Taliban, Afghan forces clash as US hands over base

Taliban, Afghan forces clash as US hands over base

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Kabul: The Afghan Ministry of Defense stated on Sunday that fighting between Afghan government forces and the Taliban has killed more than 100 insurgents in the past 24 hours due to control of a US military base in a quiet US province.

On the second day after the official withdrawal of the remaining troops from Afghanistan, the US military handed over the Antonio Battalion in southern Helmand Province to the Afghan troops.

The Taliban and government forces clashed across several provinces, the ministry said, including in the former insurgent bastion of Kandahar where the US military carried out a “precision strike” on Saturday as it began the final troop pullout.

Another 52 Taliban fighters were wounded in the clashes, the ministry said, without giving details of any casualties suffered by government forces.

The Taliban did not offer any comment on the fighting, but both sides are known to exaggerate casualties inflicted on the other.

Fighting on the ground has continued unabated in recent months as peace efforts aimed at ending the 20-year conflict have faltered.

The US military formally began withdrawing its remaining 2,500 troops from the violence-wracked country on Saturday, as ordered by President Joe Biden last month.

Afghan officials said all foreign troops were being taken to Bagram, the biggest American base in Afghanistan, and from there they would leave to their respective countries.

The U.S. Department of Defense said that as part of the ongoing drawdown, the U.S. military handed over the Antony camp in Helmand Province to the Afghan forces.

It said the base will be used by Afghan special forces in counter-terrorism operations trained by the US military and NATO.

The photos of the handover ceremony released by the Afghan Ministry of National Defense showed that American soldiers lowered the American flag at the base, and a group of Afghan troops subsequently raised the flag.

Since Washington and the Taliban signed a landmark agreement last year, the U.S. military has handed over several bases to the Afghan army, paving the way for the withdrawal of foreign forces.

The agreement signed in February 2020 under the administration of former President Donald Trump stipulates that all foreign troops will be withdrawn by May 1, 2021.

Biden announced in April that he would withdraw the last 2,500 remaining U.S. troops before the 20th anniversary of the attack on September 11 instead of May 1.

But he said that their evacuation will begin on May 1.

As the formal pull out commenced on Saturday, the US military said it carried out a “precision strike” after an airfield in Kandahar where it has a base “received ineffective indirect fire” that caused no damage.

The attack on the Kandahar base, which has not been claimed by any group, came as the Taliban warned that the US military had violated the 2020 accord by not finishing the troop withdrawal by May 1.

“This in principle opens the way for our mujahideen to take appropriate action against the invading forces,” Mohammad Naeem, a Taliban spokesman, told AFP adding that the group was awaiting orders from its leaders for its future course of action.

Since the conclusion of the U.S. withdrawal agreement, the Taliban have not directly contacted foreign troops. Instead, they have relentlessly attacked government troops in rural areas and launched terrorist campaigns in urban areas.

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