The Pentagon announced Wednesday that approximately 160 C-17 loads of materiel and equipment have left Afghanistan even as a resurgent Taliban warned against having American bases in nearby regions such as Pakistan.
The U.S. drawdown from Afghanistan has accelerated with over 10,000 pieces of military equipment turned over to the Defense Logistics Agency in the last few weeks besides 160 C-17 loads of material and hardware. In addition, five U.S.-controlled installations have been returned to the Afghan Defense Ministry so far, Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby said during a press briefing Wednesday.
U.S.’ presence in the Centcom region
The U.S. is not leaving the Centcom region (whose coverage includes Afghanistan) outright, however. There are still threats in the region, Kirby said, adding that the U.S. will be ready to meet those threats by strengthening existing "over-the-horizon" capabilities there and growing new ones.
"We know we need to think through this more deliberately and more thoughtfully going forward as we get closer to completing the withdrawal, and we're working on that," he said.
The Taliban on Wednesday warned the departing U.S. military against setting up bases in the region, and Pakistan vowed no American bases will be allowed on its territory. The group cautioned in their statement that facilitating U.S. military operations by neighboring countries in the future will be a "grave historical mistake and a disgrace."
There are no U.S. bases in any of the six countries that border Afghanistan.
Pakistan, which shares a 2,600-kilometer border with Afghanistan, ruled out the possibility of hosting a U.S. Base, or of allowing “kinetic drone” operations in Afghanistan from its soil.
Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi on Tuesday told Pakistan’s Senate the country would not allow American bases on its territory. “Forget the past, but I want to tell the Pakistanis that no U.S. base will be allowed by Prime Minister Imran Khan so long he is in power,” he said.
The U.S. and the Taliban in February 2020 signed a peace agreement after two decades of fighting. The provisions of the deal include the withdrawal of all American and NATO troops from Afghanistan and a Taliban pledge to prevent al-Qaeda from operating in areas under Taliban control, and talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government.
U.S. President Joe Biden had said it was time “to end America’s longest war.” Around 2,500 American troops plus a further 7,000 from NATO allies would gradually leave the country.
The troop pull-down will be completed before the 20th anniversary of 9/11 later this year. September 11 is considered one of the darkest days in U.S. history for a series of airline hijackings and suicide attacks by al-Qaeda left nearly 3,000 people dead.
"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."
Russia’s presidential envoy for Afghanistan, Zamir Kabulov, said Monday that Uzbekistan and Tajikistan have both assured Moscow that hosting military bases was “impossible” for them, narrowing options for Washington for its military posture once the withdrawal from Afghanistan is complete.
U.S. military’s future plans
Now, Kirby said, there is a new mission: withdrawal from Afghanistan and development of a new relationship with the government of Afghanistan and the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces.
The United States 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."