Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said on Thursday that the US will remove contractors from Afghanistan as part of President Biden’s plan to pull troops out of the country by September 11th.
“We’re going to responsibly retrograde all of our capabilities that we are responsible for and the contractors fall in that realm as well,” Austin told reporters at a press conference.
While the Biden administration is pulling troops of Afghanistan, the US plans to continue supporting the Afghan forces financially. Since the Afghan military is almost entirely reliant on Pentagon contractors for the maintenance of their equipment, some sort of contractual support will likely remain.
Austin added that contractors have the “ability to renegotiate contracts if they so choose,” suggesting some could stay if they negotiate contracts directly with the Afghan government.
As of April, there are just under 17,00 contractors working for the Pentagon, including about 6,150 US citizens, 4,300 Afghans, and 6,400 from other countries.
Before Austin’s comments, US military leaders have been vague about the presence of contractors. Austin spoke alongside Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, who suggested some contractual support could continue.
“Maintaining logistic support to the Afghan Air Force is a key task … It could be done by contractors,” Milley said. “The intent is to keep the Afghan Air Force in the air and to provide them with continued maintenance support.”