Kabul on alert amid 'deadline' for withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan

Kabul on alert amid ‘deadline’ for withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan

KABUL – Security in the Afghan capital, Kabul, was tightened on Saturday as the city braced for the Taliban’s reaction as US troops prepared for the pullout.

An increased military presence and security at checkpoints were visible in Kabul and a security source told Reuters the city had been placed on “high alert”.

As part of the Trump administration’s February 2020 deal with the Taliban, foreign forces were to withdraw from the country by May 1, while the Taliban refrained from attacking foreign troops and bases. But President Joe Biden announced last month, after reviewing the situation, that forces would remain in the country for months after May, withdrawing on September 11.

Violence against Afghans has escalated dramatically in recent weeks, with the deaths of more than 100 members of the Afghan security forces.

On the eve of the previously agreed May 1 withdrawal deadline, a massive explosion in eastern Logar killed dozens as they broke their fast during the holy month of Ramadan. It was not clear who was behind the attack.

The Taliban responded to the Biden administration’s decision with fiery rhetoric and threatened consequences, boycotting a crucial conference in Turkey scheduled for last month that was slated to help relaunch the blockade of Afghan peace talks in Doha.

Since then, contacts have been maintained, according to official and Taliban sources, in an attempt to bring the Taliban back to the negotiating table and accept the expansion of the presence of foreign troops.

On Saturday, it was not clear whether concrete progress had been made and no extension announcements had been made.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said on Twitter Saturday, that the overrun deadline meant that “this breach of principle has paved the way for (Taliban fighters) to take whatever countermeasures they deem appropriate against the occupying forces.” But he added that the fighters were awaiting the decision of the Taliban leadership.

Washington also warned that if foreign forces were attacked during the withdrawal, they would defend themselves “with all the tools at our disposal.”

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Experts said threats from the Taliban should be taken seriously, but a number of factors meant large-scale attacks on foreign targets could be avoided, as the Taliban continued negotiations.

“We cannot rule out attacks,” said Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Asia program at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington. “That said, the Taliban are less likely to attack foreign forces now that they know there is a specific date they will leave.”

Also on Friday, on the eve of the May 1 deadline, envoys from Russia, China, Pakistan and the United States met with Taliban officials and Afghan government negotiators in the Qatari capital. The Taliban said they have discussed the peace process and their demand to remove Taliban leaders from the sanctions lists.