(AP) — The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan will hand over command at a ceremony in Kabul on Monday, as America
ends its 20-year military presence and Taliban
insurgents gain ground across the country.
According to a U.S. official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to confirm the developments, Gen. Scott Miller
was poised to hand over command to Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie, the head of US Central Command.
McKenzie, a four-star general, will operate from Central Command headquarters in Tampa, Florida
, and will be given authority to conduct possible airstrikes
in defense of Afghan government forces, at least until the US withdrawal is completed by Aug. 31.
The handover ceremony was held in the heavily fortified Resolute Support headquarters in the heart of Kabul, at a time
when Taliban insurgents were making rapid territorial gains across Afghanistan.
The Afghanistan National Defense and Security
Forces, mostly funded by the US and NATO
, have put up a fight in some areas of the country, but Afghan government troops appear to have given up the fight.
The Taliban have gained control of several strategic districts in recent weeks, particularly along the borders
, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan.
The Taliban control more than one-third of Afghanistan's 421 districts and district centers; however, the Taliban's claim that they control 85 percent of the districts is widely regarded as exaggerated.
Following Miller's departure, a two-star admiral based at the US Embassy in Kabul will be in charge of the US military
's role in securing the American diplomatic presence in Kabul, including defending Kabul airport.
Miller's departure has no effect on the scope of the US military mission in Afghanistan because McKenzie will assume Miller's authority to conduct airstrikes in defense of Afghan government forces under certain conditions.
The circumstances under which such strikes might be used are unknown, as is the length of time McKenzie will retain strike authority.