Top U.S. General Steps Down in Afghanistan

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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, who recently served as operations director for the Defense Intelligence Agency, 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 for me to say farewell,” said General Miller, who is expected to retire after a 38-year career in the U.S. Army. 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 just 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.

Mr. Biden said evacuations were underway, and he promised those Afghans that there was “a home for you in the United States, if you so choose. We will stand with you, just as you stood with us.”

And on Monday, the American Embassy in Kabul resumed immigrant visa interviews after a lockdown because of the coronavirus.

In a sign of the Pentagon’s growing concern that the deteriorating security situation could hamper efforts to relocate the former Afghan interpreters, Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III has created a high-level team to coordinate broader military assistance for the State Department, the agency leading the effort.

Until now, the Pentagon’s role has been primarily to identify countries that could support the Afghan visa applicants and their families for a period of months if needed.

But the Defense Department wants to be ready to provide State Department with additional support, such as military transportation, if needed, a senior Pentagon official said. The Pentagon team, which will hold its first meeting on Monday, will be led by Garry Reid, a senior department official.

Though the future is uncertain, peace talks between Taliban and Afghan negotiators continue in Qatar, though infrequently. Last week, Taliban and some Afghan political figures met in Iran’s capital to discuss an end to the conflict, but concluded with little progress, officials said.

The Taliban has carried out a diplomatic blitz in the region, traveling to Russia and Turkmenistan, following the group’s recent advances across the country.

Eric Schmitt contributed reporting from Washington.

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