A formal conclusion this week of the U.S. military withdrawal, or retrograde, would mark the surprisingly swift end of a process Biden launched in April when he ordered the military to leave by September 11. Up to 1,000 US troops could remain in the country. after the official withdrawal to help secure the U.S. embassy in Kabul and the city’s airport, a senior administration official told CNN, and it is not yet clear how long the troops from the NATO will stay.
“This week could be a critical week in the withdrawal and end of the retrograde process,” a defense official told CNN.
US officials said there were some 2,500 US troops in Afghanistan, along with hundreds of additional special forces that are not publicly recognized, when Biden made his decision in April to withdraw them.
CNN previously reported that approximately 650 of these soldiers will provide security for the US Embassy in Kabul. The rest are expected to be at Kabul International Airport to provide additional security until a Turkish military presence at the airport is finalized.
These remaining troops reflect the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan and bleak prospects.
As the Taliban take control of districts across the country, US intelligence assessments have suggested that the country’s civilian government may fall into the hands of the militant group in the months following the withdrawal of US forces. The top US general there, Austin Miller, warned Tuesday that escalating violence could lead to civil war, according to reports.
“Civil war is certainly a path that can be visualized,” Miller told The New York Times in an interview. “It should be of concern to the world. “
Biden acknowledged the growing challenges last Friday during a visit by President Ashraf Ghani, noting the “senseless violence” and saying: “This is going to be very difficult”, but he is not rethinking his plans to withdraw US troops, he said. said Jen, White House press secretary. Psaki said on Tuesday that the president’s view remains unchanged that it is time to end the war and that prolonging the U.S. presence would only put U.S. troops at risk.
“The president’s decision to withdraw his troops from Afghanistan is in line with his vision for war over the past 20 years,” Psaki told reporters aboard Air Force One on Tuesday.
“But he also made this decision because it was clear, given the timetable set by the previous administration, that if we did not withdraw our troops, American men and women would face gunfire,” she declared. “And it wasn’t something, as the commander-in-chief he felt it was acceptable. And so we’re on this timeline that we’re on, in September. “
Psaki referred to Afghanistan’s security intelligence assessments on Tuesday and said the United States remained committed to maintaining “a presence on the ground” to guard diplomatic facilities.
Biden promised Afghan leaders that the United States will continue to provide humanitarian support and security assistance, but Psaki said the president feels he has no choice but to withdraw his troops given the threats. Taliban against them on the basis of the agreement signed under former President Donald Trump that foreign forces would withdraw. before May 1st.
Now, US officials are adamant that the US combat presence and the advisory and assistance mission inside Afghanistan will end in a matter of days. The United States continues to maintain a long-standing helicopter presence at the airport, but virtually all fixed-wing fighter jets are now out of the country.
This also poses challenges, because if there is a security crisis, commanders will have to decide whether they want to risk putting pilots over Afghanistan with limited helicopter resources if they fall and have to. be rescued.
Even though the US military mission in Afghanistan is about to end, the need to protect Kabul airport means that there is a possibility that the official NATO mission known as Resolute Support will continue for a period of time. indeterminate period. The United States believes Turkey will want the umbrella of a NATO mission in order to continue its security presence at the airport.
The airport has long been considered a vital part of Afghanistan’s security image as it is the major point of international air traffic. If the airport cannot remain open safely, countries, including the United States, would have no choice but to withdraw their diplomatic staff and close their embassies.
Asked Tuesday about the presence of American troops at the airport, Kirby said the United States was in the process of resolving this issue.
“What it’s going to look like in the future, we’re still working. The main point I’m trying to say is that whatever US troops remain in Afghanistan, once the withdrawal is over, they are there to protect our diplomats and preserve our ability to have a diplomatic presence there, because the president has been very clear that he wants to keep this embassy open and keep this embassy’s programs on the line, ”Kirby said.
With the possibility that the NATO operation will not officially end soon, a key question will be whether Miller, the four-star general who also serves as commander of Resolute Support, remains in Afghanistan – a decision Biden must make. , according to officials.
The final days of the US withdrawal are almost entirely out of public view, as the dwindling number of US forces may be increasingly vulnerable to attack by the Taliban or even Al Qaeda or fighters. of the Islamic State.
The military has already sent home around 900 loads of C-17 airlift equipment. Some 16,000 pieces of equipment will be disposed of by the Department of Defense, most of which is not major military grade equipment.
Some vehicles and weapons were returned home, while some equipment of limited value to the US military was destroyed on the spot and some equipment of all categories was returned to the Afghan forces.
One of the last acts of the US military is expected to be the handing over of the massive Bagram air base, north of Kabul, to the Afghan government before a group of several hundred forces leave the country by air.