US Central Command announced on Tuesday that they estimate the US withdrawal from Afghanistan to be somewhere between 16% and 25% complete. President Joe Biden announced earlier that the complete withdrawal would finish by September 11, 2021.
Approximately 160 C-17 loads of materiel and equipment have left Afghanistan, the US Department of Defense (DoD) reported, and more than 10,000 pieces of military equipment have been turned over to the Defense Logistics Agency.
US-controlled installations in Afghanistan are also being returned to the Afghan Defense Ministry, and so far five installations have been handed back, said the DoD.
After 20 years, the US is leaving Afghanistan because the mission there is complete, said Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby during a press briefing on Tuesday at the Pentagon.
"The president has been very clear that our troops accomplished the mission for which they were sent to Afghanistan," Kirby said. "That was to prevent the country from being used as a safe haven for terrorist attacks on our homeland, and there hasn't been another attack on the homeland emanating from Afghanistan since 9/11. So the president believes the mission has been completed."
Kirby said that the relationship with Afghan security forces will continue. The US will create a "new bilateral relationship with Afghanistan across the government: diplomatically, economically, politically and certainly from a security perspective," Kirby said. "Our relationship with Afghan National Defense and Security Forces will continue, but it will continue in a different way."
However, US involvement in the region is not going to end entirely, according to Kirby, who said the US will be ready to meet threats by strengthening existing "over-the-horizon" capabilities there and growing new ones.
Kirby said the US already has some over-the-horizon capacity in the region with forces already stationed there and long-range capabilities that are outside the region.
According to an AP report, last week Gen. Frank McKenzie, the commander of US Central Command, said negotiations with Afghanistan's neighbors for overflight rights and troop basing are “moving forward” but will take time.
On Monday, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke with Pakistan's chief of Army staff, Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa. The Pentagon didn't get specific about what the two military leaders discussed, other than to say they talked about "shared regional interests and objectives."
“During the call, Secretary Austin reiterated his appreciation for Pakistan’s support for Afghanistan Peace Negotiations and expressed his desire to continue to build on the US – Pakistan bilateral relationship,” the Defense Department said.
Commanders have said they will monitor threats from “over the horizon,” to ensure that terrorists cannot again use Afghanistan as a base to launch attacks against the US. But they have acknowledged that the US does not yet have any agreements for basing or overflights from any of the neighboring countries.
“There’s still going to be a robust United States presence in the Middle East, in the Central Command area of responsibility,” Kirby told reporters.
“There’s absolutely going to be no diminution of our commitment to our allies and partners in the region,” he said.
Reacting to reports about the US’s possible intention to keep its presence in the region after leaving Afghanistan, the Taliban in a statement on Wednesday asked neighboring countries to not provide such an opportunity.
The Taliban said they have pledged that Afghanistan will not be used as a threat against others; therefore, they call on countries in the region to avoid the use of their territories against Afghanistan.
The Taliban warned of “future consequences” for those countries that allow “foreign bases” on their territories.
The US and coalition forces started withdrawing from the country on May 1. Some bases have been handed over to Afghan forces. US forces have started scrapping equipment that can neither be repaired or handed over to Afghan forces in its current state. The scrapping of vehicles and other equipment is taking place at the country’s largest air base, the Bagram Airfield.