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Longest-serving U.S. commander in Afghanistan oversees mammoth task of packing up America's longest-ever war effort

U.S. commander on Afghanistan drawdown
U.S. commander on Afghanistan drawdown 02:36

Kabul — American troops battled 40-mile-per-hour crosswinds at a base in southern Afghanistan this week as they packed up the materials to send back to the U.S. It was just part of the heavy lift required in the mission to pull the remaining U.S. forces, about 2,500 troops, out of Afghanistan. 

It's an historic turning point in America's longest-ever war being orchestrated and supervised by U.S. Army General Scott Miller. 

"It's going very well, in some cases ahead of schedule," Miller told CBS News correspondent Charlie D'Agata. 

After almost 20 years of a continuous American presence in Afghanistan, dismantling it all is a mammoth task. 

Outrage in Afghanistan over school attack 08:07

The mission isn't just to safeguard the withdrawal of U.S. troops, there are also weapons, vehicles and an array of other machinery and equipment — it's an entire infrastructure.

And it all has to be done while also defending against Taliban militants, who are determined to settle scores as American soldiers head for the exit. 

"We have seen a couple of incidents of Taliban activity against the coalition," Miller told D'Agata. "We have the military means and capabilities to defend ourselves as well as the Afghan security forces." 

Capabilities like the U.S. airstrikes that have been just moments away when the Taliban attack U.S. bases, and to back up Afghanistan's domestic forces when they come under attack. They've been called upon recently, as Taliban fighters advance on Afghan forces, claiming new ground in the country's south. 

Belgium Nato Afghanistan
Resolute Support Mission Commander United States Army General Austin Scott Miller waits for the start a meeting of the North Atlantic Council and Resolute Support at NATO headquarters in Brussels, December 5, 2018. Francisco Seco/AP

Miller told CBS News that the next two weeks would be critical for the withdrawal operation.

"We saw as 1st May [U.S. withdrawal] commenced a pretty large surge of Taliban violence across the country, as expected," he said.

The general knows the Taliban playbook by heart. Just a month after he took command, he drew his sidearm when a rogue Afghan bodyguard opened fire on their delegation, killing an Afghan lieutenant general and wounding a U.S. brigadier general. 

A former Delta Force Captain, Miller was one of the first American soldiers on the ground in the U.S.-led invasion after the September 11, 2001 terror attacks.

Afghan VP says U.S. "legitimized" Taliban 02:47

Now, America's longest war is being brought to an end by America's longest-serving commander in Afghanistan. 

D'Agata asked the general if he'd anticipated being in the country for so long.

"Absolutely not," replied the commander. "In 2001, I don't ever think I could project 20 years later and see that we would be standing here."

Miller paid tribute not only to the last remaining soldiers, but the tens of thousands of American forces who came before them, and those who served and died in Afghanistan.

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