NATIONAL NEWS

US Vacates Key Afghan Base; Pullout Target Now ‘Late August’

Jul 2, 2021, 5:31 PM
Members of the United States Air Force deployed for Mission Resolute Support prepare an F-16 Jet fo...
Members of the United States Air Force deployed for Mission Resolute Support prepare an F-16 Jet for a flight at Bagram Air Field on September 5, 2017 in Bagram, Afghanistan. Currently the United States has about 11,000 troops in the deployed in Afghanistan, with a reported 4,000 more expected to arrive in the coming weeks. Last month, President Donald Trump announced his plan for Afghanistan which called for an increase in troop numbers and a new conditions-based approach to the war, getting rid of a timetable for the withdrawal of American forces in the country. (Photo by Andrew Renneisen/Getty Images)
(Photo by Andrew Renneisen/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Nearly 20 years after invading Afghanistan to oust the Taliban and hunt down al-Qaida, the U.S. military has vacated its biggest airfield in the country, advancing a final withdrawal that the Pentagon on Friday said will be completed by the end of August.

President Joe Biden had instructed the Pentagon to complete the military withdrawal by Sept. 11, the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the United States, but the Pentagon now says it can finish the drawdown a little earlier. In fact, the drawdown is already largely completed and officials had said it could be wrapped up this weekend. But a number of related issues need to be worked out in coming weeks, including a new U.S. military command structure in Kabul and talks with Turkey on an arrangement for maintaining security at the Kabul airport, and so an official end to the pullout will not be announced soon.

“A safe, orderly drawdown enables us to maintain an ongoing diplomatic presence, support the Afghan people and the government, and prevent Afghanistan from once again becoming a safe haven for terrorists that threatens our homeland,” Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said.

The administration is meanwhile narrowing options for ensuring the safety of thousands of Afghans whose applications for special visas to come to the United States have yet to be approved. The administration has already said it’s willing to evacuate them to third countries pending their visa approvals but has yet to determine where. Officials said Friday that one possibility is to relocate them to neighboring countries in Central Asia where they could be protected from possible retaliation by the Taliban or other groups.

The White House and State Department have declined to comment on the numbers to be relocated or where they might go, but the foreign ministers of Tajikistan and Uzbekistan were both in Washington this week and the subject of Afghan security was raised in meetings they held with Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.

Kirby said that Austin on Friday approved a new command structure in Afghanistan to transition the U.S. military mission from warfighting to two new objectives — protecting a continuing U.S. diplomatic presence in Kabul and maintaining liaison with the Afghan military.

Austin’s plan calls for the top commander in Afghanistan, Army Gen. Scott Miller, to transfer his combat authorities to the Florida-based head of U.S. Central Command, Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie, before relinquishing his command this month. Also, a two-star Navy admiral will head a U.S. Embassy-based military office, dubbed U.S. Forces Afghanistan-Forward, to oversee the new mission of providing security for the embassy and its diplomats.

A satellite military office based in Qatar and headed by a U.S. one-star general will be established to administer U.S. financial support for the Afghan military and police, plus maintenance support provided for Afghan aircraft from outside Afghanistan.

Kirby said Miller, who already is the longest-serving commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan in the 20 years of warfare, will remain in command for “a couple of weeks” longer but was not more specific. He said Miller will be preparing for and completing the turnover of his duties to McKenzie and also will be traveling inside and beyond Afghanistan.

Miller met Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Friday and, according to a Dari-language tweet by the presidential palace, the two discussed “continued U.S. assistance and cooperation with Afghanistan, particularly in supporting the defense and security forces.”

Bagram Airfield has been the epicenter of the war to oust the Taliban and hunt down the al-Qaida perpetrators of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on America. At its peak in and around 2012, Bagram Airfield saw more than 100,000 U.S. troops pass through the massive compound barely an hour’s drive north of Kabul.

Meanwhile, Afghanistan’s district administrator for Bagram, Darwaish Raufi, said the American departure was done overnight without any coordination with local officials, and as a result early Friday, dozens of local looters stormed through the unprotected gates before Afghan forces regained control.

“They were stopped and some have been arrested and the rest have been cleared from the base,” Raufi told The Associated Press, adding that the looters ransacked several buildings before being arrested and the Afghan forces took control.

However, U.S. military spokesman Col. Sonny Leggett said the handover was an “extensive process” that spanned several weeks and began soon after Biden’s mid-April announcement that America was withdrawing the last of its forces.

“All handovers of Resolute Support bases and facilities, to include Bagram Airfield, have been closely coordinated, both with senior leaders from the government and with our Afghan partners in the security forces, including leadership of the locally based units respective to each base,” said Col. Leggett.

The Taliban welcomed the American withdrawal from Bagram Airfield. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid tweeted that Friday’s departure was a “positive step,” urging for the “withdrawal of foreign forces from all parts of the country.”

