The U.S. military's withdrawal from Afghanistan is essentially complete, despite President Joe Biden's comments last week that American troops will leave by late August, according to two U.S. officials.
“The withdrawal is over, for all intents and purposes,” said one of the officials with direct knowledge of the situation, who requested anonymity to discuss sensitive planning. “It's done.”
The U.S. currently has roughly 600 troops in Afghanistan, most of whom are Marine Corps and Army personnel providing security at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, the person said. The rest of the 600 will be based at the Kabul's Hamid Karzai International Airport, said another U.S. official with direct knowledge of the discussions. All of those troops are expected to remain after the pullout is officially complete, The Associated Press first reported last month.
Besides the security troops, the only U.S. military personnel left to withdraw by the Sept. 11 deadline Biden set in May are Gen. Scott Miller, the commander of U.S. Forces-Afghanistan, and a handful of staff, the two officials said. U.S. Central Command announced on Tuesday that the withdrawal was 90 percent complete, and the last American troops on Friday left Bagram Air Base, the focal point of the U.S. war effort for the last 20 years.
In addition, the U.S. military must also pull out the remaining security and logistical forces sent in temporarily this spring to enable the drawdown, Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said in a statement to POLITICO.
“While the withdrawal is over 90% complete, it is not done,” Kirby said. “Temporary Enabling Forces remain in theater that are focused on providing security for a safe and orderly withdrawal. As long as these forces and certain contract support are still there, the withdrawal is ongoing.”
Kirby added that the planned transition of command from Miller and Gen. Frank McKenzie, the commander of U.S. Central Command, has not yet occurred, and the NATO Resolute Support mission also continues.
Miller is currently on official travel, but is expected to return to Afghanistan, Kirby told reporters Friday. The general will remain in the country for the next few weeks to help facilitate the transition of the Afghanistan mission over to McKenzie, he said.
The primary reason Miller is staying is to boost the morale of the Afghan security forces, who have endured heightened attacks by the Taliban across the country over the past few months, the second U.S. official said. The attacks have further intensified in recent weeks, with the Taliban taking control of 10 percent of the country in the last six days alone, according to the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), which has closely tracked the conflict.
Overall, the Taliban controls 188 of the country's 407 districts, and contests another 135, according to FDD.
After the U.S. exit from Bagram on Friday, Afghan officials accused the United States of leaving in the dead of night without notifying the base's new Afghan commander, who reportedly found out two hours after the troops left. Electricity and lights were suddenly shut off as the Americans departed.
Kirby disputed that characterization on Tuesday, telling reporters that Afghan civilian and military leaders were “appropriately coordinated with and briefed” about the turnover. However, U.S. military leaders did not inform the Afghans of the exact timing of their departure due to “operational security reasons.”
“We have had to operate under the assumption that this drawdown could be contested at any time,” Kirby said. “We're very careful about what we say and how much detail we provide out there, but there was coordination.”
When the final transfer at Bagram occurred, electricity and water services became the responsibility of Afghan forces, Pentagon spokesperson Maj. Rob Lodewick said Wednesday. U.S. forces provided training to the Afghans leading up to that point on how to manage and operate Bagram's utility systems, he said.
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