According to a report from The New York Times, US troops are expected to be out of Afghanistan by early to mid-July, well before the September 11th deadline set by President Biden.
Unnamed US officials told the Times that Washington’s allies are also expected to be out by July, although Germany is apparently struggling to keep up the pace. US Central Command on Tuesday said the Afghanistan withdrawal process was about 16 to 25 percent complete.
The US recently handed over Kandahar Airfield to Afghan forces. The Times report said that US fighter jets and other military equipment will start leaving Bagram Air Base in the coming days. Last week, locals told Afghanistan’s Tolo News that the US has shipping truckloads of scrapped equipment out of the Bagram Air Base, which is the largest US military facility in Afghanistan.
Because of the quicker withdrawal, the Pentagon is scrambling for ways to maintain influence and assets in Afghanistan. The US and NATO both plan to continue supporting the Afghan government financially. The Times report said the approximately 17,000 Pentagon contractors in Afghanistan are leaving alongside US and other foreign troops.
The Afghan military is almost entirely reliant on these Pentagon contractors to maintain their equipment, so Afghan officials are looking into hiring contractors of their own, which the US would pay for anyway.
The Pentagon is hoping to reposition military assets into neighboring countries, but the US has no basing agreements in the region. The US might have to settle for launching reconnaissance missions or airstrikes in Afghanistan from bases in the Gulf after the pullout.
Pentagon officials said after the withdrawal, the US would limit airstrikes in Afghanistan to “counterterrorism operations,” a definition that can be used loosely.
“The Pentagon still has not determined how it will combat terrorist threats like Al Qaeda from afar after American troops leave.” https://t.co/unGgNhmocv
— Bruce Hoffman (@hoffman_bruce) May 26, 2021
The US wants to keep a diplomatic mission in Afghanistan, which would require the Kabul airport to be secure from the Taliban or other militants. Hundreds of Turkish troops are currently guarding the airport, but it’s not clear if they will stay. The US is mulling options to incentivize Ankara into continuing defending the airport. A diplomatic mission in Afghanistan could also be used to justify a small US troop presence.
Washington’s decision to pull out before September is likely an effort to avoid Taliban attacks on withdrawing troops. President Biden broke the US-Taliban peace deal by pushing back the original May 1st withdrawal deadline. Earlier this month, Tolo News reported that the US and the Taliban were in talks to get foreign troops out by sometime in July. In exchange, the Taliban would participate in a planned Afghan peace summit in Istanbul.