Pentagon says it is steadily withdrawing from Afghanistan but refuses to disclose how many U.S. troops remain

U.S. military planners say the U.S. military footprint in Afghanistan is steadily shrinking, though they declined to say how many U.S. troops remain in the country.

The U.S. Central Command announced Tuesday (May 11) that it had completed “6-12 percent of the overall withdrawal process,” removing the equivalent of more than 100 transport aircraft from Afghanistan while handing over another 1,800 pieces of equipment to be destroyed.

However, CENTCOM and the Pentagon declined to share information on how many of the 2,500 to 3,500 U.S. military personnel in Afghanistan remain in the country, citing security concerns.

“We have an obligation to protect the security of our personnel,” Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby told reporters Tuesday.

“We have to assume that this will be a withdrawal with deterrence,” he said. “It would be irresponsible for us to have any scenario where we don’t assume that.”

The U.S. has sent some Army Ranger Rangers personnel to Afghanistan to help protect retreating U.S. and coalition forces. The U.S. has also stationed six B-52 long-range bombers and 12 F-18 fighter-bombers in the region, and military officials have extended the deployment of the USS Eisenhower carrier strike group in the North Arabian Sea to provide additional firepower support if needed.

In the weeks leading up to the official start of the U.S. withdrawal, Taliban officials had repeatedly threatened to target U.S. and coalition forces, claiming that foreign forces must be withdrawn by May 1. That was the deadline set by an agreement signed between the Taliban and former President Donald Trump’s administration.

However, despite such threats, Taliban commanders have been focusing their offensive on Afghan government forces.

On Monday, Kirby told reporters at the Pentagon that while the level of violence in Afghanistan “remains too high,” U.S. commanders have not encountered any problems that would slow the withdrawal of troops.

After months of internal deliberations and consultations with allies, President Joe Biden announced last month that U.S. troops would leave Afghanistan by Sept. 11, the day 20 years ago when terrorists attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in New York, orchestrated by the al Qaeda terrorist group in Afghanistan.

U.S. military and intelligence officials said they are concerned that the withdrawal will affect their ability to gather information about terrorist groups and counter terrorist plots originating in Afghanistan.

U.S. military officials also said they will rely on “beyond the horizon” long-range reconnaissance and strike capabilities once U.S. forces leave Afghanistan. But so far, officials say, negotiations with other countries in the region on base agreements related to security needs have not made much progress.

“There is a very active discussion within the Department of Defense to better define what is the ‘beyond the horizon’ counterterrorism capability that we can have,” Pentagon spokesman Colby said Tuesday.