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USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69) in the foreground operates in the Arabian Sea on April 19, 2021.
USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69) in the foreground operates in the Arabian Sea on April 19, 2021. (Sawyer Haskins/U.S. Navy)
USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69) in the foreground operates in the Arabian Sea on April 19, 2021.
USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69) in the foreground operates in the Arabian Sea on April 19, 2021. (Sawyer Haskins/U.S. Navy)
A B-52 Stratofortress flies over Washington, D.C., on July 4, 2020, as part of the "Salute to America" celebration. According to reports on April 23, 2021, two Stratofortress bombers have arrived in the Middle East as the U.S. and allied troops prepare to pull out of Afghanistan.
A B-52 Stratofortress flies over Washington, D.C., on July 4, 2020, as part of the "Salute to America" celebration. According to reports on April 23, 2021, two Stratofortress bombers have arrived in the Middle East as the U.S. and allied troops prepare to pull out of Afghanistan. (Carlos Bongioanni/Stars and Stripes)

WASHINGTON — Two B-52 strategic bombers have arrived in the Middle East as the latest additional forces to support the U.S. drawdown in Afghanistan, chief Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters Friday.

The announcement came as Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin also extended the deployment of the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower in the region to help protect American troops as they prepare to leave Afghanistan starting May 1, Kirby said. The Eisenhower is operating in the Arabian Sea.

The bombers and carrier are meant to “provide options” for Army Gen. Scott Miller, commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, to ensure the drawdown is “safe, orderly and deliberate,” Kirby said.

“It would be foolhardy and imprudent not to assume that there could be resistance and opposition to the drawdown by the Taliban,” he said.

Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie, commander of U.S. Central Command, told Pentagon reporters Thursday that he “would advise the Taliban that we will be well prepared to defend ourselves throughout the withdrawal process.”

As the clock ticks down until the drawdown’s start, more assets — including additional troops — could be deployed, Kirby said, adding “force protection” is a priority.

“I think it’s reasonable to assume that there could be temporary additional force protection measures and enablers that we require to make sure again that this drawdown goes smoothly and safely for our men and women,” he said.

The drawdown, set to end by Sept. 11, will mean the only U.S. forces stationed in Afghanistan will be those needed to protect the embassy in Kabul, the nation’s capital, McKenzie said Thursday.

There are more than 10,000 U.S. and coalition troops in Afghanistan, about 2,500 to 3,500 of whom are American, according to The Associated Press.

Doornbos.caitlin@stripes.com Twitter: @CaitlinDoornbos

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