Kabul: Following the safe and orderly drawdown of forces and equipment from Afghanistan by the end of August, the US Defense Department plans to maintain robust over-the-horizon capability if needed, the Pentagon press secretary said on Tuesday, adding that the withdrawal of troops is now almost 90 percent complete.
John F. Kirby held a press briefing and said that the DOD is in active discussions with the US State Department regarding the nature of what over-the-horizon capability will be. He mentioned that there’s a carrier strike group in the region and facilities throughout the Middle East that could be useful if needed.
“Our commitment to the future of a stable and secure Afghanistan has not changed. It’s just going to look different. We’re just not going to be on the ground the way we are now,” he said.
Kirby also discussed other bilateral activities with Afghanistan. There are still contractors in Afghanistan providing support to their security forces and air force, he said. “We are actively working [on ways] in which that contract support can be done remotely or virtually or even physically outside the country,” he added.
There was coordination with Afghan leaders, both in government as well as in the Afghan security forces, about the eventual turnover of Bagram Airfield, the seventh and final base that the U.S. turned over to Afghan National Security Forces, he noted. Even as the US Central Command said that as of July 5, DOD has retrograded the equivalent of approximately 984 C-17 aircraft- loads of material out of Afghanistan and has turned over nearly 17,074 pieces of equipment to the Defense Logistics Agency for disposition.
The Centcom release stated that 90% of the entire withdrawal process has been completed.
However, critics are concerned as the withdrawal has left many questions unanswered. The Taliban have showed off containers full of weapons and military hardware seized from the Afghan military as American forces withdraw from the country and the militants march across the country, as er NBC News reports. The weaponry includes 900 guns, 30 light tactical vehicles and 20 army pickup trucks, according to NBC News’ UK partner Sky News, which was granted access to the Sultan Khil military base in the Wardak province close to the Afghan capital, Kabul.
In fact, thousands of prisoners — including senior Al-Qaeda and Taliban figures — remain in Afghanistan’s Bagram prison under the sole control of Afghan authorities, following the swift departure of US combat troops from the sprawling compound that houses it, Afghan and security officials told CNN on Tuesday.
While a regional security official with knowledge of the US departure said there were 7,000 detainees still at Bagram Air Base, an Afghan ministry of defense spokesperson put the figure at 5,000. They consist of a couple of hundred criminals and the rest are terrorists, the spokesperson added. The prisoners at Parwan Detention Facility, situated next to the base, include some “big names” from Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, as well as some senior drug trafficking figures, the regional security official said. Now, some 3,000 Afghan security forces are settling into Bagram — and working out how the base might be used in the battle against a resurgent Taliban. “We have the ability to hold prisoners, we have enough troops to secure Bagram Air Base. We are not worried about the care of prisoners,” the spokesperson told CNN.
Also, with the deteriorating situation, a US Embassy spokesperson told The Associated Press that security assessments are frequent these days. Speaking on condition of anonymity in line with briefing rules, she said the embassy is currently down to 1,400 US citizens and about 4,000 staff working inside the compound the size of a small town. A well-fortified town, that is. Besides its own formidable security, the embassy lies inside Kabul’s Green Zone, where entire neighborhoods have been closed off and giant blast walls line streets closed to outside traffic. Afghan security forces guard the barricades into the district, which also houses the Presidential Palace, other embassies and senior government officials.
The only route out is Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport, currently protected by U.S. and Turkish troops. Before America can declare its war over, the security of the airport will have to be settled. Ankara is in talks with Washington, the United Nations and the Afghan government to decide who will protect the airport and who will foot the bill.
In other news, rights activists in Germany have called for an end to deportations to Afghanistan ahead of a planned flight to Kabul on Tuesday, citing the deteriorating security situation as NATO allies pullout from the war-torn country. “With the withdrawal of NATO troops and the advance of the Taliban, the precarious security and human rights situation in Afghanistan looks set to continue to worsen,” said Amnesty International Germany.
“Afghanistan is not a safe country. This has not changed for years,” the group’s Julia Duchrow said in a statement. The Pro Asyl campaign group called the decision to send rejected asylum seekers back to Kabul from Hanover on Tuesday “irresponsible”. They too pointed to the “constantly deteriorating security situation”. Meanwhile, German DPA news agency reported that 27 Afghan nationals, who were deported from Germany, landed at Hamid Karzai International Airport (HKIA) on Wednesday morning. The agency quoted HKIA officials that the deportees were transported via a chartered aircraft. DPA added that it was the 40th flight that transported 1,104 Afghan deportees from Germany since 2016.
Even France said that it is deeply concerned by the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan and its consequences for regional stability. It calls on the parties involved in the Afghan peace process, and specifically the Taliban, to resume discussions as quickly as possible to reach a political settlement to the conflict and establish a ceasefire.
Also, Afghanistan Ambassador to India Farid Mamundzay on Tuesday briefed Indian Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla on the security situation in Afghanistan. “Foreign Secretary Shringla assured our Afghan friends of India’s long-term commitment towards peace and prosperity in Afghanistan, Indian Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, Pakistan’s Minister for Information and Broadcasting Fawad Chaudhary said on Tuesday that Pakistan was expecting an influx of Afghan refugees amid the current situation in the country. However, he added that efforts will be made to build camps at borders to keep them from entering. In fact, talking to Business Recorder, Chief Commissioner of Afghan Refugees in Pakistan Saleem Khan said that the Pakistan government was expecting arrival of around 0.5 to 0.7 million Afghan refugees in case of further deterioration of the security situation in Afghanistan. “Pakistan’s foremost strategy is to continue to make serious and sincere efforts so that the peace process leads to a peaceful and durable political solution of the Afghan conflict,” he said. Also, Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Vice-President and Chairperson of Foreign Affairs Committee in Senate, Senator Sherry Rehman said Pakistan had the highest stakes in peace in Afghanistan, but the geo-politics of escalating violence next door indicates that peace may be much further than imagined.