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Retrograde From Afghanistan Continues as U.S. Officials Protect Troop Numbers

May 11, 2021 | BY Jim Garamone , DOD News

The retrograde from Afghanistan is going well, but U.S. officials are being careful as the effort is still in its early stages, Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby said today.

U.S. Central Command officials estimate that they have completed between 6% and 12% of the retrograde process. Airlifters have flown out the equivalent of 104 C-17s worth of materials; U.S. personnel have turned over more than 1,800 pieces of equipment to the Defense Logistics Agency for destruction; and the U.S. has officially handed over one facility to the Afghan National Army.

A soldier stands on the rear ramp of a helicopter.
Sunset View
Army loadmaster stands on the rear ramp of a CH-47F Chinook and watches the sunset as the helicopter flies over Kabul, Afghanistan, Sept. 8, 2017.
Photo By: Julie A. Kelemen, DOD
VIRIN: 170908-D-QT896-079

As the retrograde continues, U.S. officials will be careful not to disclose personnel numbers in Afghanistan. Revealing the number of military personnel in the country might provide a level of situational awareness for the Taliban, Kirby said.

Kirby noted the United States has added capabilities in the nation to help shield retrograde operations and provide force protection. 

"We have an obligation to keep our people safe, particularly in a retrograde that could be opposed," Kirby said. "We have to assume that this is going to be an opposed retrograde. And if we assumed anything less, it would be irresponsible of us." 

Two men talk as they walk down a street in Kabul.
Afghanistan Visit
Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III walks with the commander of NATO’s Resolute Support Mission and U.S. Forces – Afghanistan, Army Gen. Scott Miller, at Resolute Support Headquarters, Kabul, Afghanistan, March 21, 2021.
Photo By: Lisa Ferdinando, DOD
VIRIN: 210321-D-BN624-1081C

Even as the retrograde continues, the U.S. is still seeking a diplomatic peace in Afghanistan. Kirby said the Defense Department is committed to working with State Department personnel even as the withdrawal continues. "We still support, and want to see, a political end of this war and to see that the Taliban and the Afghan government work this out," he said.

DOD will continue a relationship with the Afghan government after the retrograde is finished. "There are very active discussions going on now inside the department to better define what over-the-horizon counterterrorism capabilities we will be able to avail ourselves of," Kirby said. 

The United States will also provide over-the-horizon logistics support for Afghan forces, as well.