Nato pledges to leave Afghanistan 'together' as 750 British soldiers set to exit with US on September 11

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Danielle Sheridan
·4 min read
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A US soldier from 4th Infantry Division 4 Brigade Alpha Company presents a gift to an Afghan child during a patrol at Khogiani in Langarhar  - KIM JAE-HWAN /AFP
A US soldier from 4th Infantry Division 4 Brigade Alpha Company presents a gift to an Afghan child during a patrol at Khogiani in Langarhar - KIM JAE-HWAN /AFP

The United States is putting pressure on Nato allies including Britain to get their remaining troops out of Afghanistan as quickly as possible in "lockstep" with America.

Senior officials in Joe Biden's administration said the Pentagon is able to get its own force - currently around 3,500 - home "well in advance" of the new September 11 deadline set by the US president.

But the US is delaying its own withdrawal so that it can leave together with allies, including 750 British troops, who are reliant on American support.

A senior US administration official said the White House hoped to get allies out "in the same timeframe" as its own troops and in "lockstep".

The drawdown would begin almost immediately - "before May 1" - and September 11 was an "outside date" for completing it.

"President Biden will give our military commanders the time and space they need to conduct a safe and orderly withdrawal, not just of US forces but of allied forces, on the principle of 'in together, out together'," the official said.

"We will take the time we need to execute that. And no more time than that."

The US would "co-ordinate with Nato allies and partners about a drawdown of their forces in the same timeframe."

British soldiers on Operation Volcano against Taliban forces in the village of Barikyu in Nothern Helmand Province - MoD /PA
British soldiers on Operation Volcano against Taliban forces in the village of Barikyu in Nothern Helmand Province - MoD /PA

In February, Donald Trump's administration agreed with the Taliban to withdraw US forces by May 1.

Asked if delaying until September 11 was to "help Nato troops get out" a Biden administration official said: "Yes".

The White House's current hope was that the withdrawal would be completed "a meaningful amount of time before" September 11.

How long before would depend on whether there was a surge in violence on the ground.

A residual US military presence will remain to protect its embassy, although the final configuration of forces will not be decided until a final assessment of security risks at the end of the drawdown.

It came as Tony Blinken, the US secretary of state, told Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg they would "leave together".

Mr Blinken, speaking in Brussels, said: “We in Nato will leave Afghanistan together. Together we went into Afghanistan, now it is time to bring our forces home."

Mr Biden said in an address to the nation that it had become “increasingly unclear” what the reasons were for staying in the country.

He said the reason the US invaded was to ensure Afghanistan would not be used as “a base from which to attack our homeland again.”

“We accomplished that objective," he said.

Troop numbers in Afghanistan
Troop numbers in Afghanistan

"I'm now the 4th United States president to preside over American troop presence in Afghanistan. Two Republicans, two Democrats. I will not pass this responsibility onto a 5th," he said from the Treaty Room, where President George W. Bush announced the beginning of US military operations in Afghanistan nearly 20 years ago.

"It’s time to end America’s longest war. It’s time for America’s troops to come home," he said.

Mr Biden spoke earlier with Ashraf Ghani, president of Afghanistan, who said last night that he respected the US decision. "We will continue to work with our US/NATO partners in the ongoing peace efforts," he tweeted.

US Marine Corps soldiers pay their respects to Lance Cpl. Joshua Bernard during a memorial service in Now Zad in the Helmand Province - Julie Jacobson/AP
US Marine Corps soldiers pay their respects to Lance Cpl. Joshua Bernard during a memorial service in Now Zad in the Helmand Province - Julie Jacobson/AP

Former defence minister Tobias Ellwood, chairman of the Defence Select Committee, said the US decision risked "losing the peace" and allowing extremism to "regroup".

It was "concerning" and "not the right move", he added.

But he said British forces had "no choice" but to leave due to the US's "significant force protection capabilities from which we benefitted."

Mr Ellwood added: "Remaining allied forces are unable to fill that vacuum without upgrading our posture for which there is no political appetite."

Dominic Raab, the foreign secretary, said: "Any change to our security presence will be made in agreement with allies and after consultation with our partners."

British Paratroopers board a Chinook helicopter to return to their base after they detained some Taliban leaders in the village of Segera, Kandahar Province  - Marco Di Lauro /Getty Images 
British Paratroopers board a Chinook helicopter to return to their base after they detained some Taliban leaders in the village of Segera, Kandahar Province - Marco Di Lauro /Getty Images

Germany, which currently has some 1,000 troops in Afghanistan, has always said that it would no longer be able to maintain a presence there if the US left.

Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, the German Defence Minister, said: "I am in favour of an orderly withdrawal."

The longer the US withdrawal is postponed from May 1 the greater the risk of the Taliban resuming attacks on coalition forces.

It also comes as civilian deaths in Afghanistan jumped 29 percent in the first quarter of the year, the United Nations said in a report. As many as 573 Afghan civilians were killed, the report said.