He said the US military has tasks to accomplish which include protecting US diplomatic presence in Afghanistan, providing funding to Afghan forces, advising Afghan ministries and preventing the re-emergence of a transnational terrorist threat from the country.
“We are still on track to finish up [the retrograde] by the end of August,” Austin said at a joint press conference with General Mark Milley, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff.
“These are friends of the United States who have done exemplary and courageous work, and we take our obligations to them and their families very seriously,” he said.
Meanwhile, Gen. Mark Milley said that all the military operating bases outside of Kabul have been fully transferred to the Afghan Ministry of Defense and the Afghan security forces.
“A small contingent of predominantly military personnel, but some civilians and contractors, along with Department of State, remain in Afghanistan to provide security and bolster our diplomatic presence in Kabul. The forces here are key to achieving the five ongoing tasks that the secretary laid out in his comments,” he said.
A major component of sustaining a robust diplomatic presence in Kabul is to maintain a functioning and secure airport in Kabul, he said.
“So, we continue to dedicate our security resources to that, to secure the embassy, to secure the international zone and secure HKIA, the international airport in Kabul for our diplomats, our personnel and our continued support to the government of Afghanistan,” Milley added.
He said Afghan Security Forces have the capacity to sufficiently fight and defend their country, and we will continue to support the Afghan Security Forces where necessary in accordance with the guidance from the president and the secretary of defense.
“The future of Afghanistan is squarely in the hands of the Afghan people, and there are a range of possible outcome in Afghanistan. And I want to emphasis repeatedly, and I’ve said this before, a negative outcome, a Taliban automatic military takeover, is not a forgone conclusion. We will continue to monitor the situation closely and make adjustments as necessary,” he stated.
Milley said the US will maintain the capability of self-defense.
“We possess the military means and have several options at our disposal to fully protect our force in Afghanistan and throughout the region,” he added.
He said the US maintains an agile over-the-horizon counterterrorism capability that is set up and effective now to detect and address any terrorism threat to the United States.
On Taliban attacks, he said: “I would tell you that as of today, more or less — I guess it’s about 212, 213, it’s in that range — the 200s — of the district centers are in Taliban control. It’s about half of the 419 that are out there.”
He added: “You’ve got 34 provincial capitals in Afghanistan. None of them have been seized, as of today, by the Taliban, although the Taliban is putting pressure on the outskirts of probably about half of them — 17 of them, in fact — and what they’re trying to do is isolate the major population centers. They’re trying to do the same thing to Kabul,” he said.