Afghan government announces killing of hundreds of insurgents as US withdrawal accelerates


Published: 2021-07-03 18:50

Last Updated: 2024-04-18 15:27

Afghan government announces killing of hundreds of insurgents as US withdrawal accelerates
Afghan government announces killing of hundreds of insurgents as US withdrawal accelerates

The Afghan authorities confirmed Saturday that hundreds of Taliban fighters were killed during fierce battles against government forces in several states, hours after Washington announced that the withdrawal of all its soldiers from the country would be completed by the end of August.

Washington's announcement came shortly after all US forces left Bagram Air Base, the largest in Afghanistan, from which the international coalition launched its operations against the Taliban for two decades, and handed it over to the Afghan army.

Saturday, the Afghan Ministry of Defense reported that more than 300 insurgents had been killed in the previous 24 hours, and that about fifty of them had been killed in air strikes, in Helmand province in the south of the country, which witnesses frequent confrontations between government forces and the Taliban.

Observers fear that the Afghan army will face the Taliban in the absence of US air support.

"In recent days, the Afghan air force has intensified its strikes against Taliban targets, and the rebels have suffered losses," Helmand provincial council member Attaullah Afghani told AFP.

The Taliban denied this. Both camps often overestimate counterparty losses and it is often difficult to independently verify the numbers they report.

Since the start of the final withdrawal of US forces on May 1, the Taliban have escalated their attacks against Afghan forces and seized control of several rural areas, while the army is working to fortify its positions in major cities, most of which are surrounded by insurgents.

The Taliban confirmed Saturday that it had taken control of seven additional districts in Badakhshan Province (northeast).

But the escalation of fighting and pressure from the Taliban did not prevent the United States from accelerating its withdrawal from the country to end the longest war in its history.

In May, about 9,500 foreign military personnel were deployed in Afghanistan, about 2,500 of whom were Americans.

Friday, the US military and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) left the Bagram base, located 50 kilometers north of Kabul, a major step that reflects the approaching date of the end of NATO's military presence in the country.

- 'History repeats itself' -

The ability of the Afghan army to secure its presence at Bagram airport may be one of the keys to maintaining security on the outskirts of Kabul and keeping pressure on the insurgents.

White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki stressed that the departure of foreign forces from Bagram does not mean their final departure from Afghanistan in the coming days.

She explained that the withdrawal of foreign forces will be completed by the end of August, that is, before the deadline set on September 11, the day of the twentieth anniversary of the attacks in the United States that led to the international intervention in Afghanistan.

Bagram base has military as well as symbolic importance in Afghanistan, a mini-city that has hosted hundreds of thousands of US and NATO military personnel and their contractors over the past two decades.

"Many Afghans will remember Bagram as the cornerstone of more than a foreign military intervention, as it was also the main base for the Soviets during their occupation" between 1979 and 1989, says International Crisis Group expert Andrew Watkins.

"It has not only been the entry point for many foreign military personnel who have passed through the country since 2001, but it has also hosted a lot of air capabilities deployed in the country that have given Afghan forces a decisive advantage on the battlefield," he adds.

The departure of foreign forces from Bagram exacerbated fears that the country might plunge into another civil war, as happened in the 1990s after the withdrawal of the Red Army.

"I see history repeating itself," says Daoud Hotak, a Kabul resident. "The Americans do what the Russians did, they leave without ending the war."

"I have the impression that our country will plunge into another civil war, as the Taliban will intensify their attacks with the withdrawal of the Americans," the Afghan citizen adds.

US President Joe Biden on Friday tried to allay fears by assuring that the United States would retain the ability to provide assistance to the government and its forces if needed, without giving further details.

According to press reports, the US Department of Defense is expected to keep approximately 600 military personnel in Afghanistan to secure the sprawling US embassy in Kabul.