Jul 12, 2021 - World

Top U.S. commander in Afghanistan steps down

People taking photos with Gen. Austin Miller in Kabul in February 2020.
People taking photos with Gen. Austin Miller in Kabul in February 2020. Photo: Wakil Kohsar/AFP via Getty Images

Army Gen. Austin Miller, who has led U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan since 2018, relinquished his command during a ceremony in Kabul on Monday.

Why it matters: It's a symbolic moment in the drawdown of the U.S. military's involvement in Afghanistan and another major milestone in President Biden's goal of formally ending the mission there on Aug. 31.

Driving the news: Miller, who led forces in Afghanistan longer than any other general in the position, turned over command to Marine Gen. Kenneth "Frank" McKenzie, who heads U.S. Central Command in Florida.

  • McKenzie will retain the ability to authorize airstrikes against the Taliban through Aug. 31, according to Reuters. After that, the U.S. focus will shift entirely to counterterrorism operations against ISIS and al-Qaeda.
  • Miller is expected to retire, defense officials told NBC News.

The big picture: The U.S. has almost completed its military withdrawal from Afghanistan, though the departure has coincided with large territorial gains by the Taliban and a sharp increase in violence.

  • Biden defended the exit during an address last week, saying it was not inevitable that the Afghan government would collapse and the Taliban would take over Kabul.
  • The president also stressed that the U.S. will continue to support the Afghan government after its withdrawal and will still help to promote human rights in the country.
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