KABUL: General Austin Scott Miller — the top US general in Afghanistan — relinquished command and handed it over to the Afghan government at an official ceremony in the capital on Monday.
In a simple ceremony, General Miller handed over his duties to two US generals — one who will oversee US military action from Central Command headquarters in Florida, and one who will command the roughly 650 troops to remain after the official US withdrawal, reports the international media.
"It's important to me to say farewell," Gen Miller told the attendees, who included high ranking Afghan officials, in an emotional final address."Our job is now not to forget." Gen Miller was the longest serving officer to oversee Nato and US forces in Afghanistan, which he called "the highlight" of his career. General Miller — the highest-ranked officer on the ground in Afghanistan — handed command to General Kenneth McKenzie, an AFP correspondent at the Kabul ceremony reported.Miller warned that violence across the country was making it "difficult" to reach political settlements. Miller said he told Taliban officials "it's important that the military sides set the conditions for a peaceful and political settlement in Afghanistan. ... But we know that with that violence, it would be very difficult to achieve a political settlement."
After the ceremony, Afghan National Security Adviser Hamdullah Mohib told reporters, "There will be no takeover."
Miller has been in Afghanistan since 2018, but in May he was charged by Commander-in-chief President Joe Biden with organising the final withdrawal of US troops, to be completed by the end of August.
Since May, most of the 2,500 American troops remaining at that time have left, and the US has also handed over to Afghan forces Bagram Air Base, from where coalition forces carried out operations against the Taliban and jihadist groups for the past two decades. About 650 US service members are expected to be stationed in Kabul to guard Washington´s sprawling diplomatic compound, where ´s ceremony took place.Top Afghan officials and military officers attended the ceremony inside the heavily fortified green zone.
Meanwhile, the Taliban fighters have surrounded the city of Ghazni, taking over civilians’ homes to fight security forces, officials said on . The offensive was the latest on a provincial capital as the Taliban make a fresh push to surround cities and gain territory, emboldened by the departure of foreign forces. “The situation in Ghazni city is very critical...the Taliban use civilian houses as hideouts and fire upon the ANDSF (Afghan security forces). This makes the situation very difficult for the ANDSF to operate against the Taliban,” said Hassan Rezayi, a member of Ghazni’s provincial council.
Locals said clashes between the two sides were also continuing in the southern province of Kandahar where the Taliban traditionally have had a strong presence and where the Special Forces had been sent to defend the province. Highly trained troops have been called out in Kandahar to flush out the Taliban who attacked regular forces and local police hours earlier. "We received a report that the enemy had infiltrated here and wanted to overthrow the district," Major Mohammad Din Tasir, a member of the special forces unit deployed in the Taliban's former stronghold of Kandahar, told an international wire agency.
The report had suggested up to 300 Taliban fighters were present in the area, he said. "Unfortunately, what we heard in the report and what we saw on the scene did not match." The Afghan foreign ministry announced that its security forces had eliminated the head of intelligence in the Taliban. Qari Shagasi was killed during an operation carried out by Afghan forces at dawn on in the village of Muhammad Aghahi in the Logar province, the foreign ministry said. Two of his followers were arrested during the ambush, it said. No further details were given.
In central Bamyan province - usually comparatively free from conflict or Taliban presence - the Taliban took over Kuhmard district after security forces retreated, according to Humayoon Elkhani, the spokesperson for Bamyan province police. An Afghan defence official tweeted on that 26 Taliban fighters had been killed in operations and airstrikes a day earlier in two Kandahar districts, including Dand.
In a related development, Finland said it would pause decisions on deportations to Afghanistan to assess the deteriorating security situation. Afghan officials have urged all European countries to stop deportations for three months, as security forces battle a wave of violence triggered by a Taliban offensive.
The Finnish Immigration Service said, "The issuing of negative decisions that involve removal from the country to Afghanistan" had been paused on July 9.
No further decisions would be taken until an assessment was completed, the service said.
But Austria's Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg spoke out on against Kabul's call to stop deportations.
"I think that is a bad sign. It is simply unacceptable because we have a deal with Afghanistan and deals must be respected," he said.
"It cannot be a one-way street. The EU is one of the major financial backers of Afghanistan."
Immigration official Jaakko Purontie told local media asylum seekers would not automatically be given approval to stay, rather they would have to wait longer for a decision.
The service has about 350 applications pending for Afghans.
The fighting in Afghanistan as Nato forces withdraw is having a grave effect on civilians, the EU's foreign policy chief said.
Josep Borrell said the number of civilian casualties was up by nearly a quarter compared to earlier in the year.
EU foreign ministers held talks on Afghanistan, when they urged the Taliban to sit down at the negotiating table and discuss an end to the fighting. "The fighting is having a grave impact on civilians," said Mr Borrell at a press conference in Brussels. "The ministers have unanimously urged the Taliban to engage in substantive and conclusive peace negotiations. "We also call on countries in the region and the broader international community to play a constructive role in support of the Afghanistan peace process."
Meanwhile, Russian diplomats and consular staff stationed in the Afghan border city of Hairatan have now been relocated to neighboring Uzbekistan. Zamir Kabulov, the Russian president’s special representative for Afghanistan, told TASS on that personnel located in the northern town had crossed the frontier amid a worsening security situation.
Meanwhile, Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Fawad Chaudhry said the federal government will ensure that Pakistan would be insulated from fallouts if Afghanistan plunged into a civil war after complete withdrawal of American troops. “Even if Afghanistan descends into a civil war, the government will not let the fallout affect Pakistan,” he said, adding that Islamabad was striving for a way forward in Afghanistan through a “peaceful regime”. However, he made it clear that Islamabad stuck to its policy of non-interference in the affairs of its neighbour. “Pakistan’s land is not being used against Afghanistan and we hope that the Afghan territory too will not be used against Pakistan,” he added.
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