Thursday, June 30

US Deploys Additional Fighter Jets to Protect Its Retreating Troops from Afghanistan | Afghanistan

The United States has deployed a dozen additional fighter jets to bolster protection for US and coalition troops making a final withdrawal from the country as Taliban insurgents increase pressure on Afghan government forces, senior Pentagon officials said.

General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the F-18 strike aircraft had been added to a previously announced air and sea power package, including the USS Dwight D Eisenhower aircraft carrier in the Arabian North Sea and six air forces B -52 bombers based in Qatar – which can be used as protection for troop withdrawal. Also part of that previously announced pack are several hundred Army Rangers.

US officials said before the pullout began that they expected the Taliban to try to interfere, even as insurgents continued to pressure government forces, especially in southern Afghanistan’s Helmand and Kandahar provinces.

“There continue to be sustained levels of violent attacks” by the Taliban against Afghan security forces, Milley said, speaking alongside Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin at a Pentagon news conference. He said there had been no attacks on US or coalition forces since they began to withdraw from the country earlier this month, describing the Afghan forces as “cohesive”, even when there was speculation about Kabul’s ability to contain the troops. Taliban. in the months to come.

Both Milley and Austin, a retired army general, are veterans of the war in Afghanistan.

“They are fighting for their own country now, so it is not a foregone conclusion, in my professional military estimate, that the Taliban automatically wins and Kabul falls, or any of those kinds of dire predictions,” Milley said. “There is significant military capability in the Afghan government. We have to see how this plays out. “

Milley said the Pentagon was considering options for continued support from Afghan government forces after the troop withdrawal was completed, including the possibility of training Afghan security forces in another country. That would be in addition to urging Congress to authorize continued financial assistance to Afghan forces, which has been in the range of $ 4 billion a year for many years, and possibly provide aircraft maintenance support remotely from another country.

“We haven’t figured it out 100% yet,” Milley said.

Milley said the Afghan air force was central to the strategy to keep the Taliban at bay, but the durability of those planes is in question. The U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction said in an April 30 report that without continued support from foreign contractors, none of the Afghan air force’s airframes would be able to remain combat effective for more than a few months.

Austin acknowledged that holding off the Taliban without US support on the ground “will be a challenge” for the Afghans.

“We are hopeful that the Afghan security forces will play an important role in stopping the Taliban,” Austin said. “What we are seeing unfold is what we expected to develop: increased pressure” on Afghan forces. He claimed that government forces launched a counterattack this week against the Taliban in Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand province, and that they were “doing quite well”.

US President Joe Biden announced last month that all US troops would withdraw from Afghanistan before 9/11. NATO allies have said they would do the same and troops have already started to leave. Austin said “the reduction is going according to plan.”

The Pentagon has said there were about 2,500 US troops there in recent months, and Milley said in an interview last weekend that the total rises to 3,300 if special operations forces are accounted for. Military commanders have said additional forces will arrive temporarily to help with security and logistics for the reduction.

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