As of this week, most other NATO soldiers have already quietly exited Afghanistan. Announcements from several countries analyzed by the AP show that a majority of European troops has left with little ceremony — a stark contrast to the dramatic and public show of force and unity when NATO allies lined up to back the U.S. invasion in 2001.

The U.S. has refused to say when the last American soldier would leave Afghanistan, citing security concerns, but also future security and protection for Kabul International Airport is still being negotiated. Turkish and U.S. soldiers are currently protecting the airport, still under Resolute Support Mission, which is the military mission being wound down.

Until a new agreement for the airport is struck by Turkey and the Afghan government, and possibly the United States, it appears the Resolute Support mission would to have to continue to be in charge of the facility.

___

Gannon reported from Kabul. Associated Press writers Lolita Baldor and Matthew Lee in Washington, Farid Tanha, in Bagram, Afghanistan, and Rahim Faiez in Kabul, contributed to this report.

KSL 5 TV Live

Top Stories

National News

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has postponed his upcoming trip to China in response to the fl...
Jennifer Hansler, Kevin Liptak, Jeremy Herb, Kylie Atwood, Jim Sciutto and Oren Liebermann

Blinken postpones trip to Beijing after Chinese spy balloon spotted over US

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has postponed his trip to China in response to a suspected Chinese spy balloon.
1 day ago
An Iowa Alzheimer's care facility is facing a $10,000 fine after pronouncing a woman dead who was l...
Hannah Sarisohn

Residential care facility faces fine after woman pronounced dead found gasping for air in body bag

An Iowa Alzheimer's care facility is facing a $10,000 fine after pronouncing a woman dead who was later found alive when a funeral director unzipped her body bag, according to documents from the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals.
1 day ago
Three bodies found on Feb. 2 in the Detroit area are believed to be those of three rappers who have...
Joe Sutton and Emma Tucker

Bodies found in apartment identified as 3 Michigan rappers missing for almost 2 weeks, police say

Three bodies found in the Detroit area this week were identified by authorities Friday as those of three rappers who were missing for almost two weeks, according to Michigan State Police.
1 day ago
Tulare County Sheriff Mike Boudreaux speaks during a news conference Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2023, in Vis...
Associated Press

Authorities: 2 arrested in California shooting that killed 6

A California sheriff says two gang members suspected in the massacre of six people last month in central California have been arrested, one after a gunbattle.
1 day ago
Davion Irvin was arrested late Thursday night and charged with six counts of animal cruelty-non-liv...
Chris Boyette and Vivian Kuo

Suspect arrested in case of tamarin monkeys missing from Dallas Zoo, police say

A 24-year-old man has been arrested in Dallas and charged in connection with the suspected theft of a pair of emperor tamarin monkeys that were recovered unharmed this week in an abandoned home a day after they vanished from the Dallas Zoo, police said.
1 day ago
A suspected Chinese high altitude balloon floats over Billings, Montana, on February 1. (Larry Maye...
Oren Liebermann, Haley Britzky, Michael Conte and Nectar Gan, CNN

Pentagon tracking suspected Chinese spy balloon over the US

The U.S. is tracking a suspected Chinese high-altitude surveillance balloon over the continental United States, defense officials said on Thursday.
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

vintage photo of lighting showroom featuring chandeliers, lamps, wall lights and mirrors...
Lighting Design

History of Lighting Design | Over 25 Years of Providing Utah With the Latest Trends and Styles

Read about the history of Lighting Design, a family-owned and operated business that paved the way for the lighting industry in Utah.
Fiber Optical cables connected to an optic ports and Network cables connected to ethernet ports...
Brian Huston, CE and Anthony Perkins, BICSI

Why Every Business Needs a Structured Cabling System

A structured cabling system benefits businesses by giving you faster processing speeds and making your network more efficient and reliable.
notebook with password notes highlighted...
PC Laptops

How to Create Strong Passwords You Can Actually Remember

Learn how you can create strong passwords that are actually easy to remember! In a short time you can create new ones in seconds.
house with for rent sign posted...
Chase Harrington, president and COO of Entrata

Top 5 Reasons You May Want to Consider Apartment Life Over Owning a Home

There are many benefits of renting that can be overshadowed by the allure of buying a home. Here are five reasons why renting might be right for you.
Festive kitchen in Christmas decorations. Christmas dining room....
Lighting Design

6 Holiday Decor Trends to Try in 2022

We've rounded out the top 6 holiday decor trends for 2022 so you can be ahead of the game before you start shopping. 
Happy diverse college or university students are having fun on their graduation day...
BYU MBA at the Marriott School of Business

How to Choose What MBA Program is Right for You: Take this Quiz Before You Apply!

Wondering what MBA program is right for you? Take this quiz before you apply to see if it will help you meet your goals.
US Vacates Key Afghan Base; Pullout Target Now ‘Late August’