On Thursday, the U.S. confirmed that it continues to assert its influence in Afghanistan following its troop withdrawal. In a statement by a high-ranking military official, the U.S. claimed that it will still hold its ability to launch airstrikes.
Maintaining Counter-Terrorism Efforts
The confirmation came after President Joe Biden announced his plans to withdraw military and NATO troops in Afghanistan. In a statement, Gen. Frank McKenzie, commander of US Central Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that they are trying to find ways to maintain its military operations in the region.
“We will have an architecture in the theater that will allow us to look into Afghanistan,” the military official said. McKenzie also assured that for now, their top priority is sending U.S. troops safely back to the United States.
Increasing Concern For Afghanistan
However, the U.S. General admitted that the situation in Afghanistan is going to change as a result of the troop withdrawal. “It will not give us the same picture that we have now. It will allow us to see in. The ranges will be greater, the resources will be greater, the risks will all be greater, but it will be possible to do those again,” McKenzie said.
McKenzie also shared that the withdrawal would drastically affect the U.S’s ability to respond to threats. The General expressed concern over there being no military presence in its neighboring countries. These countries include areas such as Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Pakistan, and Turkmenistan.
However, McKenzie explained that they would continue to hold counter-terrorism operations through the air. He confirmed that these operations are primarily for surveillance purposes and carried out by either manned or unmanned aircraft. The military official added that drones such as MQ-1 Predators and MQ-9 Reapers would carry out the said reconnaissance missions.
“Zero is Zero”
The U.S’s withdrawal includes the remaining 2,500 troops in Afghanistan. The country is also in the process of removing contractors who had provided significant support for the Afghan military. More importantly, the decision would also dismantle a 20 year CIA intelligence network built after the 9/11 bombing.
In a statement, National security adviser Jake Sullivan also acknowledged that the troop withdrawal would affect the U.S surveillance capabilities.
McKenzie also stated that diplomats are also trying to find possibilities to establish an embassy in Afghanistan’s neighboring countries. However, the U.S. General stressed out that their top priority is to withdraw all of its troops. “Zero is going to be zero,” he reiterated. “We don’t plan to go back in. We’re not planning for that,” McKenzie said.
Safety And Military Concerns
In a report from CNN, the media outlet claimed that the military General had also asked for additional aircraft carrier presence. The media outlet reported the increased military presence is meant to ensure the troop’s safety.
As the U.S. military continues to face increasing threats from the Taliban, the military official is prioritizing force protection in any withdrawal. McKenzie had even vouched for the safety of the troops. “I am confident we will have the combat capability to provide an overwhelming response should we be attacked or our allies and partners be attacked as we execute the drawdown,” he said.
McKenzie also shared his concerns about the possible outcome following the withdrawal. The U.S. General expressed his concern about the ability of the Afghan military to hold ground against terrorist attacks. He said that he is specifically concerned about their ability to manage the Afghan air force after they remove U.S. support.
Finally, the U.S. General stood by the fact that the country’s war efforts were not in vain. McKenzie stated that they had achieved their goal to protect the country from Al-Qaeda and other terrorist attacks. “I think that we’ve accomplished the mission that we set out to do which was to prevent an attack against the United States that mission accomplished.”