Senior US commander in Afghanistan steps down

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The top US commander in Afghanistan stepped down in a ceremony in the capital Kabul on Monday, bringing the United States closer to the end of its 20-year war. The move came as Taliban insurgents continue to gain territory across the country.

Another four-star general will assume authority from his US-based post to conduct possible airstrikes to defend Afghan government forces, at least until the end of the US withdrawal by August 31.

General Scott Miller has been the highest American commander in Afghanistan since 2018. He handed over command of what has become America’s “eternal war” in his dying days to Naval General Frank McKenzie, the head of Central Command. American. McKenzie will operate from Central Command headquarters in Tampa, Florida.

The transfer took place at the heavily fortified Resolute Support headquarters in the heart of Kabul, at a time of rapid territorial gains by Taliban insurgents across Afghanistan.

FILE - In this file photo from June 29, 2021, U.S. Army General Scott Miller, the United States' highest general in Afghanistan, speaks to reporters at Resolute Support headquarters in Kabul, Afghanistan .  Miller is due to hand over his command in a ceremony in the capital Kabul on Monday, July 12, 2021, as America ends its 20-year military presence and Taliban insurgents continue to gain territory across the country.  (AP Photo / Ahmad Seir, file)
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FILE – In this file photo from June 29, 2021, U.S. Army General Scott Miller, the United States’ highest general in Afghanistan, speaks to reporters at Resolute Support headquarters in Kabul, Afghanistan . Miller is due to hand over his command in a ceremony in the capital Kabul on Monday, July 12, 2021, as America ends its 20-year military presence and Taliban insurgents continue to gain territory across the country. (AP Photo / Ahmad Seir, file)

At a flag ceremony, Miller remembered the American and NATO troops killed in nearly 20 years of war as well as the thousands of Afghans who lost their lives.

He warned that relentless violence across Afghanistan makes a political settlement increasingly difficult. The outgoing commander said he told Taliban officials “that it is important for the military to establish the conditions for a peaceful and political settlement in Afghanistan.” … But we know that with this violence it would be very difficult to achieve a political settlement. “

The Afghan National Defense and Security Forces, mainly funded by the United States and NATO, have offered resistance in parts of the country, but the overwhelming majority of Afghan government troops appear to have given up on the fight.

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In recent weeks, the Taliban have gained several strategic neighborhoods, especially along the borders with Iran, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.

Afghanistan’s National Security Advisor Hamdullah Mohib, who attended the handover, said the withdrawal of the United States and NATO had left a vacuum that led the Afghan national security forces to withdraw. find themselves stranded on the battlefield without supplies, sometimes running out of food and ammunition.

In comments after the ceremony, Mohib said the biggest impact of the withdrawal was the lack of planes to supply troops. Currently, the government is regrouping to take back strategic areas and defend its cities against the advances of the Taliban.

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The Taliban control more than a third of Afghanistan’s 421 districts and district centers. A claim by the Taliban that they control 85% of the districts is widely seen as exaggerated.

Following Miller’s departure, a two-star admiral based at the US Embassy in Kabul will oversee the role of the US military in securing the US diplomatic presence in Kabul, including the defense of Kabul airport.

Miller’s departure does not reduce the scope of the US military mission in Afghanistan, as McKenzie will assume the authorities now held by Miller to conduct airstrikes to defend Afghan government forces under certain circumstances. The conditions under which such strikes could be used are unclear, nor is it clear how long McKenzie will retain strike power.

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A deal the United States struck with the Taliban in February 2020 included a pledge from the insurgent movement not to attack U.S. and NATO troops, a commitment they appear to have largely kept.

While Washington does not say how many troops remain in Afghanistan, a CENTCOM statement over a week ago said the withdrawal was 90 percent complete.

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President Joe Biden reiterated that the United States will remain engaged in Afghanistan with humanitarian assistance. The United States has also pledged to spend $ 4.4 billion annually to fund Afghan security forces through 2024.

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