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A U.S. military Chinook helicopter lands on a field outside the governor's palace in Maidan Shar, Afghanistan. Photo: Thomas Watkins/AFP via Getty Images

U.S.-led military forces in Afghanistan abruptly canceled a planned flag-lowering ceremony with NATO allies over what the ceremony was meant to signify, three U.S. Defense officials told NBC News on Friday.

Why it matters: It's a reflection of concern and uncertainty about the United States's withdrawal of troops at large. Defense contractors have sought more guidance from the government while some Afghans fear the Taliban will have more ammunition once the United States leaves, per NBC News.

Details: Officials say the flag-lowering ceremony was not meant to signify the end of NATO's "Resolute Support" mission, which trains and assists Afghan security forces. It was supposed to give the 13 NATO partners an opportunity to gather before coalition troops depart.

  • Senior allied officers had planned to lower their nations' flags at the mission's headquarters building to recognize their contributions to Afghanistan.
  • But some saw the ceremony as an end to the mission and closure of the headquarters, according to officials, leading to the event's cancellation hours before it was set to begin.
  • The ceremony will likely take place on another day.

The big picture: President Biden announced in April that all U.S. troops would leave Afghanistan by Sept. 11, but military forces are departing faster than scheduled. Pentagon officials say the pullout is likely to finish two months earlier than planned, according to NBC News.

  • But Afghans who worked as interpreters or contractors for U.S. forces are concerned that the uncertainty of U.S. support post-withdrawal will leave Afghanistan vulnerable.
  • "As Afghans look for visible signs that Biden’s promised support will continue, what they see is a rush to the door — and silence about the details that would make the promises real," Ronald Neumann, a former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, wrote in an opinion piece for the Washington Post.

Go deeper

State Department partners with aid group welcoming Afghan refugees to U.S.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaking in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 14. Photo: Mandel Ngan-Pool/AFP via Getty Images

Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced Thursday that the State Department is partnering with Welcome.US, an aid group helping to welcome and support Afghan refugees who fled their country for the U.S.

Why it matters: The partnership is part of the Biden administration's Operation Allies Welcome, which involves the processing and resettlement of the more than 65,000 Afghans evacuated during the U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Sep 17, 2021 - World

UN Security Council extends Afghan mission by six months

UN Secretary-General António Guterres attends a press conference on Afghanistan in Geneva on Sept. 13, 2021. Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP via Getty Images

The United Nations Security Council on Friday authorized a six-month extension of the UN's political mission in Afghanistan.

Why it matters: The move will allow Secretary-General António Guterres to compile the necessary information to determine "strategic and operational recommendations" in light of the Taliban's takeover.

Sep 17, 2021 - World

Taliban replaces women's ministry with ministry of virtue and vice

Protesters march through the Dashti-E-Barchi neighborhood in Kabul, a day after the Taliban announced its new all-men interim government with no representation for women and ethnic minority groups. Photo: Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

The Taliban on Friday rebranded Afghanistan's women's ministry with the "Ministries of Prayer and Guidance and the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice," Reuters reports.

Why it matters: When the Taliban was last in power, it maintained severe rules limiting girls' and women's autonomy, and barred them from education and work.

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