US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin affirmed that all contractors working with the United States in Afghanistan are also leaving the country as a part of President Biden’s decision to withdraw the US troops. So far, the Secretary’s statements came as the most explicit sign that the US decision to withdraw troops from Afghanistan by September 11 also covers US-funded contractors.
Speaking upon a question that whether the US ordered to withdraw not only American forces but also contractors, Secretary Austin said: “We are going to responsibly retrograde all of our capabilities that we are responsible for, and the contractors fall in that realm as well.” However, the Pentagon chief also indicated that the contractors have a possibility to renegotiate their contracts in the future.
Prior to withdrawal attempts, it is known that Afghanistan hosted nearly 17,000 Pentagon contractors, including around 6,150 Americans, 4,300 Afghans, and 6,400 from other countries.
On the other hand, some concerns that the withdrawal of contractors, particularly those serving the Afghan security forces, could undermine the ability of the Afghan government and military to maintain critical functions exist among the US officials.
Defense Secretary Austin also highlighted that the withdrawal has been proceeding as planned so far.
However, reports started to appear that daily skirmishes between the Afghan security forces and the Taliban have intensified as the withdrawal began. In recent days, it was reported that the Taliban had taken under control some districts in the northern province of Baghlan.
According to Afghan government officials, more than 50 soldiers were killed or wounded by the Taliban in clashes during the last 24 hours, while the government forces killed dozens of Taliban members in the same period.
The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, confirmed that the violent attacks targeting Afghan security forces but not the US’ have intensified since May 1. Speaking on the implications of the US withdrawal on the future of Afghanistan, Miley said: “It is not a foregone conclusion, in my professional military estimate, that the Taliban automatically win and Kabul falls or any of those dire predictions.”