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Germany completes troop pullout from Afghanistan, US mulls keeping 1,000

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)
German troops work on a military vehicle at the NATO military base Camp Marmal in Afghanistan on November 27, 2019. (Photo by AFP)

Germany says it has completed its troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, while the United States is reportedly seeking to keep up to 1,000 soldiers in the country after its formal withdrawal.

Germany, which had the second-largest contingent of troops in Afghanistan after the US, said the last of the troops were airlifted out of their base at Mazar-i-Sharif in northern Afghanistan on Tuesday.

“After nearly 20 years of deployment, the last soldiers of our Bundeswehr have left Afghanistan this evening,” said Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer.

“They are on the way back,” she said.

Kramp-Karrenbauer also offered her thanks to all the 150,000 men and women who had served in Afghanistan and paid tribute to those killed and wounded in service there.

“You will not be forgotten,” she said.

According to the army, 59 German soldiers were killed in Afghanistan since 2001.

Before the pullout began, Germany had 1,100 soldiers operating in Afghanistan. Among other NATO members, Britain, Italy, and Turkey also have a significant military presence in Afghanistan.

The US military, meanwhile, appears on track to complete its formal withdrawal ahead of the September 11 deadline set by President Joe Biden, according to US officials.

The officials, however, told Reuters on the condition of anonymity on Tuesday that around 650 troops would remain in Afghanistan. But citing a senior US official, CNN put the number of the troops that could remain at 1,000. The official said as many as 1,000 American troops could remain in the country to purportedly assist in securing the US Embassy in Kabul and the city’s airport.

Washington has called for NATO to protect Kabul airport for an undetermined period.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the US withdrawal will not necessarily mean the end of NATO’s Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan.

But a NATO spokesman told AFP on Tuesday, “The withdrawal of forces is proceeding in an orderly and coordinated manner.”

“While we reduce our military presence, we are continuing to support Afghanistan, by ensuring training and financial support for the security forces and the Afghan institutions, by maintaining a diplomatic presence in Kabul and by financing the functioning of the international airport,” the sourced said.

NATO announced its decision to start and complete its own troop withdrawal within a few months in April.

US seeking to complete deal with Turkey to secure Kabul airport

Maintaining safe access to Kabul International Airport, which has for years been a main gateway to Afghanistan, has now become a concern for Washington and its allies. They are now seeking to complete a deal for Turkey to keep forces in place to secure the airport.

“Security at the airport in whatever form or fashion it takes will be important, not only for the United States, but for any other nation that likewise plans to maintain a diplomatic presence in Kabul,” said Kirby, the Pentagon spokesman.

Turkey, a NATO member, currently has about 600 troops in Afghanistan. Negotiations are underway to determine the details of how the mission to secure the airport in the Afghan capital would work after the formal withdrawal of all foreign forces.

Washington and Ankara agreed this month on the outlines of a potential plan. According to Pentagon officials, Turkey is expected to provide 600 to 1,000 troops to secure the airport. Turkey’s Defense Minister Hulusi Akar has said that Ankara would not be sending additional troops to increase its contingent in Afghanistan.

The Taliban, meanwhile, called on Turkey to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan under a deal reached between the US and the Afghan militants in Qatar’s capital, Doha, last year.

Analysts warn that the full withdrawal of foreign forces and the growing strength of the Taliban could lead to the fall of the Afghan government in six months to two years. The Pentagon says the Taliban now control 81 of the country’s 419 district centers.

The top US general in Afghanistan, General Austin Miller, said on Tuesday that the rapid loss of districts to the Taliban was worrisome. Miller refused to give any time-frame for completing the troop pullout.

The Pentagon has pulled more than 50 percent of its troops out of Afghanistan.

Five years of ruling Afghanistan by the Taliban came to an end following the US-led invasion of the country in 2001. The militant group was removed but not incapacitated, and Afghanistan continues to be ravaged by persistent militant attacks.

Thousands of Afghan civilians have lost their lives over the past two decades of conflict, with Washington having spent hundreds of billions of dollars on the Afghan war.

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