The United States' top commander is preparing to withdraw from Afghanistan in the face of a Taliban upsurge.
On Monday, the top US commander in Afghanistan resigned during a ceremony in the Afghan capital of Kabul, bringing the US one step closer to ending its two-decade-long war. The move comes as Taliban insurgents continue to consolidate their control over large swaths of the country.
Another four-star general will assume authority from his post in the United States to conduct possible airstrikes in defense of Afghan government forces, at least until the United States withdraws completely by Aug. 31.
Gen. Scott Miller, America's top commander in Afghanistan since 2018, handed command of what has come to be known as America's 'forever war' to Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie, the head of US Central Command, in its waning days. McKenzie will be based in Tampa, Florida, at Central Command's headquarters.
The handover occurred in the heavily fortified Resolute Support headquarters in the heart of Kabul, at a time when Taliban insurgents are making rapid territorial gains throughout Afghanistan.
Afghanistan's National Defense and Security Forces, which are largely funded by the US and NATO, have resisted in some areas of the country, but the Afghan government appears to have largely abandoned the fight.
The Taliban have gained several strategic districts in recent weeks, most notably along the borders with Iran, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan.
Over a third of Afghanistan's 421 districts and district centers are controlled by the Taliban. The Taliban's claim of controlling 85 percent of districts is widely regarded as exaggerated.
Following Miller's departure, a two-star admiral stationed at the US Embassy in Kabul will be in charge of the US military's role in securing the American diplomatic presence in Kabul, including defending the Kabul airport.
Miller's departure has no effect on the scope of the United States military mission in Afghanistan, as McKenzie will assume Miller's authority to conduct airstrikes in defense of Afghan government forces in certain circumstances. The conditions under which such strikes could be used are unknown, as is the duration of McKenzie's strike authority.
The United States struck a deal with the Taliban in February 2020 that included a commitment from the insurgent movement not to attack US and NATO troops, which appears to have been mostly kept.
While Washington is not disclosing the exact number of troops remaining in Afghanistan, a CENTCOM statement issued more than a week ago stated that the withdrawal was 90% complete.
President Joe Biden reiterated that the US will continue to provide humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan. Additionally, the US has committed to spending $4.4 billion annually until 2024 to fund Afghanistan's security forces.