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Top U.S. General in Afghanistan Hands Over Command

Gen. Austin S. Miller stepped down as commander of American-led forces in Afghanistan, as the United States prepares to end the 20-year-old war and as the Taliban has taken swaths of the country.

It’s important that the military sides set the conditions for a peaceful and political settlement in Afghanistan. We can all see the violence that’s taking place across the country. But we know that with that violence that what is very difficult to achieve is a political settlement. So again, what I tell the Taliban is they’re responsible too. The violence that’s going on is against the will of the Afghan people. And it needs to stop. This ceremony marks an important milestone in the transition of our involvement in Afghanistan. But it’s not the end of the story. It’s rather the end of a chapter. We will remain focused on four things over the course of the coming period. First, protecting our diplomatic presence in this country. Second, enabling the safe operation of the airport here in Kabul. Continuing to provide appropriate advice and assistance to Afghan national defense and security forces. And finally, as I’ve noted before, supporting our counterterrorism efforts.

Gen. Austin S. Miller stepped down as commander of American-led forces in Afghanistan, as the United States prepares to end the 20-year-old war and as the Taliban has taken swaths of the country.CreditCredit…Kiana Hayeri for The New York Times

July 12, 2021Updated 5:55 p.m. ET

KABUL, Afghanistan — The top American general in Afghanistan stepped down on Monday, a symbolic moment as the United States nears the end of its 20-year-old war and Taliban fighters sweep across the country.

At a muted ceremony at U.S. and NATO military headquarters in Kabul, Gen. Austin S. Miller ended his nearly three-year term as commander. His duties will be filled by two officials. Rear Adm. Peter G. Vasely, a former member of SEAL Team 6, will take charge of the security mission at the United States Embassy in Kabul. He will report to Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., the head of the military’s Central Command, who will take over the broader military mission in Afghanistan.

“It’s important to me to say farewell,” General Miller said. The ceremony, which lasted less than an hour, was attended by high-ranking Afghan officials, including Abdullah Abdullah, who is leading peace negotiations. “Our job is now not to forget,” General Miller said.

General McKenzie, who arrived in Kabul on Monday, spoke afterward, assuring those present that the Americans were not abandoning the Afghan people in such dire times.

“It’s not the end of the story,” General McKenzie said. “It’s the end of a chapter.”

General Miller oversaw a military campaign aimed at keeping the Taliban at the negotiating table and the Afghan forces unified in the face of political uncertainty.

Despite thousands of airstrikes, increased civilian casualties and short-term tactical gains, it is unclear how successful the U.S. military effort was: The final agreement between the insurgent group and the United States in February 2020 clearly favored the Taliban, and the Afghan government was completely cut out of the deal.

The Taliban have seized control of more than 160 of the country’s roughly 400 districts in the last two months, and hundreds of Afghan troops have surrendered, giving up their U.S.-supplied equipment and fleeing, sometimes into neighboring countries. Key provincial cities in both the north and south are under siege, and Afghan government counterattacks have had limited success.