October 1, 2022

VOA Exclusive: CENTCOM Head Says US Will Not Support Afghan Forces with Airstrikes After Troop Withdrawal | Voice of America

ABOARD A MILITARY AIRCRAFT – The United States is not planning to support Afghan forces with air strikes after the U.S. troops withdrawal is complete, and counterterrorism strikes in Afghanistan will be limited to instances when attack plans have been discovered to strike the U.S. homeland or the homelands of our allies, according to the top U.S. commander in the Middle East. 

“That would be the reason for any strikes that we do in Afghanistan after we leave, (it) would have to be that we’ve uncovered someone who wants to attack the homeland of the United States, one of our allies and partners,” Gen. Frank McKenzie, the commander of U.S. Central Command, told VOA in an exclusive interview as he traveled toward the region aboard a U.S. military plane. 

The general’s comments appear to refute a report by the New York Times that said the Pentagon is considering seeking authorization to carry out airstrikes to support Afghan security forces if Kabul or another major city is in danger of falling to the Taliban. 

McKenzie’s candid description of U.S. involvement in Afghanistan after its withdrawal coincides with a narrowing counter-terror offensive against Islamic State and al-Qaida as the Pentagon prioritizes competition with China and Russia. The general said his force size in the Middle East was now “closer to 40,000,” a significant reduction from 18 months ago, when that number was between 60,000-80,000 troops.

FILE - Marine General Kenneth "Frank" McKenzie, head of U.S. Central Command, speaks with U.S. troops while visiting Forward Operating Base Fenty in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, Sept. 9, 2019.
Marine General Kenneth “Frank” McKenzie, head of U.S. Central Command, speaks with U.S. troops while visiting Forward Operating Base Fenty in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, Sept. 9, 2019.

 

Since President Joe Biden took office, he has ordered the full withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan and cut U.S. military support for the Saudi-led offensive against Iranian-back Houthi rebels in Yemen, all while the Pentagon has moved ships, weapons systems and troops out of other Middle East nations.  

McKenzie says the withdrawal from Afghanistan is a major event that has strained resources, not only across his command, but also across the U.S. Transportation Command, which helps shuttle U.S. military people and equipment to various locations across the globe. 

Those resources will continue to be strained, he tells VOA, as U.S. aircraft will fly from bases thousands of kilometers away in order to gather intelligence and surveillance and “keep the pressure up” on terrorists in Afghanistan. 

“It’s a long haul to get forces, aircraft into Afghanistan from over the horizon. We’ve said all along this is a very difficult thing to do. It’s not an impossible thing to do, and we’re working that right now,” McKenzie said. 

Plans ‘well advanced’  

Experts and former commanders have raised concerns about the lack of details that have been associated with securing Afghanistan after the withdrawal.

FILE - In this Jan. 15, 2018, file photo, U.S. Marines watch during the change of command ceremony at Task Force Southwest…
U.S. Marines watch during a change of command ceremony at Task Force Southwest military field, Helmand province, Afghanistan, Jan. 15, 2018. The final phase of ending U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan began May 1, 2021.

“The plans are very well advanced,” McKenzie said, deferring to the Defense Department to release further information.  

Ret. Gen Joseph Votel, the former commander of CENTCOM, told VOA he has hoped to see a “more comprehensive plan for what this withdrawal would look like” in order to leave the government of Afghanistan and the Afghan forces “on the very best footing that we could.” 

He pointed to the 2011 withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq as a “much more deliberate approach” that left behind a large embassy and left a security cooperation element of special forces on the ground. 

“Those are the kinds of things that that I would be expecting to see. I think the challenge with this right now is we’re just not seeing a lot of details,” Votel added.  

According to McKenzie, the U.S. will help the Afghan air force, one of the country’s biggest advantages against the Taliban, maintain its aircraft through a combination of virtual advising from afar and flying parts in and out of the country. The method will undoubtedly slow the maintenance process, which could leave Afghan forces with limited air support.  

“Risk will be greater, significantly greater,” McKenzie acknowledged. 

There is also a complete plan to evacuate Afghans who helped the United States, should the need arise, although the size, scope and timing of the operation would come from the Department of State, he said. 

Turkey in the spotlight 

One post-withdrawal plan that does not appear to be finalized is how the Kabul airport will be secured. The airport serves both civilian and military aircraft. 

Several hundred troops from NATO ally Turkey have been defending the airport, but it is unclear whether they will remain once NATO withdrawals, stoking fear that diplomats will not be able to safely enter and exit Afghanistan. 

