On Tuesday, US Central Command (CENTCOM) said the withdrawal from Afghanistan is over 90 percent complete, although the US has plans to keep troops at its embassy in Kabul. The update comes a few days after the US left Bagram Air Base, the largest military facility in the country.
CENTCOM said the US military had removed approximately 984 C-17 cargo planeloads of equipment out of Afghanistan and turned nearly 17,074 pieces of equipment to the Defense Logistics Agency for “disposition.” The US also left behind a massive amount of scrap and trash at the bases it vacated.
It’s not clear how many US soldiers remain in Afghanistan since CENTCOM is not disclosing troop numbers. When President Biden ordered the withdrawal to begin at the end of April, there were about 2,500 to 3,500 US troops in the country.
Now that the bulk of what CENTCOM calls the “retrograde” process is complete, the Pentagon is focused on securing the embassy and the airport in Kabul. Nothing is confirmed, but reports say the US is considering leaving 650 troops at the embassy and possibly a few hundred more at the airport.
The US embassy in Kabul is a sprawling 35-acre compound. According to The Associated Press, there are currently 1,400 US citizens at the embassy and about 4,000 staff working inside the compound. The Pentagon has established a new military command structure based out of the embassy, a sign that the US post-withdrawal presence will go beyond diplomatic security.
To maintain its embassy, the US wants control of the Kabul airport. Turkey has offered to operate and guard the airport, and the two countries are working out a plan of what that would look like. Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said he is meeting with Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin on Wednesday to discuss the issue.
For their part, the Taliban has rejected the US’s post-withdrawal plans and is warning that any foreign troops left in Afghanistan beyond the September 11th deadline set by President Biden might be 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.