Bombers, Carrier Deployed to Protect Drawdown in Afghanistan (David Goldman/AP)
By Sandy Fitzgerald | Saturday, 24 April 2021 05:27 PM
The Pentagon has deployed as many as 6 B-52 bombers and an aircraft carrier to the Middle East to signal to Taliban militants the United States wants to ensure American and NATO troops come out of Afghanistan in a peaceful manner.
The temporary deployment was approved by the White House on Friday to protect the forces during the withdrawal, which will be starting in less than 2 weeks, The Wall Street Journal reported. Pentagon officials said an Army Ranger unit is also expected to be sent to support the drawdown.
The withdrawal of the remaining 3,500 or so troops from Afghanistan is expected to be finished by as early as mid-July, even after President Joe Biden, while announcing the drawdown, has given a deadline of Sept. 11 for the troops to be out.
U.S. officials say the Taliban's reaction to the withdrawal could make it more difficult to pull troops and others out of Afghanistan. Currently, there are between 25,000 and 30,000 people who must leave the country in the upcoming months, including all U.S. military forces and contractors, NATO forces, and contractors from other countries, also known as "third-country nationals."
The aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower was deployed to the U.S. Central Command region in February, and Pentagon officials say the ship and warships traveling with it will stay in the region while helping to oversee the withdrawal actions.
Some military commanders say a full pullout from Afghanistan will lead to the collapse of Kabul's U.S.-backed government and to the return of Taliban control, with estimates showing the Islamist group could regain its hold over the country as soon as within one year.
Commanders are also concerned about the Taliban launching attacks on U.S. forces while they are leaving. The Taliban has warned it could act against anyone remaining after May 1, the departure date pledged by the Trump administration, but officials say the Taliban has been warned any actions will lead to airstrikes and other aggressive retaliation from the United States.
Meanwhile, some of the troops being pulled from Afghanistan will not be heading home but will be relocated across Asia to allow the U.S. to keep military and intelligence-gathering operations going on in the region. However, the United States has not decided where the troops will be stationed.
The U.S. military has already started shipping some equipment out and winding down local contracts ahead of the May 1 start of the pullout, according to a Defense Department official.
The withdrawal, ordered by Biden earlier this month, brings the nation's longest war to an end after 20 years of fighting, but last year, then-President Donald Trump announced following negotiations, the troops will be out by this May 1.
Germany's Defense Ministry said Wednesday, discussions are underway among military planners while aiming for the NATO-led Resolute Support Mission in Kabul to start withdrawing international troops from Afghanistan as early as July 4.
Meanwhile, much of the U.S. equipment now in Afghanistan will be shipped back to the states by air, but the military will also take some through land routes in Pakistan and through Central Asia. Equipment not sent back to the United States or given to the Afghan National Security forces will likely be sold to contractors, officials said.