The US has begun moving troops out of Afghanistan as it looks to reduce its military presence under the terms of the peace agreement signed with the Taliban. All US troops are to withdraw within the next 14 months.
Amid political chaos in Afghanistan, the US began pulling out troops in the country on Monday in accordance with the landmark peace deal.
US forces, however, retain "all the military means and authorities to accomplish our objectives," including operations against al-Qaeda and the "Islamic State," Pentagon official Sonny Legget said in a statement.
The US, which invaded Afghanistan and overthrew the Taliban regime in 2001, signed a deal with the Taliban's leadership in late February, pledging to reduce its military presence. The first stage would see the Pentagon cut troop numbers from somewhere over 12,000 to 8,600 in the coming six months.
The deal also lays out a 14-month period for the withdrawal of "all military forces of the United States, its allies, and Coalition partners, including all non-diplomatic civilian personnel, private security contractors, trainers, advisors, and supporting services personnel."
US Defense Secretary Mark Esper has said that the US will pause the withdrawal and reassess the situation — including whether the Taliban has upheld its end of the deal — once the troop numbers are reduced to 8,600.
The US is also seeking a vote to endorse this deal at the UN Security Council on Tuesday, diplomats said. Following negotiations on a draft resolution at the UN, the country requested a vote on the Taliban deal.
Read more: US-Taliban deal — a victory for Islamists?
Rival presidential inaugurations
Earlier on Monday, incumbent Afghan President Ashraf Ghani held his inauguration at the presidential palace, accompanied by US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and the top US military commander in the country, Scott Miller. In another area of the palace, his main political rival, Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, held his own presidential inauguration ceremony, where he pledged to "safeguard the independence, national sovereignty, territorial integrity" of Afghanistan.
Ghani in February was narrowly declared the winner of last year's presidential elections, but the polls were dogged by successive delays and claims of vote-rigging, said the country's electoral complaints commission. Abdullah has since vowed to form his own parallel government.
Washington hopes to end the war that has lasted more than 18 years — the longest-running war in US history. The latest political standoff, however, raises fears of fresh bloodshed in Afghanistan, as both Abdullah and Ghani are backed by heavily armed militias.
dj, see/stb (AP, AFP)