The army decides what to send back, what to hand over to the Afghan forces before September 11.

The final phase of ending America’s “war forever” in Afghanistan after 20 years officially began on Saturday, with the remaining US and NATO troops withdrawing by the end of the summer.

President Joe Biden had set May 1 as the official start for the withdrawal of the remaining forces – around 2,500 to 3,500 US troops and around 7,000 NATO troops. He had set September 11 as the withdrawal deadline.

Even before Saturday, the Herculean task of packing had begun.

The military takes inventory, decides what goes back to the United States, what goes to Afghan security forces, and what is sold as junk food in Afghan markets. In recent weeks, the military has flown equipment aboard huge C-17 cargo planes.

The United States is estimated to have spent more than $ 2 trillion in Afghanistan over the past two decades, according to Brown University’s Costs of War project, which documents the hidden costs of US military engagement.

Defense ministry officials and diplomats say the pullout has resulted in smaller bases being closed over the past year.

They said that since Mr Biden announced the date of the withdrawal from the end of the summer to mid-April, only about 60 soldiers had left the country.

The United States and its NATO allies went together to Afghanistan on October 7, 2001 to track down the al Qaeda perpetrators of the September 11 terrorist attacks who were living under the protection of the country’s Taliban leadership. Two months later, the Taliban had been defeated and Al Qaeda fighters and their leader, Osama bin Laden, were on the run.

In his withdrawal announcement last month, Biden said the initial mission was accomplished ten years ago when the US Navy SEALS killed bin Laden in his hiding place in Pakistan. Since then, al-Qaeda has worsened, as the terrorist threat has “metastasized” into a global phenomenon that is unchecked by keeping thousands of troops in a country, he said.

The insurgent group continues to accuse Washington of violating the agreement it signed with Mr. Biden’s predecessor over a year ago. In that deal, the United States said it would withdraw all troops by May 1.

In a statement on Saturday, Taliban military spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said that the passing of the May 1 deadline for a full withdrawal “opens the way for the Mujahedin (of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan) to that they take all the countermeasures they deem appropriate against the occupying forces ”.

However, he said fighters on the battlefield will wait for a decision from the leaders before launching attacks and that this decision will be based on “the sovereignty, values ​​and best interests of the country.”

Assembly toll

Violence has increased in Afghanistan since the signing of the February 2020 accord. Peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government quickly stalled. On Friday, a truck bomb in Logar province killed 21 people, many of them police officers and students.

The Afghans paid the highest price since 2001, with 47,245 civilians killed, according to the Costs of War project. Millions more have been internally displaced in Afghanistan or have fled to Pakistan, Iran and Europe.

Afghan security forces are likely to come under increasing pressure from the Taliban after the withdrawal if no peace deal is reached in the meantime, Afghan observers said.