President Joe Biden has called ending “the forever war.”

The final phase of ending America's 20-year war in Afghanistan was formally launched Saturday.

The remaining US and NATO forces -- about 2,500-3,500 US troops and about 7,000 NATO soldiers, will leave Afghanistan by the end of summer.

Meanwhile, Sonny Leggett, the US miliatry spokesman in Afghanistan, confirmed in a tweet on Sunday that “Kandahar Airfield received ineffective indirect fire this afternoon," adding the attack had caused no human or material losses.

“US Forces conducted a precision strike this evening, destroying additional rockets aimed at the airfield,” he added. Leggett also warned that the Taliban’s “return to violence would be one senseless & tragic.”

Police Chief of Kandahar Sharifullah Sartayib confirmed the attack on the airfield, formerly called Kandahar International Airport, saying two rockets were fired but there was no damage to the airfield.

Four other rockets, he said, had been founded and defused in the city of Arghistan, which were also ready to launch at targets at the airport.

The attack came after the Pentagon formally began the process of withdrawing the last American and NATO troops from Afghan soil on Saturday.

Officials have said the withdrawal, which is the final phase of ending the US presence in Afghanistan after 20 years, will be completed by September 11.

Under an agreement that was reached between the Taliban and the administration of former president Donald Trump in Qatar last year, foreign forces were to have left Afghanistan by Saturday (May 1).

Washington pledged to withdraw its forces in exchange for the Taliban cutting all ties with al-Qaeda and agreeing to begin negotiations with Kabul toward a ceasefire and peace accord.

President Biden, however, pushed back the May 1 deadline, saying his administration would be completing the military exit by the 20th anniversary of the September 11, 2001, attacks.

Defense Department officials and diplomats say the US military now faces a range of logistical challenges as it packs up to leave Afghanistan.

The Associated Press (AP) cited officials as saying that only about 60 military personnel had left Afghanistan since Biden announced his plan in mid-April. The withdrawal has also involved closure of smaller bases over the last year, they said.

Washington has said it will temporarily deploy additional forces to Afghanistan to protect US troops as they leave, thereby extending the presence of a US aircraft carrier in the region to support the pullout.

The Taliban, meanwhile, have warned they are no longer bound by any agreement not to target international forces.

Taliban military spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the passing of the May 1 deadline for a complete withdrawal “opened the way for” the militants to take every counteraction they deem appropriate against foreign forces in Afghanistan.

The remarks promoted General Scott Miller, commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, to issue his own warning to the Taliban.

“Make no mistake,” Miller said, US forces “have the military means to respond forcefully to any type of attacks against the coalition and the military means to support the Afghan security forces.”

Afghanistan has also ramped up security in the capital, Kabul, as the city braces for a possibe reaction from the Taliban.

Observers have already warned that the withdrawal of US forces will intensify violence in Afghanistan in the absence of a peace deal between the Taliban and the Afghan government.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, however, said his government forces are fully capable of keeping militants at bay.

He noted that the withdrawal of US and NATO forces will remove any pretext for the Taliban to continue launching attacks.

“Who are you killing? What are you destroying? Your pretext of fighting the foreigners is now over,” Ghani said.

The president also offered a share in power to the Taliban.

Afghanistan has seen a flare up in violence in recent weeks.

A huge bomb blast hit the eastern province of Logar on Friday evening, killing at least 27 people.

No group has claimed responsibility, but officials quickly accused the Taliban of being behind the attack.

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