The chief of the Pentagon’s Central Command said on Tuesday the U.S. military may keep troops near Afghanistan after the delayed withdrawal planned for September 11, 2021.
Speaking to the House Armed Services Committee, Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie, Jr., reportedly stated the Pentagon is engaged in “detailed planning” to ensure that the U.S. military can act against threats in Afghanistan without a permanent presence there. McKenzie’s comments followed assurances last week from Secretary of State Antony Blinken during a visit to Kabul that the United States would remain an active participant in the construction of a democratic Afghanistan in a civilian capacity even after troops leave.
Under President Donald Trump, the U.S. government negotiated a deal with the Taliban in which the terrorist organization agreed not to attack U.S. troops or harbor foreign terrorist organizations like al-Qaeda in exchange for American troops to fully withdraw from the country by May 1, 2021. President Joe Biden announced this month that he would not honor the deal and extend America’s military presence there through September 11, 2021, the 20th anniversary of the al-Qaeda attacks on the U.S. homeland that prompted the Afghan War. Biden described his extension of the war as an acknowledgment that the war had gone on too long.
“It’s time for American troops to come home,” Biden declared.
McKenzie’s remarks suggested that the American troops may not be returning home, but relocating elsewhere in central Asia.
“USCENTCOM remains steadfast in support of ongoing interagency and diplomatic efforts to achieve a negotiated political settlement, and is committed to working with our regional partners to ensure our ability to counter a potential reemergence of terrorist threats against the homeland,” McKenzie’s prepared statement read in part, vowing that, “while we will not stay involved in Afghanistan militarily, we will continue to support the government of Afghanistan and keep providing assistance to the ANDSF [Afghan armed forces].”
In response to inquiries from members of Congress, McKenzie said the U.S. military may still need to perform some “counter-terrorism operations” in Afghanistan and will need to prepare by stationing troops in nearby countries, according to Air Force magazine.
The missions could use “targeted raids—although those are inherently dangerous, but you could still do it,” he explained. “You could do it with manned aircraft. There are problems with all three of those options, but there’s also opportunities with all three of those options.”
McKenzie reportedly said that the Pentagon is engaging in a “significant effort” to convince countries near Afghanistan to let U.S. troops station there at the moment but that it has not cemented deals with any particular nation.
“The U.S. military, earlier in the Afghan war, had agreements to operate out of large bases in locations such as Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. It is not yet clear which countries could be considered,” Air Force reported.
Afghanistan’s Khaama Press, citing the New York Times, suggested that the contenders to help the Pentagon conduct missions in Afghanistan following the withdrawal include Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan.”
India, Pakistan, China, and Iran all also share borders with Afghanistan, though of these only India enjoys an unencumbered positive relationship with America.
While the Pentagon prepares to delay its exit from Afghanistan for four more months than previously anticipated, the civilian side of the Biden administration has insisted it will remain a major actor in Afghan politics.
“The United States will continue its diplomatic and humanitarian support to Afghanistan and its security and defense forces, and will continue its efforts to facilitate the Afghan peace process,” Secretary of State Blinken said during a meeting with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani in Kabul last week. “The partnership is changing, but the partnership is enduring.”
“The reason I’m here … is to demonstrate literally, by our presence, that we have an enduring and ongoing commitment to Afghanistan,” Blinken insisted.
Ghani, who also spoke to Biden over the phone, also assured the world that a military withdrawal did not mean the end of the U.S. presence in Afghanistan.
“As we move into the next phase in our partnership, we will continue to work with our US/NATO partners in the ongoing peace efforts,” Ghani affirmed.
The Taliban, which had largely abstained from attacking U.S. targets since the Trump administration agreed to withdraw last year, called Biden’s extension of the war “a clear violation of the Doha Agreement and non-compliance with its commitments.” The Doha Agreement is the deal the Trump administration brokered last year, whose talks were conducted in the Qatari capital.
“As this agreement was signed in the presence of United Nations and representatives of numerous world countries and organizations, and is currently being breached by America,” the Taliban urged, “it is imperative that all countries and organizations that were witnesses to the signing of this agreement exert pressure on America to implement its commitments and withdraw all forces from Afghanistan by the specified date.”
The Taliban also vowed to return to active war with American troops in between May and September.
“Now as the agreement is being breached by America, it in principle opens the way for the Mujahideen of Islamic Emirate to take every necessary countermeasure, hence the American side will be held responsible for all future consequences, and not the Islamic Emirate,” the group’s statement concluded.
Afghanistan’s Tolo News reported on Tuesday that the Taliban had indeed “increased attacks in various regions of the country—including the strategic areas of Kandahar in the south, Balkh in the north, Herat in the west and Nangarhar in the east.”
Herat, in particular, has experienced “unprecedented violence” in the past week, according to the report.
The Taliban, like most Muslims around the world, is currently observing the holy month of Ramadan. While most mainstream Muslims observe the occasion by abstaining from food and water during sunlight hours and engaging in family activities to break their daily fasts, jihadists often escalate their violence during this time, as they consider the rewards for their jihad significantly increased by the time of year.