US troops in Afghanistan begin packing gear in pullout prep

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FILE - In this April 14, 2021 file photo, President Joe Biden speaks from the Treaty Room in the White House about the withdrawal of the remainder of U.S. troops from Afghanistan. A U.S. defense department official said Thursday April 22, 2021, that the U.S. military has begun shipping equipment and winding down contracts with local service providers ahead of the May 1 start of the final phase of its military pullout from Afghanistan. The pullout marks the end of Americas longest war, after a 20-year military engagement. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, Pool, File)

KABUL – The U.S. military has begun shipping equipment and winding down contracts with local service providers ahead of the May 1 start of the final phase of its military pullout from Afghanistan, a U.S. Defense Department official said Thursday.

The pullout under U.S. President Joe Biden marks the end of America's longest war after a 20-year military engagement. Currently, some 2,500 U.S. soldiers and about 7,000 allied forces are still in Afghanistan.

In February last year, the U.S. military began closing its smaller bases. In mid-April, the Biden administration announced that the final phase of the withdrawal would begin May 1 and be completed before Sept. 11.

Since then, the military has been shipping equipment and winding down local contracts for services such as trash pickup and maintenance work, the U.S. official told The Associated Press, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with briefing regulations.

While preparations are under way, troops likely won't begin to depart for a few weeks, he said, adding that "we won't see a coming down of the (troop) numbers" until remaining bases close.

There have been indications that the pullout could be completed well before Sept. 11, which marks the 20th anniversary of the al-Qaida terror attack on the U.S. and the trigger for the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan.

On Wednesday, Germany's Defense Ministry said discussions are underway among military planners with the NATO-led Resolute Support Mission in Kabul for a possible withdrawal of international troops from Afghanistan as early as July 4.

In the short term, America will likely increase its troop presence in Afghanistan, the Pentagon said last Friday. The additional troops would be in Afghanistan over the coming weeks and months to help with what the herculean task of wrapping up 20 years of war.