Roughly 650 troops to stay in Afghanistan after withdrawal: report
About 650 U.S. troops are expected to stay in Afghanistan to provide security at the U.S. Embassy after American forces leave the country later this summer, The Associated Press reported.
U.S. officials told the AP that the U.S. withdrawal is on track to be completed in the next two weeks. Such a timeline, by or shortly before July 4, would be far ahead of President Biden’s Sept. 11 deadline to pull nearly all service members from the country.
Another several hundred American troops will remain at the Kabul airport, likely until September, to help Turkish forces with security. The officials said the assistance is temporary until formal plans are in place for Turkey to secure Hamid Karzai International Airport, the main gateway into Afghanistan.
U.S. embassies are typically guarded by a Marine Corps security force, but Pentagon press secretary John Kirby on Thursday told reporters that security at the embassy in Kabul “would be beyond just what you would see in normal embassies.”
“You should expect that it’ll be larger … in keeping with the security situation in Afghanistan,” Kirby said.
The U.S. military is nearing the end of pulling the roughly 3,500 remaining troops from Afghanistan following Biden’s order in April to end the 20-year conflict.
There are fears, however, that the Taliban, with its accelerating battlefield gains, could overtake the Afghan government quickly after American forces leave.
Reports have emerged that U.S. intelligence agencies assess the Afghan government could fall as soon as six months after the U.S. withdraws.
Further complicating a withdrawal is the push to get Afghan interpreters and others who assisted American military efforts out of the country.
The Biden administration on Thursday said it is preparing to move those Afghans to other countries while it processes applications to relocate them to the U.S., but the details are scarce and the timeline is unclear.
Top Pentagon officials, meanwhile, have sought to downplay the Taliban’s recent battlefield successes.
On Thursday, U.S. officials told the AP that the roughly 650 troops staying in Afghanistan are on track to be a more permanent force presence in the country. The forces will provide security for the U.S. Embassy and at the airport.
In addition, the United States has agreed to leave a counter rocket, artillery and mortar system at the airport as part of an agreement with Turkey, as well as aircrew for helicopter support.
Turkey has mostly agreed to provide security at the airport if it has backing from the U.S. military, the officials said. U.S. and Turkish officials met in Ankara this week to finalize an agreement.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and the chair of Afghanistan’s High Council for National Reconciliation, Abdullah Abdullah, on Friday are also set to meet with Biden at the White House as well as with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin at the Pentagon.