Speed Reads

The short goodbye

The U.S. exit from Afghanistan is 90 percent complete, Pentagon says. Here's why the last 10 percent are still there.

The Pentagon announced Tuesday that the U.S. military has completed 90 percent of its withdrawal from Afghanistan, and the remaining 10 percent will be completed by the end of August, soon before President Biden's Sept. 11 deadline. The U.S. departure after nearly 20 years in Afghanistan has been swift and quiet, as epitomized by the unheralded handover of Bagram Air Base to Afghan forces last week. 

So "why is the last 10 percent going to take until the end of August?" Politico's Lara Seligman asked on Twitter. By Tuesday evening, she had some answers for Politico's Nightly newsletter. 

First, Seligman reports, U.S. military leaders "don't want to announce that the withdrawal has already effectively been completed for fear that the Taliban will use that news as an excuse to launch an even stronger offensive," and "they want to keep some contractors around as long as possible to help out the Afghans" protecting Kabul, its airport, and the crew maintaining the country's air force. Having the U.S. commander in country gives "at least the illusion of a U.S. military presence," and might help keep up the morale of the Afghan National Security Forces, the only thing that will prevent Kabul falling to the Taliban, Seligman adds. 

And finally, keeping a U.S. military presence in Afghanistan over the summer "gives the administration more time to finalize plans to relocate thousands of Afghans who helped the U.S. military as interpreters" and in other supporting roles and "are in danger of being killed by the Taliban after the U.S. officially leaves," Seligman reports. These Afghans are currently awaiting special immigration visas.

As U.S. forces withdraw, the Taliban is grabbing up territory and imposing its strict version of Islam, which forbids music, women working in public-facing jobs, and girls in school, The New York Times reports. It will be "terrible" to watch the Taliban gobble up Afghanistan again, The Week's Joel Mathis writes, though "it is time to leave." 

Biden's decision to exit Afghanistan is broadly popular, even among Republican voters — former President Donald Trump set the stage for withdrawal, after all — and a diverse group of war veterans, "many of whom had clashed bitter with one another over the years," has pledged to continue providing Biden political cover if the Taliban prevails, the Times reports.