Taliban and Afghan forces clash as U.S. hands over base


Fighting between Afghan government forces and the Taliban has left more than 100 insurgents dead in the past 24 hours, the defence ministry said on Sunday as it took control of a U.S. military base in a restive province.

The U.S. military handed over Camp Antonik in the southern Helmand province to Afghan forces, a day after it formally began withdrawing its remaining troops from the country.

The Taliban and government forces clashed across several provinces, the ministry said, including in the former insurgent bastion of Kandahar, where the U.S. military carried out a "precision strike" on Saturday as it began the final troop pull-out.

Another 52 Taliban fighters were wounded in the clashes, the ministry said, without giving details of any casualties suffered by government forces.

The Taliban did not offer any comment on the fighting, but both sides are known to exaggerate casualties inflicted on the other.

Fighting on the ground has continued unabated in recent months as peace efforts aimed at ending the 20-year conflict have faltered.

The U.S. military formally began withdrawing its remaining 2,500 troops from the violence-wracked country on Saturday, as ordered by President Joe Biden last month. Afghan officials said all foreign troops were being taken to Bagram, the biggest American base in Afghanistan, and from there they would leave to their respective countries.


As part of the ongoing drawdown, the U.S. military handed over Camp Antonik in Helmand to Afghan forces, the defence ministry said. It said the base will be used by Afghanistan's special forces that have been trained in counter-terrorism operations by the U.S. military and NATO.

Photographs of the handover ceremony released by Afghanistan's defence ministry showed U.S. soldiers lowering the U.S. flag at the base and a group of Afghan troops subsequently raising the national flag.

The U.S. military has handed over several bases to Afghan forces since Washington signed a landmark deal with the Taliban last year that paved the way for the withdrawal of foreign forces.

The deal signed in February 2020 under the administration of ex-president Donald Trump stipulated that all foreign forces would be withdrawn by 1 May 2021.

Biden announced in April that the last remaining 2,500 American troops would instead be withdrawn by the 20th anniversary of the September 11 attacks and not by 1 May. But he said their withdrawal would start on 1 May.

As the formal pull-out commenced on Saturday, the U.S. military said it carried out a "precision strike", after an airfield in Kandahar where it has a base "received ineffective indirect fire" that caused no damage.

The attack on the Kandahar base, which has not been claimed by any group, came as the Taliban warned that the U.S. military had violated the 2020 accord by not finishing the troop withdrawal by 1 May.

"This in principle opens the way for our mujahideen to take appropriate action against the invading forces," Mohammad Naeem, a Taliban spokesman, told journalists adding that the group was awaiting orders from its leaders for its future course of action.

Since the U.S. withdrawal deal was struck the Taliban have not directly engaged foreign troops, but have mercilessly attacked government forces in the countryside and waged a terror campaign in urban areas.    (AFP)


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