Formal start of final phase of Afghan pullout by US, NATO

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AP2011

FILE - In this Sept. 11, 2011 file photo, a U.S. Army soldier walks past an American Flag hanging in preparation for a ceremony commemorating the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, at Forward Operating Base Bostick in Kunar province, Afghanistan. The final phase of ending America's forever war in Afghanistan after 20 years formally began Saturday, May 1, 2021, with the withdrawal of the last U.S. and NATO troops by the end of summer.(AP Photo/David Goldman, File)

KABUL – The final phase of ending America's “forever war” in Afghanistan after 20 years formally began Saturday, with the withdrawal of the last U.S. and NATO troops by the end of summer.

President Joe Biden had set May 1 as the official start of the withdrawal of the remaining forces — about 2,500-3,500 U.S. troops and about 7,000 NATO soldiers.

Even before Saturday, the herculean task of packing up had begun.

The military has been taking inventory, deciding what is shipped back to the U.S., what is handed to the Afghan security forces and what is sold as junk in Afghanistan's markets. In recent weeks, the military has been flying out equipment on massive C-17 cargo planes.

The U.S. is estimated to have spent more than $2 trillion in Afghanistan in the past two decades, according to the Costs of War project at Brown University, which documents the hidden costs of the U.S. military engagement.

Defense department officials and diplomats told The Associated Press the withdrawal has involved closing smaller bases over the last year. They said that since Biden announced the end-of-summer withdrawal date in mid-April, only roughly 60 military personnel had left the country.

The U.S. and its NATO allies went into Afghanistan together on Oct. 7, 2001 to hunt the al-Qaida perpetrators of the 9/11 terrorist attacks who lived under the protection of the country's Taliban rulers. Two months later, the Taliban had been defeated and al-Qaida fighters and their leader, Osama bin Laden, were on the run.

In his withdrawal announcement last month, Biden said the initial mission was accomplished a decade ago when U.S. Navy SEALS killed bin Laden in his hideout in neighboring Pakistan. Since then, al-Qaida has been degraded, while the terrorist threat has “metastasized” into a global phenomenon that is not contained by keeping thousands of troops in one country, he said.