The four-star Army general in charge of both U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan stepped down from command Monday, offering a symbolic cap to America’s 20-year deployment that began following the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington.
The understated ceremony was held in the heavily fortified Kabul headquarters of Gen. Austin “Scott” Miller, who has led Operation Resolute Support since 2018. He handed over responsibility for operations in Afghanistan to Marine Corps Gen. Kenneth “Frank” McKenzie, commander of U.S. Central Command
The handover ceremony was the latest milestone in President Biden‘s plan to fully withdraw U.S. forces from Afghanistan by Sept. 11 of this year. It came even as Taliban forces continue to make territorial gains throughout the country, and Gen. Miller in his final words as commander appealed again to the Taliban to halt the wave of attacks.
“What I tell the Taliban is they’re responsible, too. The violence that’s going on is against the will of the Afghan people, and it needs to stop,” he said, according to Reuters.
President Biden said the U.S. is leaving Afghanistan because the nation has accomplished the original mission: bring justice to 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden and degrade the ability of terror groups to use the country as a launching pad for any future terrorist attacks on Americans and its allies.
“We did not go to Afghanistan to nation-build,” Mr. Biden said last week during an address. “It’s the right and the responsibility of the Afghan people alone to decide their future and how they want to run their country.”
U.S. and NATO forces have trained and equipped nearly 300,000 Afghan security forces over the last two decades, the president said.
“We provided our Afghan partners with all the tools … training and equipment of any modern military,” he said. “We provided advanced weaponry, and we’re going to continue to provide funding and equipment.”
The U.S. Embassy in Kabul will take the lead role on the ground in Afghanistan following the handover of authority. Rear Adm. Peter G. Vesely, a Navy SEAL and former operations director for the Defense Intelligence Agency, will be in charge of the security mission there, reporting to Gen. McKenzie at Centcom.
Pentagon officials have routinely said the United States will maintain a vigorous “over-the-horizon” ability to conduct anti-terrorist missions in Afghanistan that might occur in the future. They will continue to offer logistic support to the Afghan defense forces — such as maintenance on their military aircraft — but are still trying to locate nearby third countries where that might occur.
Forces of the U.S.-backed Kabul government are desperately trying to slow the battlefield initiative seized by the Taliban in recent months, which have seen more and more of the countryside and even some provincial cities fall to the insurgents.
“We’ll ensure they’ll have the capacity to maintain their air force,” Mr. Biden said.