Top U.S. General Steps Down in Afghanistan

KABUL, Afghanistan — The prime American normal in Afghanistan stepped down on Monday, a symbolic second because the United States nears the tip of its 20-year-old battle and Taliban fighters sweep throughout the nation.

At a muted ceremony at U.S. and NATO navy headquarters in Kabul, Gen. Austin S. Miller ended his practically three-year time period as commander. His duties will likely be stuffed by two officers. Rear Adm. Peter G. Vasely, who just lately served as operations director for the Defense Intelligence Agency, will take cost of the safety mission on the United States Embassy in Kabul. He will report back to Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., the top of the navy’s Central Command, who will take over the broader navy mission in Afghanistan.

“It’s important for me to say farewell,” mentioned General Miller, who is predicted to retire after a 38-year profession in the U.S. Army. The ceremony, which lasted lower than an hour, was attended by high-ranking Afghan officers, together with Abdullah Abdullah, who’s main peace negotiations. “Our job is now just not to forget,” General Miller mentioned.

General McKenzie, who arrived in Kabul on Monday, spoke afterward, assuring these current that the Americans weren’t abandoning the Afghan folks in such dire occasions.

“It’s not the end of the story,” General McKenzie mentioned. “It’s the end of a chapter.”

Admiral Vasely brings a background in particular operations and intelligence missions, and was a member of SEAL Team 6, the secretive U.S. Navy unit greatest identified for killing Osama bin Laden, the chief of Al Qaeda.

The ceremony got here on the heels of a Taliban navy offensive that has taken swaths of the nation, typically with out firing a shot. The marketing campaign, which has displaced tens of 1000’s and wounded or killed tons of of civilians, is a continuing indicator of the United States-led mission’s incapability to groom an efficient Afghan navy regardless of spending billions of on the hassle for the reason that U.S. invasion in 2001.

General Miller, left, arms over the mission flag to Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr. throughout the change of command ceremony.Credit…Kiana Hayeri for The New York Times

General Miller oversaw a navy marketing campaign aimed toward maintaining the Taliban on the negotiating desk and the Afghan forces unified in the face of political uncertainty.

Despite 1000’s of airstrikes, elevated civilian casualties and short-term tactical positive factors, it’s unclear how profitable the U.S. navy effort was: The last settlement between the rebel group and the United States in February 2020 clearly favored the Taliban, and the Afghan authorities was fully reduce out of the deal.

The Taliban have seized management of greater than 160 of the nation’s roughly 400 districts in the final two months, and tons of of Afghan troops have surrendered, giving up their U.S.-supplied gear and fleeing, typically into neighboring international locations. Key provincial cities in each the north and south are below siege, and Afghan authorities counterattacks have had restricted success.

U.S. intelligence assessments, although typically unsuitable, have included dire warnings that the federal government may collapse, opening the door for the insurgents to take over.

“We’re trying to recover and reorganize,” Hamdullah Mohib, the Afghan nationwide safety adviser, informed reporters after the ceremony.

Addressing fears that the Taliban may dominate the nation by power in the approaching months, he was blunt: “There will be no takeover,” he mentioned.

In a determined bid to carry off the Taliban, the Afghan authorities has inspired the rise of native militias, a chilling throwback to the brutal civil battle of the 1990s.

“Civil war is certainly a path that can be visualized if it continues on the trajectory it’s on,” General Miller informed reporters throughout a information convention final month. Though the previous 40 years of battle in Afghanistan might be seen as a civil battle, a return to a fractious period of warlords and armed fiefs has lengthy been feared.

Earlier this month, the U.S. navy quietly left its largest and final base in the nation, Bagram Air Base, in the midnight. It was a transfer prompted by safety issues, Pentagon officers mentioned, however emblematic of the whole U.S. navy withdrawal that formally started in May.

The flags of the nations with forces remaining in Afghanistan — the United States. the United Kingdom, and Turkey (not pictured) — fly atop poles contained in the Resolute Support base in Kabul on Monday.Credit…Kiana Hayeri for The New York Times

President Biden promised an finish to the United States’ longest international battle in April whereas making an attempt to guarantee the Afghan authorities that it was not being deserted as Taliban forces surged throughout the nation.

For now, the American navy mission will proceed via Aug. 31, although most troops and gear have already left. Around 650 troopers will stay to defend the American Embassy and the nation’s airport alongside a contingent of Turkish forces.

There are additionally round 250 Pentagon contractors nonetheless in the nation, largely serving to the Afghan Air Force. At the height, there have been 18,000 contractors. Afghan pilots and plane crews closely depend on the international help to maintain issues working, and even now they’re stretched to the breaking level as they face the Taliban alone.

But even with a residual power and Afghan officers’ hope that American airstrikes on the Taliban would proceed into the long run, Mr. Biden made it clear that the U.S. navy mission in the nation was ending.

“Let me ask those who wanted us to stay: How many more?” Mr. Biden mentioned in remarks in the East Room of the White House on Thursday. “How many thousands more of America’s daughters and sons are you willing to risk? How long would you have them stay?”

The president insisted that the United States had not deserted the 1000’s of Afghans who served as interpreters or offered different help to the American navy and diplomatic missions.

Mr. Biden mentioned evacuations have been underway, and he promised these Afghans that there was “a home for you in the United States, if you so choose. We will stand with you, just as you stood with us.”

And on Monday, the American Embassy in Kabul resumed immigrant visa interviews after a lockdown due to the coronavirus.

In an indication of the Pentagon’s rising concern that the deteriorating safety scenario may hamper efforts to relocate the previous Afghan interpreters, Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III has created a high-level group to coordinate broader navy help for the State Department, the company main the hassle.

Until now, the Pentagon’s function has been primarily to determine international locations that might help the Afghan visa candidates and their households for a interval of months if wanted.

But the Defense Department needs to be prepared to supply State Department with further help, reminiscent of navy transportation, if wanted, a senior Pentagon official mentioned. The Pentagon group, which can maintain its first assembly on Monday, will likely be led by Garry Reid, a senior division official.

Though the long run is unsure, peace talks between Taliban and Afghan negotiators proceed in Qatar, although occasionally. Last week, Taliban and a few Afghan political figures met in Iran’s capital to debate an finish to the battle, however concluded with little progress, officers mentioned.

The Taliban has carried out a diplomatic blitz in the area, touring to Russia and Turkmenistan, following the group’s current advances throughout the nation.

Eric Schmitt contributed reporting from Washington.