US Military starts withdrawal from 5 Bases in Afghanistan

US Military starts withdrawal from 5 Bases in Afghanistan

ISLAMABAD - Under the Afghanistan peace accord, the US is initially supposed to cut its troop presence from about 12,000 currently to 8,600 by mid-July, and close five of its roughly 20 bases across the country.

Troops have started leaving one base in Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand province in the south, and another base in Herat in the west, a US official told *AFP* on the condition of anonymity.

Even with the drawdown, US forces retain “all the military means and authorities to accomplish our objectives”, Colonel Sonny Leggett, spokesman for US Forces-Afghanistan, said on Monday, referring to American counterterrorism operations and support for Afghan forces.

Helmand, which along with Kandahar province is considered a Taliban stronghold, is where US and British forces fought some of the bloodiest campaigns of the 18-year war.

Omar Zwak, spokesman for Helmand’s governor, told *AFP* that “20 to 30” foreigners had left Lashkar Gah since the weekend.

Under the terms of the withdrawal deal, the Taliban are supposed to tackle jihadists such as the Islamic State group and Al Qaeda, as well as hold talks with the Afghan government that were due to start on Tuesday.

But Kabul is in disarray and appears unable to present a unified front to negotiate with the Taliban.

On Monday, President Ashraf Ghani was inaugurated for a second term following an election that was marred by fraud allegations while his rival, former chief executive Abdullah Abdullah, also declared himself winner and swore himself in as premier in a parallel ceremony.

Washington has denounced Abdullah’s self-inauguration, urging unity in Kabul ahead of negotiations with the Taliban. -APP / AFP