US withdrawal from Afghanistan more than 95 per cent complete

Announcement comes after commanding officer for US and Nato forces steps down

A US soldier stands guard after an official handover ceremony at the Resolute Support headquarters in the Green Zone in Kabul. AFP
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The US military on Tuesday said that more than 95 per cent of its withdrawal from Afghanistan has been completed, a day after the commanding general of US and Nato forces officially stepped down.

Since President Joe Biden in April announced his decision to end America's longest war, the Pentagon's Central Command (Centcom) has removed the equivalent of about 1,000 C-17 cargo planes filled with equipment while leaving behind thousands of tonnes of unwanted gear and junk in Afghanistan.

“The US has officially handed over seven facilities to the Afghan Ministry of Defence. The withdrawal process continues; US Central Command estimates that we have completed more than 95 per cent of the entire withdrawal process,” Centcom said in a statement.

Centcom described the withdrawal process as “orderly and responsible” but many Afghans have been stunned at its rapid pace — well before the September 11 deadline initially set by Mr Biden — even as the Taliban notch up battlefield gains and capture wide bands of territory from an under-resourced and exhausted Afghan military.

Few western diplomats hold out hope the Afghan security forces can stand for long on their own against the resurgent Taliban, though the US has vowed to support Afghan troops from overseas.

On Monday, Gen Austin “Scott” Miller relinquished command at a ceremony at the Resolute Support headquarters in Kabul's Green Zone. He handed command over to Centcom head Gen Kenneth McKenzie, who will oversee remaining operations from a US-based headquarters.

The US pullout from Afghanistan was first negotiated under then-president Donald Trump, whose administration last year signed a deal with the Taliban in which the insurgents agreed to stop attacking Americans as long as they left this year.

But Republicans have nonetheless hammered Mr Biden on his withdrawal plan, saying it abandons Afghans and imperils the fragile social gains made in the country over the past 20 years.

"Our reckless rush for the exits is becoming a global embarrassment," Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell said on Tuesday, warning of the "alarming pace" of Taliban victories and the likelihood that Al Qaeda will be able to reconstitute under the protection of the hardliners.

“Ending our presence in Afghanistan will not end the terrorists' war against us. Sadly, the opposite may be true. This self-inflicted wound could very well make this struggle even more difficult and dangerous."

Updated: July 13, 2021, 4:43 PM