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Kandahar Airfield handed over to Afghans as US prepares to leave

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KABUL: Authorities in the Afghan Ministry of Defense confirmed that the US had handed the Kandahar Airfield over to the Afghan National Army.

Deputy spokesperson of the Ministry of Defense Fawad Aman in a tweet said, “The Kandahar Airfield was handed over from US forces to the Afghan National Army, this week. After this, Afghan forces will use the base.”

The handover, conducted without a ceremony and during the night, marks a major milestone for retrograde operations in Afghanistan. According to NBS News, the airfield and attached base complex had housed more than 26,000 US and international troops at the height of the war. 

“Right now, as you and I are talking, the retrograde is continuing apace,” Pentagon press secretary John Kirby told reporters at a Thursday press briefing.

News of the Kandahar handover has left some veterans of the war with mixed feelings regarding both the future of the country and whether the US is actually ending its involvement after nearly 20 years.

“I hope it’s for real — it’s a decade too late,” Justin Van Houten, a Marine infantry sergeant who fought in Helmand province in 2008, told Coffee or Die Magazine. “But I also don’t see an articulable plan to prevent extremists from filling the void we leave. Training and advising never worked. So, are we pulling out to just redeploy boots on the ground in the near future?” 

Van Houten’s concerns came as Voice of America reported that US officials suspect Islamic State militants, who have become progressively more active in Afghanistan over recent years, are behind an attack on a Kabul girls school last week, which killed dozens of people and injured about 150 more, including many women and children.

On Tuesday, US Central Command released its weekly report on the withdrawal from Afghanistan. As of Monday, CENTCOM estimates that 6% to 12% of “the entire retrograde process” is now complete, up from 2% to 6% from the week before.

US President Joe Biden announced April 14 that all US forces would be withdrawn from Afghanistan by Sept. 11, 2021, with more recent reports suggesting a US exit by July 2021. However, Richard Fowler, a Marine infantry sergeant, is skeptical.

“I believe nothing of what they [the DOD] tell me. We’re pulling out of Afghanistan like we pulled out of Cuba, like we pulled out of Germany, like we pulled out of Japan, like we pulled out of Korea, like we pulled out of Somalia, and on and on and on,” Fowler, who fought in Helmand province in 2008, told Coffee or Die.

The news of the Kandahar Airfield transfer comes during the second day of an Eid holiday cease-fire between the Taliban and the Afghan government. According to VOA, the truce has seen no recorded attacks by the Taliban and a notable reduction in violence compared with the situation just a week ago. However, there have been at least two major incidents in which civilians were killed, although the Taliban deny responsibility.

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