The top commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan left Monday, while Taliban fighters continue their assault across the country.
The Biden administration has said U.S. troops will be officially out of Afghanistan by Aug. 31, but the departure of Adm. Austin Miller symbolizes the completion of the U.S. military’s withdrawal.
“I will always remember the Afghan people throughout my life,” Miller said at a brief handover ceremony at U.S. military command in Kabul.
Adm. Frank McKenzie, commander of U.S. Central Command, arrived in Kabul Monday morning to take over command of the remaining U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
U.S. Central Command said the withdrawal is “more than 90 percent” complete. Most U.S. troops and equipment have been withdrawn, leaving fewer than 1,000 U.S. troops to remain in Afghanistan to protect the U.S. Embassy and help secure Kabul International Airport.
CENTCOM Commander McKenzie is already the top commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan and several other neighboring countries and will continue to command those forces from the U.S. command, while Rear Adm. Peter Vasely is in charge of those forces on the ground.
Miller is the longest-serving senior U.S. commander in the war in Afghanistan. He has served as the top U.S. commander for about three years in the nearly 20-year war in Afghanistan, and is responsible for implementing the withdrawal of U.S. forces called for by the Trump administration’s February 2020 agreement with the Taliban and the final withdrawal of U.S. forces ordered by President Biden in April of this year.
As I leave Afghanistan, I think it’s essential to remember the sacrifice,” Miller said at the handover ceremony.
Our job now is not to forget” all the Americans, Afghans and members of international forces and civilians who have given their lives in Afghanistan, he said.
U.S. forces entered Afghanistan in 2001 to destroy a training base for al-Qaida terrorists. These terrorists hijacked flights and attacked the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, killing nearly 3,000 people.
McKenzie will be able to continue airstrikes against the Taliban in support of the Afghan government through the end of August. The Taliban was overthrown after 2001 for harboring al-Qaida.
In a recent interview with Voice of America, Miller said that after all U.S. troops are withdrawn, the U.S. will launch attacks in Afghanistan only in support of counterterrorism operations against al-Qaida and the Islamic State. The U.S. military will continue to provide financial assistance to Afghan forces and maintenance support for aircraft outside Afghanistan.
Taliban anti-government forces say they have captured 85 percent of the country, an allegation that has been disputed. The Long War Journal, published by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, says the Taliban have expanded their control of all 407 administrative districts from about 75 in the past to more than 210 today since the official U.S. troop withdrawal began May 1. More than 210.
What I would say to the Taliban is that they are also responsible for this,” Miller said Monday. The violence that is going on is against the will of the Afghan people and it needs to stop.”
Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said Sunday on “Fox Sunday News” that the U.S. is “extremely concerned” that Taliban opposition forces have taken control of more Afghan land, and that U.S. troops are returning home quickly under President Biden’s withdrawal order. U.S. troops are returning home quickly under President Biden’s withdrawal order.
Biden continued to defend the withdrawal of U.S. troops last week in the face of the Taliban’s advance.
“We’re not going to Afghanistan for nation-building,” Biden said at the White House, adding that “the Afghan people have a right and a responsibility to determine their future and the way they want their country to be governed.”
Biden said the U.S. went to Afghanistan to put former al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden “in hell” and to eradicate al Qaeda’s ability to launch more attacks against the United States.
“We accomplished both of those missions,” Biden said, “and that’s why I think it was the right decision, and frankly long overdue.”