Pentagon to switch over U.S. military leadership in Afghanistan

Pentagon to switch over U.S. military leadership in Afghanistan
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The top general leading U.S. military operations in Afghanistan will transfer his command to the head of U.S. Central Command “effective later this month,” as the United States brings to a close its longest-running conflict, the Pentagon’s top spokesperson announced Friday.

“As part of our ongoing drawdown process [Defense Secretary Lloyd AustinLloyd AustinOvernight Defense & National Security — Presented by Raytheon Technologies — Navy probe reveals disastrous ship fire response Pentagon says almost half of Afghan evacuees at US bases are children Russian fighters escort US bombers over Black Sea MORE] approved a plan today to transfer command authority over our mission in Afghanistan from Gen. Scott Miller to Gen. Frank McKenzie. We expect that transfer to be effective later this month,” press secretary John Kirby told reporters.

Miller will remain in theater “for a number of weeks” to prepare for and to complete the turnover to McKenzie, and will likely travel in and out of the country as he does this, Kirby said

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Kirby called the change in leadership structure — as well as the turnover of Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan earlier on Friday — “key milestones in our drawdown process reflecting a smaller U.S. force presence” in the country.

The moves effectively end major U.S. military operations in Afghanistan since they began nearly 20 years ago following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

The U.S. is now more than halfway done with withdrawing the last of the roughly 3,500 troops that remained there, and Kirby said officials believe that will be finished by the end of August.  

Even with the change of authority, Kirby said that McKenzie will “continue to exercise authority over the conduct of any and all counterterrorism operations needed to protect the homeland from threats emanating out of Afghanistan” and he will lead U.S. efforts to create plans for logistical, financial and technical support to Afghan forces once the drawdown is complete. Details on that are still to be worked out.

As part of the new arrangement, Austin also approved the establishment of U.S. Forces Afghanistan Forward to be led by Navy Rear Adm. Peter Vasely, a one-star Navy SEAL officer.

Vasely will be the senior U.S. military officer in Kabul and oversee a smaller security mission while reporting to McKenzie, Kirby said.

Vasely will also be supported by Brig. Gen. Curtis Buzzard, who will lead the Defense Security Cooperation Management Office Afghanistan based in Qatar. From there, he will administer funding support for the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces to include over the horizon aircraft maintenance support.