The United States says it has deployed extra warplanes to Afghanistan to protect its troops as they leave the country after two decades of war and occupation.
General Scott Miller, the commander of the foreign forces in Afghanistan, said F-18 attack warplanes had been deployed to the Asian country to protect US and coalition troops, who are making a final withdrawal from the country.
He said on Friday that the aircraft were added to a previously announced package of vehicles and forces deployed to the region.
The Pentagon has earlier dispatched the USS Dwight Eisenhower aircraft carrier to the north Arabian Sea and six air force B-52 bombers to an airbase in Qatar.
Several hundred army rangers are also part of that previously announced package.
The United States kicked off the final phase of its withdrawal from Afghanistan on Saturday.
Before the withdrawal began, US officials said the Taliban would possibly attempt to interfere in the process, which is supposed to be completed by September 11.
Under an agreement that was reached between the Taliban and the administration of former US President Donald Trump in Qatar last year, foreign forces were to have left Afghanistan by May 1.
The Trump administration 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.
The militants also pledged not to attack the US-led foreign forces.
President Joe 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.
The Taliban, meanwhile, have said they are no longer bound by the agreement to refrain from targeting international forces, as Washington has missed the original deadline.
Speaking alongside US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin at a Pentagon news conference, Miller also said, “There continue to be sustained levels of violent attacks” by the Taliban against Afghan security forces.
“There’s a significant military capability in the Afghan government,” Miller said. “We have to see how this plays out.”
He acknowledged that there had been no attacks against US or foreign forces since they began pulling out of the country, though.
He made the remarks as Afghanistan ramped up security in the capital, Kabul, and other major cities for the US withdrawal.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has said his government forces are fully capable of keeping the militants at bay.
He noted that the withdrawal of the US and NATO forces would 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 of power to the Taliban.
But Austin said that holding off the Taliban without US support on the ground “will be a challenge” for Kabul.
“We’re hopeful that the Afghan security forces will play a major role in stopping the Taliban,” Austin said. “What we’re seeing unfold is what we expected to unfold — increased pressure” on the Afghan forces.
US considers training Afghan forces in third country
Miller also pointed out that the Pentagon was considering options for the continued support of Afghan government forces after the troop withdrawal was complete.
He said options would possibly include training Afghan security forces in a third country.
“We haven’t figured that out 100% yet,” Miller said.
Retired US Army General David Petraeus admitted earlier this week that Biden’s decision to withdraw the US troops from Afghanistan would neither end the war nor stop Washington’s meddling in that country.
Petraeus said that the military withdrawal from Afghanistan would only end US “involvement in that war militarily.”
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.