On July 12, U.S. General Austin “Scott” Miller officially stepped down from his post. He has been one of America’s top commanders in Afghanistan and has overseen war efforts in the region for almost three years. The abdication ceremony was held at the American military headquarters at the heavily fortified Green Zone in Kabul. Washington is also pulling out its forces from Afghanistan to end its 20-year war with the Taliban terrorist group.
“Our job now is just not to forget… With the families that have lost people across this conflict, it will be important to know that someone remembers, that someone cares, and that we’re able to talk about it in the future,” Miller said in his remarks while citing sacrifices made by Americans, Afghans, and other allies.
Miller warned that relentless violence hinders chances of reaching any kind of political settlement in Afghanistan. He has advised Taliban officials to seek out a peaceful agreement with the national government, “But we know that with that violence, it would be very difficult to achieve a political settlement,” Miller said.
Miller has handed over command to Marine Corps General Frank McKenzie, the head of U.S. Central Command, who will operate from the Central Command headquarters located in Florida. At the handover ceremony, McKenzie praised Miller for seeing American troops back home safely and for shipping out millions of tons of equipment from Afghanistan.
The decision to remove equipment attracted criticism from some Afghan security officials, who believed some of the equipment could have been left over for the country’s official forces, currently fighting against an aggressive Taliban expansion.
Hamdullah Mohib, Afghanistan’s National Security Adviser who was present at the handover ceremony, said that the withdrawal of American and NATO forces has created a vacuum because the country’s security forces are now stranded on the battlefield without proper supplies like ammunition and food. The lack of aircraft is also hampering efforts to maintain proper supply channels to national troops.
At a July 8 press conference, President Joe Biden confirmed that America’s military mission in Afghanistan will end on August 31, 2021, and stated that the effort was proceeding in a “secure and orderly” manner.
“The United States did what we went to do in Afghanistan: to get the terrorists who attacked us on 9/11 and to deliver justice to Osama Bin Laden, and to degrade the terrorist threat to keep Afghanistan from becoming a base from which attacks could be continued against the United States. We achieved those objectives. That’s why we went. We did not go to Afghanistan to nation-build,” Biden said.
The exit of American troops is part of a deal that the Trump administration had struck with the Taliban in February 2020, in which the insurgent group promised to desist from attacking NATO or American military personnel during the time of withdrawal. Washington committed to spending 4.4 billion dollars annually on the country’s security forces at least until 2024.
According to a July 6 press release from the U.S. Central Command, almost 90 percent of the withdrawal process has been completed. “The DoD has retrograded the equivalent of approximately 984 C-17 loads of material out of Afghanistan and have turned nearly 17,074 pieces of equipment to the Defense Logistics Agency for disposition,” the press release stated.
Most of the 17,074 pieces of equipment are not considered defensive articles. Seven facilities that were being used by American forces have been handed over to Afghanistan’s defense ministry.
The withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan has sparked renewed criticism of former President George W. Bush. Under Bush’s leadership, the United States began its war on terror in Afghanistan in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attack. Bush had demanded the Taliban hand over the perpetrator of the attack, Osama bin Laden. When the Taliban refused to acquiesce, America launched the war.
In a recent interview with a German broadcaster, Bush raised concerns about Afghans being left without any protection. He warned that women especially will suffer “unspeakable” harm. “This is a mistake… They’re just going to be left behind to be slaughtered by these very brutal people, and it breaks my heart,” Bush said.
“I’ve always warned that no U.S. presence in Afghanistan will create a vacuum, and into that vacuum is likely to come people who treat women as second class citizens… I’m also deeply concerned about the sacrifices of our soldiers, and our intelligence community, will be forgotten,” Bush had said to Fox News back in May.
Protecting Afghan helpers
A critical issue Washington has to deal with is transferring Afghan nationals who assisted American troops in war efforts to the United States. It is estimated that there are 26,000 to 35,000 people in Afghanistan who have, since 2001, provided U.S. forces with intelligence regarding the Taliban’s plans and offered logistical, administrative, and cultural assistance.
Their families will also need to be pulled from the country. According to the nonprofit No One Left Behind, almost 300 such Afghans have been killed by the Taliban since 2014. With the exit of American troops, securing the safe transfer of the nationals will be a challenge.
“We only have two months before the Department of Defense is completely out of Afghanistan, thus leaving these people behind… The time for platitudes and vague promises is over. We need action. And we needed it yesterday,” Republican Representative Michael McCaul, a ranking minority member of the Foreign Affairs Committee said to Secretary of State Antony Blinken at a July 7 hearing of a House Foreign Affairs Committee.