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U.S. base in Afghanistan hit by rocket fire as troops begin withdrawal

A key airbase in Kandahar, Afghanistan, was hit by rockets Saturday, prompting American forces to fire back with a “precision strike” that could be a preview of further violence over the next several months as the Taliban vows to resume attacks on U.S. troops.

The rocket fire that hit Kandahar base came just hours after the original May 1 deadline for U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan passed. 

President Biden has ordered the roughly 3,500 American forces out of Afghanistan by September, but he disregarded the May 1 date laid out in a deal struck last year between former President Trump and the Taliban.

The Pentagon did not explicitly say that the Taliban was responsible for the rocket fire that struck Kandahar, but the insurgent group has repeatedly warned that U.S. bases and personnel will be targeted after May 1.

”Kandahar Airfield received ineffective indirect fire this afternoon; no injury to personnel or damage to equipment,” Col. Sonny Leggett, spokesperson for U.S. Forces Afghanistan, said in a Twitter post Saturday. 

“U.S. forces conducted a precision strike this evening, destroying additional rockets aimed at the airfield.”

The U.S. has deployed additional military personnel and equipment to the region to protect the troops leaving Afghanistan. In addition to the nearly 3,500 American forces exiting, another 10,000 NATO troops also will leave the country after nearly two decades of war.

Mr. Biden and military leaders have vowed to retaliate if the Taliban targets U.S. forces as they withdraw.

”A return to violence would be one senseless and tragic. But make no mistake, we have the military means to respond forcefully to any type of attacks against the coalition and the military means to support the Afgan security forces,” said Gen. Austin “Scott” Miller, the commander of NATO’s Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan. “That would be a mistake to move in that direction.”

Meanwhile, the Taliban over the weekend claimed to have overrun an Afghan military base in Ghazni province in the southeastern part of the country. Afghan officials told Voice of America that the insurgent group had taken control of the base. 

A Taliban spokesperson said at least 17 Afghan soldiers had been killed and another 25 taken prisoner, but those figures were not immediately confirmed by the Afghan government. Critics of the Afghan withdrawal fear such incidents will become commonplace as the U.S. and NATO leave the country. 

They warn that the Taliban could quickly overpower Afghan security forces and could potentially overrun the nation’s capital, Kabul.

Against the recommendations of some top military commanders, Mr. Biden has stuck by his decision to withdraw.

”Today we have service members serving in the same warzone as their parents once did. We have service members in Afghanistan who were not yet born on 9/11,” the president told a joint session of Congress last week. “War in Afghanistan was never meant to be a multi-generational undertaking of nation-building.”

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