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Senior general says US will maintain ability to launch air strikes in Afghanistan following troop withdrawal

With simply greater than per week till the withdrawal is slated to start, Gen. Frank McKenzie, the commander of US Central Command, which incorporates the Middle East and Afghanistan, informed the Senate Armed Services Committee Thursday that navy planners are taking a look at methods to proceed operations in the nation following the withdrawal and in the quick time period deliver in “additional resources” to assist a protected draw down of troops.

He mentioned the US desires to find a way to conduct counter-terrorism missions, no less than from the air via the usage of manned and unmanned plane, in addition to perform surveillance and reconnaissance. But there isn’t a important American navy presence in the nations that encompass Afghanistan – Pakistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan – that may permit for the basing of US forces. The major drones used in Afghanistan – MQ-1 Predators and MQ-9 Reapers – can attain the nation from the bases of US allies in the Gulf, McKenzie mentioned, however such flights dramatically eat into the ability of the drones to function for prolonged durations of time.

“We will have an architecture in the theater that will allow us to look into Afghanistan,” McKenzie mentioned. “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. It is certainly not impossible, but we won’t have the vision we have now.”

US diplomats will take a look at the “art of the possible” to see if there are potential basing agreements with different nations, McKenzie added, however he made it clear that the plan is to withdraw each troop from Afghanistan – “zero is going to be zero” – excluding the forces wanted for embassy safety.

“We don’t plan to go back in. We’re not planning for that,” McKenzie burdened. “I didn’t say we wouldn’t go back in to strike. But we’re not planning to go back in to reoccupy.”

Force safety a precedence as troops withdraw

A protection official informed CNN that McKenzie has requested a continuing plane service presence in the area to present air assist, no less than till the scheduled finish of the withdrawal on September 11. The USS Dwight D. Eisenhower is presently working in the area. In addition, the navy is contemplating deploying a number of hundred further floor troops to present safety, particularly in distant areas the place US forces are situated. Force safety is a precedence in any withdrawal or disengagement, however it has taken on an added urgency due to Taliban threats to assault US forces in the event that they’re nonetheless in Afghanistan at the start of subsequent month.

“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,” mentioned McKenzie at a Pentagon briefing Thursday. “We look every day, every hour at force protection in Afghanistan,” he informed the Senate listening to.

McKenzie is about to present a proper withdrawal proposal to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin by the tip of the month. At that time Austin will determine what navy assist will be despatched to the area to help the drawdown.

Afghanistan withdrawal will likely dismantle a CIA intelligence network built up over 20 years

Still to be resolved is how the American folks will learn in regards to the drawdown that begins no later than May 1 and ends no later than September 11. “The key is security,” a second protection official mentioned. For distant areas like Kandahar and Jalalabad, there could also be no public acknowledgement of the drawdown till it’s accomplished.

Yet McKenzie painted a probably grim future for Afghanistan after a whole US withdrawal, particularly because the Taliban has saved up a excessive tempo of assaults towards Afghan forces, not simply US or coalition troops.

“My concern is the ability of the Afghan military to hold the ground that they’re on now,” McKenzie informed the committee. “I am concerned about the Afghan military to hold on after we leave and the ability of the Afghan Air Force to fly in particular after we remove the support for those aircraft.” US contractors present essential assist and upkeep to the nation’s Air Force, with out which the plane might not be ready to fly.

It is the intention of the US, McKenzie mentioned, to deliver out not solely the remaining 2,500 troops in Afghanistan, however to withdraw greater than 6,100 US contractors as nicely who assist, maintain, prepare, and help the Afghan authorities and navy.

“The one thing I can tell you is that we won’t be on the ground with them.”

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