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Pentagon to switch over US military roles in Afghanistan

Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley (left) talks with Gen. Scott Miller, the commander of US and coalition forces in Afghanistan, at Miller's military headquarters in Kabul, Dec. 16, 2020. (AP photo)

The Pentagon has announced that the top general commanding American military operations in Afghanistan will transfer his role to the head of US Central Command “effective later this month,” as US troops prepare to leave the country following twenty years of war.

“As part of our ongoing drawdown process [Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin] approved a plan today to transfer command authority over our mission in Afghanistan from Gen. Scott Miller to Gen. Frank McKenzie. We expect that transfer to be effective later this month,” Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said in a news conference on Friday.

He added that Miller will remain in charge “for a number of weeks” to complete the turnover to McKenzie, and will keep travelling to Afghanistan during this time.

The Pentagon spokesman described the change in command structure and the handover of Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan earlier on Friday to Afghan forces as “key milestones in our drawdown process reflecting a smaller US force presence” in the country.

However, Kirby said that McKenzie will “continue to exercise authority over the conduct of any and all counterterrorism operations needed to protect the homeland from threats emanating out of Afghanistan.”

The moves effectively end the US war in Afghanistan which began nearly 20 years ago following the 9/11 attacks in New York and Washington, DC, in which about 3000 Americans lost their lives. No Afghan was involved in the attacks.

Earlier on Friday, US-led coalition troops vacated the largest military base in the war-torn country, located in the ancient city of Bagram, about 45 miles north of Kabul.

The sprawling airfield, which was once the epicenter of US military operations in Afghanistan, was formally handed over to the Afghan forces, according to media reports.

At its peak in mid-2011, nearly 100,000 US troops passed through the compound, apart from some 35,000 US contractors, which have now plummeted to 2,500 troops and 18,000 contractors.

The full withdrawal of some 2,500 US troops from the country is expected to complete by mid or late July, ahead of US President Joe Biden’s September 11 deadline.

The US will reportedly leave hundreds of troops in Afghanistan even after the promised withdrawal from the war-torn country.

About 650 American troops are likely to stay in Afghanistan to provide security at the US Embassy after US forces leave the country later this summer, The Associated Press reported last week. Hundreds of more troops will also stay at the Kabul airport.

The US invaded Afghanistan in October 2001 under the pretext of the so-called war against terror.

Washington has spent trillions of dollars waging war on the impoverished country, which has left thousands of Afghan civilians and American soldiers dead.

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