Gen. Austin Miller, the commander of US and NATO troops in Afghanistan, is stepping down on Monday — a symbolic end to America’s longest war that comes as the Taliban continues to gain territory in the absence of American troops.
Miller, who has been commanding the coalition since 2018, will relinquish his post during a ceremony at US military headquarters in Kabul.
President Biden announced last week that the military withdrawal will be completed by Aug. 31 — speeding up a timeline that initially put the completion of the pullout on Sept. 11.
Marine Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, the head of Central Command in Florida, arrived in Kabul earlier Monday to oversee the remaining drawdown and to provide support for the Afghan security forces.
”Admittedly, it’s going to be very different than it was in the past. I’m not going to minimize that,” McKenzie told reporters. “But we’re going to support them.”
McKenzie, a four-star general, said the Taliban is apparently seeking a “military victory” over Afghan troops, judging by how the militant fighters have continued to press military operations and take more territory even as they are engaged in peace talks with Afghan government officials.
But he predicted that the Taliban will confront a powerful and motivated foe if it tries to take over Kabul and the provincial capitals.
“I think, certainly, the provincial capitals are at risk, and we’ll see how that shakes out over the next few weeks,” McKenzie said. “I think the Afghans are determined to fight very hard for those provincial capitals.”
He will coordinate the pullout from Central Command headquarters in Tampa, and will be authorized to conduct air strikes against the Taliban in defense of Afghan government troops through Aug. 31.
After Miller’s departure, Navy Rear Admiral Peter Vasely will be based at the US Embassy in Kabul to oversee protection of the embassy and the airport.
Biden, speaking at the White House to announce the new timeline, said the US accomplished its mission to get rid of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and to ensure that terror groups weren’t using Afghanistan to plan attacks against the US and its allies.
He said it’s up to Afghans to decide the future of their country.
“The Afghan government … has to come together,” the president said last week. “They clearly have the capacity to sustain the government in place. The question is, will they generate the kind of cohesion to do it?”
With Post wires