The United States and NATO officially began withdrawing their last troops from Afghanistan on May 1, leaving the war-torn country to an uncertain future amid raging violence in the absence of a peace deal.
Up to 3,500 U.S. troops and some 7,000 NATO soldiers are to leave Afghanistan by September 11, ending two decades of foreign military presence.
U.S. and NATO troops, as well as military equipment had already started leaving the country, but Washington has made an issue of the May 1 date because it is a deadline agreed with the Taliban in February 2020 to complete the pullout.
Amid concerns that an emboldened Taliban might attack the forces during the withdrawal process, a NATO official said any attacks would be met with a forceful response.
Late on April 30, acting Afghan Interior Minister Hayatullah Hayat ordered top police commanders to "increase the checkpoints in cities and carry out search operations on entry gates," saying the Taliban "might increase the violence."
A stark reminder of the continued insecurity came late on April 30, when a car-bomb explosion in Pul-e Alam, the capital of Logar Province, killed at least 26 people and wounded more than 100.
No one claimed responsibility for the blast.
U.S. President Joe Biden last month announced the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan by September 11, the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the United States in 2001.
That’s four months later than the deadline agreed by the previous U.S. administration of Donald Trump.
NATO has said it would follow the same timetable for withdrawing members of its Resolute Support mission.
Afghan acting Defense Minister Zia Yasin told reporters on May 1 that U.S. and allied troops will gather at Bagram Air Field, the largest U.S. military installation in Afghanistan, from where they will leave the country.
The pullout will be a test for the Afghan security forces, with U.S. generals expressing concerns in recent weeks that it might lead to the collapse of the Afghan government or a new civil war.
But Afghan President Ashraf Ghani insisted earlier this week that government forces were "fully capable" of keeping the militants at bay.
Ghani said in a speech that the pullout of foreign forces means the Taliban have no reason to fight.
"Who are you killing? What are you destroying? Your pretext of fighting the foreigners is now over."
Peace efforts stalled after the Western-backed government in Kabul and the Taliban began talks in Qatar last year.
An Istanbul international summit was for last month but the event was postponed because the Taliban refused to participate, and no new date has been set.