Top US general who is in charge of US forces in the Middle East said Thursday he is concerned that the Afghan military will collapse after the United States and international troops leave Afghanistan.
He said that he is worried that Afghanistan’s military may not be able to “hold on” after American troops leave later this year.
Gen. Kenneth McKenzie’s remarks come as US President Joe Biden announced on April 14 that he will withdraw all American troops from Afghanistan by Sept. 11.
“I am concerned about the ability of the Afghan military to hold on after we leave, the ability of the Afghan Air Force to fly, in particular, after we remove the support for those aircraft,” McKenzie, head of US Central Command, said during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing Thursday.
He said that Afghan forces have gotten used to the support from the US and other nations’ militaries over several years.
Later at the Pentagon, McKenzie said Biden consulted with him and other top military brass before the commander-in-chief made the call to pull the troops.
“The president went out of the way to ensure all views were on the table,” he said. “I think we all recognize there were risks ahead that fall as a result of that decision. But I would reject the assertion that we’re out of step.”
McKenzie said the US has “weaned” the Afghan military from the most direct forms of support in recent years, such as American and coalition soldiers side by side with them on the ground, adding that most recent American assistance to the Afghan military has come in the form of intelligence and fire support.
“All of those things are factors that will be worked out here in the next few months, and we’ll get an opportunity to see how the Afghans do,” McKenzie said.
When asked about the need for the Pentagon to spend $4 billion a year to support Afghan security forces, McKenzie said: “If we don’t provide them some support, they certainly will collapse.”
“And I think that’s not in our best interest,” he said.
In a briefing with reporters Thursday afternoon, McKenzie said the US plans to continue supporting the Afghan military, including financially, after the withdrawal. However, he said, it will be harder to do without people on the ground in Afghanistan.
“We believe it will be a tough fight for Afghans, but we intend to continue to support them,” McKenzie said.
There are nearly 2,500 American forces in Afghanistan under NATO’s Resolute Support mission.
The announcement to withdraw the US and other foreign forces from the country in the next five months has been accompanied by many concerns from Afghans.