U.S. and NATO troops have started to withdraw from Afghanistan, the White House and several alliance officials said on April 29, amid a reported surge in Taliban attacks.
U.S. President Joe Biden earlier this month announced the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan by September 11, four months later than the May 1 deadline agreed to with the Taliban by the previous administration of Donald Trump. NATO allies agreed that foreign troops under the alliance command will also withdraw.
The White House said on April 29 that U.S. troops had started withdrawing, confirming comments made over the weekend by a senior U.S. general.
According to CNN, fewer than 100 troops, along with military equipment, have been moved largely by aircraft.
An unnamed NATO official confirmed to the AFP news agency that members of the 9,600-strong mission in Afghanistan had also begun withdrawing.
"NATO allies decided in mid-April to start the withdrawal of Resolute Support Mission forces by May 1 and this withdrawal has begun. This will be an orderly, coordinated, and deliberate process," the official told the French news agency.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas assured Afghanistan during a visit to Kabul on April 29 of continued support after the withdrawal of NATO troops.
"Germany remains a reliable partner on the side of the people in Afghanistan," Maas said.
The announcements came as Afghan officials said more than 100 Afghan security force personnel have been killed over the last two weeks amid a surge of Taliban attacks.
Senior Afghan officials say the Taliban is putting on a show of force and seeking to gain territory as foreign forces pull out. The Taliban has waged a two-decade-long insurgency since being ousted from power by U.S.-led foreign troops in 2001.
According to two senior security officials, around 120 Afghan security force personnel, 65 civilians, and over 300 Taliban fighters have been killed in the last 15 days of fighting, and scores more wounded across the country.
A spokesman for the Interior Ministry, Tariq Arian, said the Taliban has carried out at least six suicide bombings and several targeted killings and had planted 65 roadside bombs to target government troops.
He added that more than 60 civilians have been killed and 180 injured. He did not provide figures for casualties suffered by security forces, in keeping with usual government practice.
Dozens of Taliban fighters, including several commanders, have been killed during operations, Arian said.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid rejected the government's claim the group had inflicted civilian casualties, saying these were caused by air and ground operations by Afghan forces. He did not comment on the deaths of Taliban or security forces.
Since Biden's announcement, violence has increased by nearly a quarter around the country, with Taliban attacks reported in 21 of the 34 provinces, an Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman said.
"We are already in the middle of the Taliban's annual spring offensive but we are prepared and conducting our operations," the senior government official, who asked not to be named, told the Reuters news agency on April 29.
Afghan chief of intelligence, Ahmad Zia Siraj, said the Taliban has increased violence "to the highest level" in recent days.
Top security leaders flew to the central province of Ghazni on April 29 to assess the situation amid reports of the Taliban amassing fighters in the area to overrun the strategic province.
Peace efforts stalled after the Taliban and the Afghan government began talks in the Qatari capital Doha last year. Washington pushed for a summit in Turkey this month but that was postponed because the Taliban refused to participate, and no new date has been set.