Pentagon spokesman John Kirby on Monday suggested that the US is considering slowing down the pace of the Afghanistan withdrawal due to gains made by the Taliban in recent fighting against the Afghan government.
“The situation in Afghanistan changes as the Taliban continue to conduct these attacks and to raid district centers as well as the violence, which is still too high,” Kirby told reporters. “If there needs to be changes made to the pace, or to the scope and scale of the retrograde, on any given day or in any given week, we want to maintain the flexibility to do that.”
If the US decides to stick around longer than planned, it would only give the Taliban more reason to go on the offensive and could put US troops at risk of being attacked. Since the US-Taliban peace deal was signed in February 2020, no US troops have died in combat in Afghanistan.
The Taliban threatened to start attacking foreign troops again after President Biden broke the agreement and pushed back the original May 1st withdrawal deadline to September 11th. But so far, the Taliban has refrained from attacking as the withdrawal appeared to be off to a quick start. Multiple media reports said the pullout would be finished by mid-July, but now it appears progress may be slowing down.
US Central Command (CENTCOM) has been releasing weekly updates on the Afghanistan withdrawal. In its last three releases, CENTCOM said the withdrawal is over 50 percent complete without elaborating further, and the command is not disclosing troop numbers.
The US wants to maintain a diplomatic presence in Afghanistan and will likely try to leave some troops behind to guard the embassy in Kabul. But details are not yet clear of what the US footprint will look like in Afghanistan and in the region after the withdrawal, and Pentagon leaders seem unsure.