Taliban, Afghan forces clash as US leaves
A day after officially beginning the withdrawal of its remaining troops from Afghanistan, the US military handed over Camp Antonik in the southern Helmand province to Afghan forces.
The Taliban and government forces clashed in several provinces, according to the ministry, including in Kandahar, a former insurgent stronghold where the US military launched a "precision attack" on Saturday as it began the final troop withdrawal.
The clashes also injured 52 Taliban fighters, according to the ministry, which did not provide information on any government forces casualties.
The Taliban did not respond to the fighting, but both sides are notorious for exaggerating the number of casualties they inflict on each other.
In recent months, fighting on the ground has remained unabated as peace talks aimed at resolving the 20-year war have stalled.
On Saturday, the US military began officially withdrawing its remaining 2,500 troops from the war-torn region, as directed by President Joe Biden last month.
According to Afghan officials, all foreign troops are being transported to Bagram Air Force Base, the largest American base in Afghanistan, from where they will depart for their respective countries.
According to the defense ministry, the US military handed over Camp Antonik in Helmand to Afghan forces as part of the ongoing drawdown.
The base will be used by Afghan special forces who have been trained by the US military and NATO in counter-terrorism operations, according to the statement.
The Afghan defense ministry released photos of the handover ceremony, which showed US soldiers lowering the US flag at the base and Afghan troops raising the national flag.
Since signing a historic agreement with the Taliban last year that paved the way for the withdrawal of foreign troops, the US military has handed over many bases to Afghan forces.
All international forces were to be withdrawn by May 1, 2021, according to an agreement signed in February 2020 by ex-president Donald Trump's administration.
In April, Biden announced that the last 2,500 American troops will be withdrawn by the 20th anniversary of the September 11 attacks, rather than May 1.
However, he stated that their withdrawal would begin on May 1.
The US military said it carried out a "precision attack" after an airfield in Kandahar where it has a base "received ineffective indirect fire" that did no harm as the formal pullout began on Saturday.
The Taliban cautioned that the US military had broken the 2020 agreement by not completing the troop withdrawal by May 1 because of the assault on the Kandahar base, which was not claimed by any party.
"This in principle opens the way for our mujahideen to take appropriate action against the invading forces," Mohammad Naeem, a Taliban spokesman, told AFP adding that the group was awaiting orders from its leaders for its future course of action.
The Taliban have not directly engaged foreign troops since the US withdrawal agreement was reached, but they have mercilessly targeted government forces in the countryside and waged a terror campaign in urban areas.