May 18, 2021

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US begins moving equipment out of Afghanistan and approves deployment of forces to protect withdrawal operations

US begins moving equipment out of Afghanistan and approves deployment of forces to protect withdrawal operations


The Pentagon has also approved the deployment of hundreds of sea, air and land forces in the region to ensure the safety of US and NATO forces and contractors as they withdraw, officials said.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin approved the USS Eisenhower aircraft carrier’s mission extension to “remain in the Central Command area of ​​responsibility for a period of time” and approved “the addition of some long-range bombers” to the region. in preparation for the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said at a press conference on Friday.

Two B-52 bombers have already arrived in the region, Kirby said.

The immediate goal is to continue shipping unnecessary equipment and supplies that are not destroyed on the spot or transferred to Afghan forces, one of the officials told CNN. The “obsolete” equipment will be destroyed, the official said.

The movement of personnel out of Afghanistan will not begin yet “for a few weeks,” the official said, adding that the United States “will maintain our ability to defend the force and provide support” to Afghan units.

“I think it is reasonable to assume, as I said earlier, that there may be additional temporary force protection measures and enabling factors that we would need to once again make sure this withdrawal is proceeding smoothly and safely,” Kirby said.

President Joe Biden formally announced his decision to end America’s longest war last week, arguing that the 10-year conflict is no longer in line with American priorities. Those who defend an immediate withdrawal, including some members of Biden’s team, are concerned that the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan could cause the collapse of the Kabul government and the return to power of the Taliban.

The deadline that Biden has set for the withdrawal of troops is absolute, with no possibility of extension based on worsening conditions on the ground.

To ensure safety once troop withdrawal begins, the United States Central Command, which oversees Afghanistan, has received Pentagon approval to maintain an aircraft carrier in the region, so fighter jets are as close as possible if air strikes are needed to protect troops as they retreat.

This is now likely to mean USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, the carrier already in the region, will be detained and delayed returning home, officials said.

The withdrawal of Afghanistan will likely dismantle a CIA intelligence network built over 20 years

Several hundred ground troops will also be sent to Afghanistan to provide “forced protection” for troops leaving the country. Under the approval of the Department of Defense, no more than 1,000 ground forces will be sent.

There is particular concern for the safety of the troops as they leave more remote locations around Kandahar, Jalalabad and some Special Operations Forces locations in eastern Afghanistan.

Currently, there are 2,500 US conventional forces in Afghanistan plus hundreds of additional special operations forces that are not publicly recognized.

Officials are aware that sending more troops, even temporarily, leaves a larger footprint to be dismantled.

Additionally, bomber aircraft should be put on standby in the region as a deterrent to Taliban violence and be ready to be called in for air strikes if necessary. The army also plans to maintain combat air patrols over Afghanistan during the retreat to maintain security.

Several defense officials say there will be an effort informally to conduct the withdrawal as much as possible before Biden’s 9/11 deadline.

Gen. Frank McKenzie, the commander of the United States Central Command, told Congress Thursday that the United States intends to maintain military influence and the ability to carry out air strikes in Afghanistan once troops are withdrawn from the country this year. .

He told the Senate Armed Services Committee that primary drones used in Afghanistan are capable of reaching the country from US allied bases in the Gulf, McKenzie said.

There is no significant US military presence in the countries surrounding Afghanistan that would allow US forces to be grounded, which McKenzie says US diplomats will look to the “art of the possible” to see if there are potential ground deals with others. countries.

CNN’s Ellie Kaufman, Kevin Liptak, and Veronica Stracqualursi contributed to this report.