Kabul on high alert amid 'deadline' for U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan

KABUL – Security in the Afghan capital of Kabul was increased on Saturday as the city prepared for the Taliban’s response amid US forces preparing to withdraw.

Increased military presence and security at checkpoints were evident in Kabul, and a security source told Reuters that the city had been placed on “alert”.

Under the Trump administration’s February 2020 deal with the Taliban, foreign forces were to withdraw from the country by May 1, while the Taliban held back to attack foreign troops and bases. But President Joe Biden announced last month, after reviewing the situation, that the armed forces would remain in the country for months beyond May and withdraw until September 11th.

Violence against Afghans has risen sharply in recent weeks, with more than a hundred Afghan security forces killed.

On the eve of the previously agreed May 1 withdrawal period, a massive explosion in the east of Logar killed dozen as they broke their fast during the holy Islamic month of Ramadan. It wasn’t clear who was behind the attack.

The Taliban responded to the Biden government’s decision with fiery rhetoric and threatened consequences, boycotting an important conference in Turkey that was scheduled for last month to help bring the Afghan peace talks to a halt in Doha.

Contacts have been cultivated since then, official and Taliban sources say, in an attempt to bring the Taliban back to the negotiating table and approve the expanded presence of foreign troops.

As of Saturday, it was unclear whether concrete progress had been made and there was no announcement of an extension.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said on Twitter On Saturday, the elapsed deadline meant that “this violation has in principle paved the way for (Taliban fighters) to take whatever countermeasures they deem appropriate against the occupying powers”. But he added that fighters were waiting for the decision of the Taliban leadership.

Washington has also warned that if foreign forces were attacked while retreating, they would defend themselves “with all the tools at our disposal”.

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Experts said the Taliban’s threats should be taken seriously, but a number of factors meant that widespread attacks on foreign targets could be averted as the Taliban continued negotiations.

“We cannot rule out attacks,” said Michael Kugelman, assistant director of the Asia program at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington. “However, the Taliban are less likely to attack foreign forces because they know there is a specific date on which they will leave.”

Also on Friday, the eve of May 1, envoys from Russia, China, Pakistan and the United States met with Taliban officials and negotiators from the Afghan government in the Qatari capital. The Taliban said they were discussing the peace process and their request to remove the Taliban leaders from the sanctions lists.

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