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Afghanistan: Fuelling confusion, US cancels NATO flag-lowering ceremony

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Kabul | June 20, 2021 1:14:45 PM IST
The US on Friday cancelled North Atlantic Treaty Organisation's (NATO) flag-lowering ceremony at the last moment amid questions over what the ceremony was meant to signify, according to three US Defence officials.

Citing NBC News, The Frontier Post reported that the cancellation reflected a wider sense of confusion and uncertainty surrounding the U.S. troop withdrawal, with defence contractors appealing for more guidance from Washington, former Afghan interpreters pleading for protection from the Taliban and the US embassy hit by a major COVID-19 outbreak.

The flag-lowering ceremony at the Kabul headquarters for NATO's "Resolute Support" mission, which trains and advises Afghan security forces, was called off only hours before it was due to begin, the Defence officials said.

The ceremony was not intended to convey the end of the mission or closure of the headquarters, the officials said, but was an opportunity to gather 13 NATO partners together before coalition troops depart.

Senior allied officers planned to lower their nations' flags at the headquarters building as a recognition for their countries' contributions in Afghanistan, the officials said.

"It was causing confusion among allies and partners," one Defense official said, adding that it was perceived by some as a closure of the Resolute Support headquarters, reported The Frontier Post.

The ceremony likely would be held at another date, two Defense officials said, and would only include officers and officials already working at the headquarters due to concerns over COVID-19.

As of August last year, the Resolute Support mission included 36 NATO member states and partners and about 10,000 troops.

President Joe Biden announced in April that all US troops would leave Afghanistan by September 11, but the pull-out is moving faster than scheduled.

Pentagon officials say the US military withdrawal is on track to be wrapped up about two months earlier, by the middle of July or even by early July.

A number of factors could affect the exit timeline, including weather conditions and the tenuous security situation in Kabul, as Taliban forces continue to gain ground across the country, reported The Frontier Post.

US troops already have handed over several bases and airfields to Afghan security forces and C-17 cargo planes are continuously flying out equipment.

The United States promised to remove all its troops from Afghanistan in an agreement with the Taliban signed last year during former President Donald Trump's administration.

As the US troop exit gathers pace, the Biden administration has come under criticism over the fate of Afghans who worked for the US government.

Lawmakers from both parties have accused the White House of failing to make adequate plans to protect former Afghan partners who face threats of retaliation from the Taliban.

Members of Congress and veterans' groups have urged an emergency evacuation of thousands of Afghans who risked their lives working with the United States, but the administration has yet to announce any plans for such an operation.

Roughly 18,000 US-funded contractors who maintain the Afghan government's fleet of military aircraft and ground vehicles also have been ordered to withdraw from the country, reported Frontier Post.

But the contractors say they had no advance warning about Biden's decision and that it's unclear how their companies will continue to support the Afghan security forces once American troops leave. (ANI)

 
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