US sending 650 Rangers to protect forces as they withdraw

The Pentagon is reportedly sending around 650 troops to Afghanistan in the coming days to protect US forces as they withdraw from the country, CNN reported Tuesday, citing several defense officials.

According to CNN, the deployment was approved by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin late last week as part of a package of military assets being sent to the country to facilitate the US withdrawal, which is due to be complete by September 11.

According to CNN, the ground troops are largely expected to come from the 75th Ranger Regiment, which already has some personnel in the region as part of a special operations force unit.

The Rangers being sent are expected to have dedicated aircraft able to transport them around the country as well as close air support such as AC-130 gunships to protect them if they are attacked along with departing troops.

This comes after Austin last week approved extending the deployment of the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower as well as B-52 bombers to the region to carry out airstrikes if needed given the level of threats by the Taliban to attack US troops.

But the Rangers will potentially face the greatest risk on the ground as they move to remote areas where US troops, located in southern and eastern Afghanistan, are likely to be among the first to be moved out, reported CNN.

On Sunday, US Forces Afghanistan and NATO’s Resolute Support Mission commander General Austin Scott Miller said some troops were being moved within the country.

“All of our forces are now preparing to retrograde. Officially the notification date will be the first of May, but at the same time as we start taking local actions we have already begun that,” Miller said.

Citing officials, CNN reported that after the withdrawal begins May 1, there will be an effort to move conventional forces and equipment out as quickly as possible if that equipment is not turned over to Afghan forces or destroyed in place.

It’s not yet clear if special operations forces already in Afghanistan that are involved in counter-terrorism missions will be among the last to depart so the US has the crucial time to develop a plan on how to continue to conduct counter-terror operations when all forces have left the country, reported CNN.