The New York Times on Sunday wrote that US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin in a meeting with the current commander of US and NATO forces Gen. Austin Miller, Joint Chiefs Chaiman Gen. Mark A. Milley and Centcom head Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr. discussed Afghanistan and specifically ways to buffer the impact of the US pullout on the Afghan people.
On Friday, the US military left Bagram Airbase in Parwan province, north of Kabul, effectively ending US operations, although a contingent of US military personnel have been left behind to guard the US embassy.
Austin ordered a series of steps to slow the pace of the final withdrawal from America’s longest war, said The New York Times.
The measures are intended to buy some time to soften the drawdown’s psychological shock to the Afghans, and to extend at least through August some involvement by the American military, despite there being no combat troops, equipment or bases in the country.
The first measure, said The Times report, sought to highlight Biden’s message to Afghan leaders that the United States was not abandoning the country at a moment when intelligence analysts predict the fall of the Afghan government to the Taliban in months.
General Miller will remain in Afghanistan for “at least a couple more weeks,” said John F. Kirby, Pentagon spokesman, to aid the transition of the American military mission from warfighting to two new objectives — protecting an ongoing US diplomatic presence in Kabul and maintaining ties with the Afghan military.
The Times quoted Pentagon officials saying that Gen. Miller will turn over his command to Gen. McKenzie who will assume "at least through August" the same authorities General Miller had to carry out airstrikes against Al Qaeda, the Daesh and, in very limited circumstances, Taliban fighters.
General McKenzie will be authorized, at least through the September deadline, to move 300 additional troops into Afghanistan if needed for security or emergencies, like the possible evacuation of the American Embassy, Pentagon officials said as cited by The Times.
The Times said that in the next few weeks, Gen. Miller will travel within Afghanistan, and to Brussels to brief NATO officials on the transition, and to the forward headquarters in Qatar, Pentagon officials said.