As the Taliban make significant territorial gains in northern Afghanistan, the U.S. military said Tuesday its exit from the country is more than 90 percent complete.
The U.S. Central Command in a statement said the U.S. had officially handed over seven facilities to the Afghan Ministry of Defense.
It comes more than two months ahead of the Sept. 11 deadline set by President Joe Biden earlier this year to withdraw U.S. forces from the country and end America’s longest war, which has claimed the lives of around 2,300 American troops.
Between 2001 and 2018, around 58,000 Afghan military and police members were killed in the violence, according to a study by Brown University.
As part of the withdrawal, the U.S. military said it has flown nearly 1,000 loads of unspecified material out of the country by large cargo aircraft, according to the U.S. Central Command statement. More than 17,000 pieces of equipment that will not be left to the Afghan military have been handed over for destruction, the statement added.
But as the U.S. exit from Afghanistan continues, the Taliban have been making significant gains in the north of the country and are inching closer to the capital, Kabul. Many military outposts have been surrendered without a fight, according to multiple Afghan military and government sources.
Earlier this week, Taliban commanders showed off scores of weapons they seized from the Sultan Khil military base in the Wardak province close to Kabul. The seized weaponry and hardware included 900 guns, 30 light tactical vehicles and 20 army pickup trucks, according to NBC News’ U.K. partner Sky News, which was granted access to the base.
But the Afghan security forces are vowing to reclaim the lost territories from the Taliban and turn the tide.
Download the NBC News app for breaking news and politics
NBC News’ Richard Engel went out with a group of Afghan commandos in a Taliban-controlled area outside Kabul on an overnight mission to raid a Taliban safe house on Tuesday.
Before the U.S. withdrawal, these elite troops fought shoulder to shoulder alongside the Americans.
Asked what it was like fighting on their own now, one soldier told NBC News before the operation, “We are ready for death.”
Last week, American troops quietly left the Bagram Airbase, once a bustling center that saw more than 100,000 U.S. troops pass through its gates.
The U.S. has since faced accusations from the Afghan troops that they were taken by surprise by the stealthy American departure.
“We (heard) some rumor that the Americans had left Bagram ... and finally by seven o’clock in the morning, we understood that it was confirmed that they had already left Bagram,” Gen. Mir Asadullah Kohistani, Bagram’s new commander, told The Associated Press.
On Tuesday, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby pushed back on reports that the military left Bagram without notifying the incoming Afghan base commander.
Kirby said there was coordination with Afghan leaders about the eventual turnover and that Afghan civilian and military leaders were briefed, including a walk-through of the facilities with senior Afghan leaders. The final conversation about the turnover occurred about 48 hours before the U.S. departed, he said.
Kirby did not dispute the base commander’s comments that he was not notified when the U.S. would leave but insisted that “there was coordination done at higher levels of government.”
Kirby added that it was not a reflection of trust toward the Afghan government.
“We have to consider that this drawdown could be contested by the Taliban,” he said, adding that “it would have been irresponsible” to telegraph the exact time the U.S. was leaving for operational security reasons.