McKenzie said the U.S. military was still “in consultation with Turkish partners about the issue.” Biden is expected to meet with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan in Brussels on Monday to discuss the airport security dilemma.  

Reports have said Erdogan is looking for concessions in exchange for securing the airport, including an agreement from the U.S. that allows Ankara to keep and operate its Russian S-400 air defense system. The U.S. opposes Turkey’s acquisition and use of a Russian system alongside NATO weapons like the F-35 fight jet. 

Another major concern is how well the U.S. will be able to uncover terrorists plots in Afghanistan, the very plots its military is supposed to be preventing through airstrikes, without a military presence in the country.  

Bradley Bowman, a defense expert with the Washington-based think tank Foundation for Defense of Democracies, criticized the pullout for reducing the United States’ capability to monitor and deter the approximately 20 terror groups in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region. 

“Just because we leave and we say it’s over, it’s not over,” Bowman said. “The Taliban is interested, and al-Qaida’s interested in forever jihad, and they’re going to keep fighting.” 

in U.S.
Related Posts

Biden ‘Will Not Let’ Justice Department Seize Reporters’ Phone, Email Records | Voice of America

May 22, 2021

May 22, 2021

U.S. President Joe Biden on Friday said he would not allow his Justice Department to seize the phone or email...

Ethiopians Protest US Sanctions Over Brutal Tigray War  | Voice of America

May 30, 2021

May 30, 2021

KAMPALA – Thousands of Ethiopians gathered in the nation’s capital Sunday to protest outside pressure on the government over its...

Biden Heads to Europe for Summits with Allies and Putin  | Voice of America

June 9, 2021

June 9, 2021

WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden headed to Europe Wednesday on his first overseas trip as the U.S. leader, set to...

Climate-Related Drought Disasters Threaten Development, UN Warns | Voice of America

June 17, 2021

June 17, 2021

GENEVA – The United Nations warns accelerating climate change is causing a dramatic intensification of global drought disasters, which are...

US Investigates Instances of Mysterious Havana Syndrome

May 28, 2021

May 28, 2021

On Wednesday, a group of US senators introduced legislation that would provide financial help to US government workers suffering from...

Biden Invites Ukrainian Leader to White House   | Voice of America

June 8, 2021

June 8, 2021

WASHINGTON – Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, pleading to meet U.S. President Joe Biden prior to Biden’s talks in Geneva next...

US Prosecutors Investigating Whether Ukrainians Interfered in 2020 Election, Report Says | Voice of America

May 28, 2021

May 28, 2021

WASHINGTON – Federal prosecutors are investigating whether current and former Ukrainian officials unlawfully interfered in the U.S. presidential election, The...

Afghan Partners Waiting for Special Immigrant Visas to US | Voice of America

June 25, 2021

June 25, 2021

The White House reportedly began preparations this week to move thousands of Afghans who aided U.S. troops to an interim third country...

Harris, Macron to Meet Amid US Push to Ease Tensions with Longstanding Ally

November 10, 2021

November 10, 2021

WASHINGTON —  French President Emmanuel Macron is set to host U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris for talks Wednesday at Elysee...

Ageless Wonder Mickelson Wins PGA to Be Oldest Major Champ | Voice of America

May 24, 2021

May 24, 2021

KIAWAH ISLAND, SOUTH CAROLINA – Phil Mickelson has delivered so many thrills and spills over 30 years of pure theater...

Death Toll Rises to 5 in Florida Building Collapse | Voice of America

June 27, 2021

June 27, 2021

Rescue workers found the body of a fifth person in the rubble of a 12-story condominium that partially collapsed Thursday,...

US Surgeons Help Russian Boy Born Deaf, Without Ears | Voice of America

June 9, 2021

June 9, 2021

Four-year-old Kirill Zherebtsov  was born deaf and without ears. He was scheduled for a special surgery in California but a day...

Supreme Court: Migrants Temporarily in US Ineligible for Permanent Residency | Voice of America

June 7, 2021

June 7, 2021

The U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled Monday that 400,000 immigrants from 12 countries living in the United States for humanitarian...

US Hands Bagram Airfield to Afghans After Nearly 20 Years | Voice of America

July 2, 2021

July 2, 2021

KABUL, AFGHANISTAN – After nearly 20 years, the U.S. military left Bagram Airfield, the epicenter of its war to oust...

US Colleges, Universities See Sharp Losses During Pandemic

November 15, 2021

November 15, 2021

The number of students studying at U.S. colleges and universities sharply declined for the school year that started in September...