Nato begins troop withdrawal from Afghanistan

All US and Nato troops to leave the country by September 11

(FILES) In this file photo taken on April 02, 2012 a German soldier keeps watch during a patrol near Taloqan, the capital of Takhar province. Germany's defence ministry on April 21, 2021 said it planned to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan by early July, after the United States announced plans to pull out by September 11. / AFP / JOHANNES EISELE
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Nato has begun withdrawing its mission from Afghanistan following a decision by President Joe Biden that will bring US forces home, an alliance official said on Thursday.

Jens Stoltenberg, Nato secretary general, had announced the withdrawal earlier this month, agreeing to remove about 7,000 non-American forces from Afghanistan to match Mr Biden’s decision to pull all American troops from the country starting on May 1.

"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, co-ordinated, and deliberate process," a Nato official told AFP on Thursday.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, an intergovernmental military alliance between 30 European and North American countries, entered Afghanistan in 2003 as part of a UN-mandated International Security Assistance Force. In 2014, Nato's role changed from security to training and advising Afghan forces.

The news came as Heiko Maas, the German foreign minister visited Kabul. The German military has been one of the biggest contributors to the Nato operation since its inception.

He thanked German soldiers for contributing to peace in Afghanistan, saying they "had ensured that there is more security here".

In a tweet posted during his visit, Mr Maas restated Germany's commitment to the welfare of Afghanistan.

"Germany remains a reliable partner at the side of the people in Afghanistan," he said. Germany would "continue our commitment in all other areas" despite the military withdrawal.

The Nato official said the safety of the alliance's 9,600 troops "will be a top priority every step of the way and we are taking all necessary measures to keep our personnel from harm".

"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 official said, refusing to give any further details on the timetable.

Mr Biden on April 14 announced US troops would begin to leave Afghanistan on May 1, saying it was time "to end America's longest war".

Karine Jean Pierre, deputy White House press secretary, said on Thursday that the US withdrawal from Afghanistan was under way.

A carrier strike group, comprised of fewer than 100 troops, and other US military assets have moved to the region to provide protection, she added.

"While these actions will initially result in increased forces levels, we remain committed to having all US military personnel out of Afghanistan by September 11, 2021," she said.

Around 2,500 US troops also serve in the Nato mission.

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The new date delayed the withdrawal planned by former president Donald Trump by several months, but fears remain the exit will allow the Taliban to regain power in the country.

Four American presidents have served over the course of the war and Mr Biden said he would not pass the conflict on to a fifth president.

The path for the US withdrawal was laid by an agreement forged between the Trump administration and the Taliban to end the conflict, under which the Taliban promised not to allow other extremist groups to flourish in exchange for US troop withdrawal.

The deal was supposed to precede substantive talks and an eventual agreement between the Afghan government and the Taliban. But no deal has been reached and a planned peace conference in Istanbul collapsed when the Taliban refused to attend.

Local workers at Nato-member embassies told The National they fear for their safety once troops are removed.