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What The U.S. Relationship With Afghanistan Will Look Like Moving Forward


To talk about the way ahead in Afghanistan, we want to turn now to NPR's Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman. Tom has made numerous trips to Afghanistan reporting on U.S. military operations there over the years. Tom, thanks for being here.


MARTIN: So big diplomatic talks happening today in Washington. But tell us more about how this withdrawal of U.S. troops looks from the military perspective. What does it feel like on the ground?

BOWMAN: Well, the military time has ended, so no more U.S. troops on the ground training, no more airstrikes to help the Afghan forces in the growing fight against the Taliban. Rachel, the relationship will be largely diplomatic and financial. The U.S. will spend some $3.3 billion this year on Afghan forces, providing pay and equipment. You'll likely see training of Afghan forces outside the country, maybe Europe. And since all U.S. contractors will leave, the U.S. will try to do basically tele-maintenance (ph) from a country in the region, likely the United Arab Emirates. And let's say an aircraft engine needs an overhaul. I'm told you'll just fly that engine out and fix it. Now, if that sounds difficult or maybe impossible, you're not alone.

MARTIN: Right. So fly it out, and fix it - that presumes that the airports are all going to be stable and fine. I mean, you and I have talked about this before, how important and vulnerable the airports in Afghanistan are. Right?

BOWMAN: No, that's right. The U.S. military airports in Kandahar in the south and Bagram, north of Kabul, have closed or will close. The Turkish forces will secure the Kabul airport even though the Taliban want all NATO forces out. The unknown, Rachel, is, will the Taliban threaten Kabul airport? And if so, then everything changes. Without a secure airport, you can't keep U.S. diplomatic staff in Kabul or any other embassies can operate. And then you'll really see an exodus.

MARTIN: Right. And the Kabul airport is what Afghan civilians use to get out of the country to visit family or for any other reason. I mean, that would have huge, huge repercussions...

BOWMAN: Exactly.

MARTIN: ...If that's taken. I want to talk about another issue - the thousands and thousands of Afghans who worked with the U.S. government, either for the embassy or for the military. They fear for their lives right now. Many of them are struggling to get a visa to get out. Our co-host Steve Inskeep talked with a former U.S. employee who didn't want us to use his name for his own safety. Let's listen.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Every day now you can see an increase in attacks. You can see an increase of the Taliban's presence in major cities. What am I going to do after September? You know, what's going to happen in November? Am I going to be even alive by December?

MARTIN: The Biden administration, Tom, as you know, has been under a ton of pressure to help Afghans like him get out of the country. Now the administration has announced they're going to do that, right? What can you tell us?

BOWMAN: Well, the State Department is accelerating the visa process, but there's concern with the security situation getting worse by the day. You may have to start evacuating people. Yesterday, speaking with reporters, the president talked about the process of relocating Afghans who worked with U.S. troops. He said, quote, "Those who helped us will not be left behind." We've also learned the White House is in the process of informing both Congress and the Afghan government that it will evacuate thousands of Afghan citizens, you know, ranging from 20,000 to 100,000, those who worked for the American forces. For weeks, you know, the U.S. military has been planning for this, and now the State Department has joined in. And they could move those applicants to a third country or maybe even Guam for processing, but that's something we'll likely see very soon in the coming weeks.

MARTIN: All right. NPR's Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman. Thanks, Tom. We appreciate your reporting on this.

BOWMAN: Great. You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF TOR'S "CITY 66") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tom Bowman is a NPR National Desk reporter covering the Pentagon.