The White House stated today that the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan is expected to be completed by the “end of August”. The Pentagon says that following the withdrawal of US “combat troops”, US Forces-Afghanistan Forward will be stood up in Kabul, focusing on protecting the US’ diplomatic presence, security at Kabul Airport, advising and assisting Afghan security forces, as well as supporting US counterterrorism efforts in the country. Support for US Forces-Afghanistan Forward and “over the horizon” support of the Afghan Air Force will be based in Qatar.
The statements come a day after US officials confirmed that the last US and coalition soldiers had departed Bagram Air Base on the night of July 1. The hub of 20 years of US-led operations in Afghanistan has been officially handed over to the Afghan National Army, with Afghan defence ministry spokesman Fawad Aman tweeting that Afghan security forces will continue to “use it to combat terrorism”.
Confirmation of the handover was a rare concrete statement amidst a tide of non-answers out of Washington over the past week, even as the Associated Press reported about a detachment of around 600 US troops possibly remaining in the country to safeguard the US diplomatic presence in Afghanistan. In response to press questions about Afghanistan today following remarks on the June Jobs Report, President Joe Biden said that he wanted to “talk about happy things, man”. He reiterated previous Pentagon statements that there was “an over-the-horizon capacity” that could be “value added”, “but the Afghans are going to have to be able to do it themselves with the Air Force they have”.
Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby had said on Tuesday that there would indeed be a “certain amount” of US troops remaining in the country, but did not provide further details. In response to questions about continuing Taliban offensives throughout the country, he conceded that “violence remains too high”. However, he continued that:
“What we’d like to see is the Taliban return to the peace process in a — in a credible way. And as we see events on the ground unfold, it certainly calls into question the sincerity of their efforts to — to — to be a legitimate, credible participant in the peace process.”
Meanwhile, Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said today that “no decision has been reached” on a proposed plan for Turkish troops to take over the security of Kabul’s international airport. Talks with the United Nations, the US, other NATO countries and Kabul remain ongoing, with Akar saying that the negotiation results have yet to be discussed with Turkish President Recep Tayip Erdogan, who is to provide final approval of the plan.
Following a series of high profile advances by Taliban forces since the announcement of the US “retrograde”, Afghan security forces have recently launched counteroffensives on both the ground and in public messaging. The Afghan Ministry of Defense today claimed the killing of 52 Taliban fighters in Afghan Air Force airstrikes in Helmand province’s Nad-Ali, Gerishk, and Nahre-Saraj districts. Additionally, minority groups like the Hazara, who were victims of mass killings during the reign of the Taliban between 1991 and 2001, have begun forming self defense militias, vowing to stand and fight even if Kabul falls.