Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
May 7, 2021
The Pentagon has deployed more heavy bombers and fighter jets to ensure the protection of the withdrawing U.S. and coalition troops from Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told reporters on May 6.
“Less than one week in, the drawdown is going according to plan,” Austin told reporters, adding that the international forces have sustained no direct attacks so far.
Pentagon Joint Chiefs Chairman Mark Milley said that to defend the departing troops, six B-52 long range bombers and 12 F-18 fighters have been ordered for contingency support.
Austin and Milley’s statements came as Taliban attacks on the government forces continued to escalate throughout Afghanistan amid the ongoing international pullout.
Milley said that while Taliban militants launch between 80 and 120 attacks every day against Afghan government targets, since the withdrawal began on May 1 “there have been no attacks against U.S. and coalition forces.”
President Joe Biden last month ordered the final withdrawal of 2,500 U.S. service members and 16,000 civilian contractors, almost two decades after the United States invaded Afghanistan to remove the Taliban from power and pursue Al-Qaeda following the September 11, 2001 attacks.
Biden set a deadline for the completion of the pullout on the anniversary of the attacks.
Although Washington will keep working closely with the Afghan security forces, the relationship will shift with the pullout, Austin and Milley told journalists.
Austin said America will continue to offer support through funding and military backing from U.S. bases and ships located hundreds of miles away — the so-called “over the horizon logistics.”
Milley said that despite concerns that the Taliban could topple the Kabul government following the international pullout, the collapse of the Afghan military should not be presumed.
“A lot of that is going to be dependent on the security conditions on the ground,” said Milley.
The Afghan Air Force depends heavily on foreign technicians who are included in the 16,000 contractors that are being pulled out.
“The intent is to keep the Afghan air force in the air, and to provide them with continued maintenance support,” Milley said.
On May 6 Taliban fighters captured Afghanistan’s second-biggest dam and two Afghan army bases.
Dahla Dam, also known as Arghandab Dam, is located in the Shah Wali Kot district of the southern province of Kandahar, some 40 kilometers north of the provincial capital, Kandahar City.
The dam, which provides irrigation to farmers via a network of canals as well as drinking water for Kandahar City, is now under Taliban control after months of fierce fighting in Kandahar, the militants’ former stronghold.
“We have seized the Dahla Dam in Arghandab,” Taliban spokesman Qari Yousuf Ahmadi told the media.
Haji Gulbuddin, governor of an adjacent district, confirmed the dam “is now in the control of the Taliban.”
Dahla Dam provides irrigation for about seven districts of Kandahar.
Local officials and the Taliban also said two government bases fell to the militants in the northern province of Baghlan.
The militants launched the attacks on the bases in the Baghlan-e-Markzai and Nahrin districts of the province late on May 5, the officials told TOLOnews.
The capture of the dam comes after heavy fighting erupted in the neighboring province of Helmand this week, prompting thousands of people to flee.
With reporting by AP, AFP, Reuters, dpa, and TOLOnews
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