US hands over base to Afghan National Army as withdrawal continues

Handover comes amid ongoing clashes between Afghan forces and the Taliban

This handout photograph taken on May 2, 2021 and released by Afghanistan's Ministry of Defense shows US soldiers lowering the US national flag during a handover ceremony to the Afghan National Army (ANA) army 215 Maiwand corps at Antonik camp in Helmand province. RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO /Afghanistan's Ministry of Defense" - NO MARKETING - NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS
 / AFP / Afghanistan's Ministry of Defence office / - / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO /Afghanistan's Ministry of Defense" - NO MARKETING - NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS

The US handed over a military base in southern Afghanistan on Monday even as Afghan and Taliban forces clashed in the same area.

“The US has officially handed over to the Afghan National Army one facility – New Antonik,” US Central Command (Centcom) said.

The Afghan Defence Ministry said the clashes in southern Helmand province, where the base is located, have left more than 100 Taliban fighters dead. The Taliban also captured an Afghan base in the Ghazni province on Saturday.

But Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the clashes have not affected the US withdrawal, which is still in its early stages.

Mr Kirby characterised the clashes as “small harassing attacks over the course of the weekend that have not had any significant impact, certainly not on our people or on our resources there".

Centcom said it has so far completed between two and six per cent of the withdrawal process, removing “approximately 60 C-17 loads of material out of Afghanistan,” while turning over “more than 1,300 pieces of equipment to the Defence Logistics Agency for destruction".

President Joe Biden has vowed that the US will complete the withdrawal by September 11, officially ending American involvement in the 20-year conflict – the longest war in US history. There are approximately 3,500 US troops in Afghanistan serving in the Nato forces, which number roughly 10,000.

The Taliban has expressed its displeasure that the US did not depart by the May 1 deadline agreed to as part of negotiations in Qatar last year, and has threatened to launch attacks on US and Nato forces.

The Taliban also boycotted a round of peace talks hosted by Turkey last week.

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