The US could complete its withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan within days, reports say, amid increasing Taliban territorial gains in resurgent fighting.
President Biden set a deadline of Sept 11 for US troops to fully withdraw, but recent reports suggest the pull-out could be complete by mid-July, well ahead of time.
US officials told Reuters that around 650 US forces are expected to stay to protect the US embassy and Kabul airport.
The reports come as a top US commander warned that the country risks sliding into civil war as the last US troops leave.
On Tuesday, General Scott Miller said Afghanistan could face “very hard times” if its leadership was unable to unite once international troops leave.
The warning from the commander of the US-led mission in Afghanistan came just days after the UN warned of “dire scenarios” as the Taliban took hold of 50 of 370 districts since May, encircling many cities and closing in on the capital Kabul.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani insists the country’s security forces are fully capable of keeping insurgents at bay, but many believe the withdrawal risks delivering Afghanistan back into the hands of the Taliban.
“The security situation is not good right now,” Miller said in a rare news conference. “Civil war is certainly a path that can be visualised if this continues on the trajectory it’s on right now. That should be a concern to the world.”
He accused the Taliban of failing to reduce violence in line with the agreement it struck with the US.
The militant group claims to have recently captured more than 100 districts across Afghanistan – something experts tie to the lack of US air support to Afghan forces.
Miller did not rule out the US using air strikes against the Taliban, saying, “What I would like to see is no air strikes, but to get to no air strikes, you stop all violence,” he told reporters.
Other countries have now fully withdrawn their forces from Afghanistan.
The last Italian soldiers deployed as part of Nato-led foreign forces have now returned home. Italy’s defence ministry said it had deployed more than 50,000 troops to Afghanistan since 9/11.
On Tuesday, Germany brought to an end almost two decades of involvement in the country. About 150,000 Germans served there following the invasion in 2001.