Biden: US Exit From Afghanistan Won’t Be Finished in Next Few Days 

U.S President Joe Biden said Friday that the U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan would not be completed in the next few days, even as U.S. forces have left Bagram Airfield, the main American base in Afghanistan, transferring its control to the Afghan National Security Forces.For nearly two decades the base, 60 kilometers north of Kabul, served as the center of the U.S. fight to remove Taliban forces from power and take down al-Qaida terrorists responsible for killing thousands of Americans on September 11, 2001.“No,” Biden said Friday when asked by White House reporters if the withdrawal completion was days away.“We’re on track exactly as we expect it to be. I wanted to make sure there was enough ‘running room’ that we wouldn’t be able to do it all till September,” he added, referencing the September 11 deadline he gave for the withdrawal’s completion.An Afghan National Army soldier stands guard at a checkpoint near Bagram airfield, on the day the last of the American troops vacated it, Parwan province, Afghanistan July 2, 2021.Earlier on Friday, a U.S. defense official confirmed to VOA that all U.S. and international coalition forces had left Bagram and that the base had been turned over to the ANSF.Additional U.S. announcements on Afghanistan were not expected over the weekend, according to the U.S. defense official, who spoke to VOA on condition of anonymity.  Other media reports had suggested the withdrawal from Afghanistan could be completed by the U.S. Independence Day on Sunday.The Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman also confirmed the withdrawal of all foreign troops from Bagram.”All coalition and American troops have departed Bagram Air Base last night. The base was handed over to the ANDSF,” tweeted Fawad Aman. He said the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces would “protect and use the base to combat terrorism.”All Coalition and American troops have departed Bagram Air Base last night. The base was handed over to the ANDSF. ANDSF will protect base and use it to combat terrorism.— Fawad Aman (@FawadAman2) FILE – Gen. Scott Miller, commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan shakes hands with Afghan National Army soldiers during a visit at a checkpoint in Nerkh district of Wardak province in west Kabul, June 6, 2019.Miller told reporters in Kabul on Tuesday that the security situation was “not good right now” and cautioned the Taliban against attempting to take control of the country by force.“A military takeover is not in the interest of anyone, certainly not for the people of Afghanistan,” said Miller.Since May 1, when the withdrawal began, the Taliban have doubled the number of districts they control, according to the Foundation for Defense of Democracies’ Long War Journal. The Taliban have grabbed hold of more than 80 districts in the last two months, for a total of 157 Taliban-controlled districts.Rapid movement expectedBradley Bowman, a defense expert with FDD and an Afghanistan veteran, said he expected the Taliban gains to “really pick up steam” once the withdrawal was complete.“I fear and believe that we’re going to be back in Afghanistan in a few years, if not months,” said Bowman. “Clearly President [Joe] Biden made a political decision, that he’s entitled to as commander in chief, that was conditions-ignoring and ignored the advice of his commanders on the ground.”FILE – Army Gen. Joseph Votel, then the commander of U.S. Central Command, briefs reporters at the Pentagon, April 29, 2016.Retired General Joseph Votel, former head of U.S. Central Command, told VOA last month that the “forever war” narrative in the U.S. played heavily in the political dialogue surrounding the withdrawal decision, which he called disappointing.“We still have forces in Japan. We still have forces in Korea decades and decades after the conflict has ended,” he said. “And the reason we have them is because it demonstrates our resolve, it demonstrates our desire to support our interests, and it demonstrates our strong support for our partners on the ground.”“I don’t think we’re in a situation where this is an immediate collapse type of scenario, but the Afghan forces are going to need support,” added Votel.The United States has vowed to continue financially aiding the Afghan military, along with providing “over the horizon” advising and aircraft maintenance support. NATO has said it will continue training Afghan forces in a location outside Afghanistan.No airstrikesBut the United States does not plan to support Afghan forces with airstrikes after the U.S. troop withdrawal is complete, General Frank McKenzie, the head of U.S. Central Command, told VOA in an interview two weeks ago. He added that counterterrorism strikes in Afghanistan would be limited to instances when attack plans have been discovered to strike the U.S. homeland or the homelands of our allies.“That would be the reason for any strikes that we do in Afghanistan after we leave. [It] would have to be that we’ve uncovered someone who wants to attack the homeland of the United States, one of our allies and partners,” said McKenzie.VOA Exclusive: CENTCOM Head Says US Will Not Support Afghan Forces with Airstrikes After Troop WithdrawalThe general’s comments appear to refute a report by the New York Times Asked Tuesday whether the United States was reconsidering its post-withdrawal strategy to include defensive strikes against the Taliban, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby declined to “hypothesize” but stressed “the violence remains too high.””What we’d like to see is the Taliban returned to the peace process in a credible way. And as we see the events on the ground unfolding, it certainly calls into question the sincerity of their efforts to be a legitimate, credible participant in the peace process,” he told Pentagon reporters.The Associated Press reported last week that roughly 650 U.S. troops were expected to remain in Afghanistan to provide security for diplomats after the withdrawal and that several hundred additional American forces would remain at the Kabul airport, potentially until September, to assist Turkish troops providing security.The officials were not authorized to discuss details of the withdrawal and spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity.“Afghanistan is not going to be treated like any other nation where we have a Marine security guard. I mean, it’s Afghanistan, and we understand the dynamic nature of the security threat there,” Kirby said Tuesday, declining to confirm specific numbers.Ayaz Gul contributed to this report.

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