The August date also gives the administration more time to find places to relocate thousands of Afghans, and their family members, who helped Americans during the 20-year war. The White House has come under heavy pressure to protect Afghan allies from revenge attacks by the Taliban and speed up the lengthy and complex process of providing them with special immigrant visas.
Administration officials previously said they were looking at Guam as one possible location, but State Department officials say they need multiple sites. The foreign ministers of Tajikistan and Uzbekistan were both in Washington last week, and the issue of Afghan security was raised in their meetings with Mr. Austin and Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken.
Finally, having General Miller stay on a few more weeks, and extending the security umbrella at least through August, is intended to offer, if nothing else, a boost for beleaguered Afghan troops. Pentagon officials said that exiting Bagram Air Base and having General Miller leave at the same time would have been a devastating blow to Afghan morale.
“A safe, orderly drawdown enables us to maintain an ongoing diplomatic presence, support the Afghan people and the government, and prevent Afghanistan from once again becoming a safe haven for terrorists that threatens our homeland,” Mr. Kirby said.
The White House joined in the reassurance messaging campaign on Friday — up to a point. Mr. Biden said that even though the United States still retained the ability to conduct airstrikes to protect the Afghan government, no reversal of the withdrawal was on the table.
“We have worked out an over-the-horizon capacity,” he said, talking about American warplanes and armed Reaper drones based mainly in the Persian Gulf, “but the Afghans are going to have to do it themselves with the air force they have.”
But all American combat troops and aircraft are now out of Afghanistan, officials said, so any military support to the Afghan forces will have to come from American bases eight hours away in Qatar or the United Arab Emirates.
“Our leaving does not end the war. It just ends the American involvement,” said John R. Allen, a retired four-star Marine Corps general who commanded U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan from 2011 to 2013, and oversaw the beginning of the drawdown of allied forces there, from 150,000 troops to about 11,000, at the end of 2014. “The war will continue.”