A U.S. Air Force F-15E Strike Eagle, piloted by a member of the 494th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron, takes off from Al Dhafra Air Base in the United Arab Emirates on April 30, 2021 in support of regional security operations.
Staff Sgt. Zade Vadnais | U.S. Air Force photo
WASHINGTON – The Pentagon has augmented its military assets in the Middle East as US-NATO coalition forces begin the daunting task of withdrawing from Afghanistan.
This week, two more US Air Force B-52 Stratofortress strategic bombers arrived at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, bringing the total number of B-52s ready to respond to a Taliban attack to six.
“We have made it extraordinarily clear that protecting our armed forces and the forces of our allies and partners is also a priority in the withdrawal. This is a top priority,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters on Wednesday.
“We have made plans to introduce additional ground force capabilities to make sure again that this is safe and orderly,” added Kirby. The Pentagon also expanded the operation of a US Navy strike group in the area and deployed a dozen F-18 fighter jets to provide additional support.
Kirby has previously said that U.S. Central Command, the combatant command that oversees U.S. operations in the Middle East, will continue to assess the need for additional military capabilities as U.S. and coalition forces advance.
A B-52H Stratofortress aircraft assigned to the 5th Bomb Wing at Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota, arrives at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar on May 4, 2021.
Staff Sgt. Greg Erwin | U.S. Air Force photo
“The president has decided to end America’s involvement in our longest war, and we are going to do just that. And so far, in less than a week, the drawdown is going according to plan,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told reporters at the Pentagon on Thursday .
“We’re focused on making sure we can roll back our resources, our troops, and our allies in a safe, orderly, and responsible manner,” Austin said, adding that the Department of Defense is planning on hoping for support from Congress in the future to provide financial assistance to Afghan armed forces.
Last week, the White House confirmed that US troops had begun withdrawing from Afghanistan and that the Pentagon was proactively deploying additional troops and military equipment to protect the armed forces in the area.
“Potential opponents should know that if they attack us as we retreat, we will defend ourselves. [and] our partners, with all the tools at our disposal, “White House deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters traveling on Air Force One.
“While these measures will initially lead to an increase in the armed forces, we continue to advocate evicting all US military personnel from Afghanistan by September 11, 2021,” she said, adding that the Biden administration is unifying Intended “safe and responsible” exit from the war-torn country.
The crew assigned to Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar carry their gear into a C-17 Globemaster III assigned to the Joint Base in Charleston, South Carolina on April 27, 2021.
Staff Sgt. Kylee Gardner | U.S. Air Force photo
In April, Biden announced a full withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan by September 11, ending America’s longest war.
The removal of approximately 3,000 US soldiers coincides with the 20th anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks that spurred America’s entry into protracted wars in the Middle East and Central Asia.
Biden’s withdrawal schedule breaks with a proposed deadline agreed with the Taliban by the Trump administration last year. According to this agreement, all foreign armed forces should have left Afghanistan by May 1st.
Since Biden’s decision to leave the country, the US has removed the equivalent of approximately 60 C-17 Globemaster loads from Afghanistan, according to an update from Central Command. More than 1,300 pieces of equipment that will not be handed over to the Afghan military have also been handed over to the Defense Logistics Agency for destruction.
The US has also officially handed over a facility to the Afghan military. So far, Central Command estimates the US has completed between 2% and 6% of the withdrawal process.