CENTCOM Commander General Frank McKenzie has said to Congress that he worries the Afghan military “will certainly collapse” without continued U.S. support. This is the first break with the White House’s rather rosy assessment about the state of Afghanistan post-U.S. withdrawal.

McKenzie testified to the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday. He expressed concern about President Joe Biden’s announcement that all U.S. troops will withdraw from Afghanistan by September 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 said. 

After President Biden announced that U.S. troops will leave by September 11, Afghan President Ghani repeated the assertion that Afghan troops can hold their own. Nevertheless, all evidence points to the opposite.

Afghan Special Security Forces on the move in Logar
Attached infantry soldiers from 4th Infantry Division, on patrol with Afghan Special Security Forces. They return fire during a Taliban attack on their position in Logar province, October 12, 2018. (Photo by Spc. Casey Dinnison/DVIDS)

Can the Afghan Military Provide for the Country’s Security?

“Afghanistan’s proud security and defense forces are fully capable of defending its people and country, which they have been doing all along, and for which the Afghan nation will forever remain grateful,” Ghani posted on Twitter.

It will be much harder to supply air support to Afghan forces once U.S. troops leave the country. McKenzie stated that it will take “considerably longer” than four hours to move armed drones or other aircraft in and out of Afghanistan to provide overhead surveillance or counterterrorism strikes. Further, he added that it will require far more aircraft than now.

McKenzie added that of primary importance is to protect the U.S. Embassy. “It is a matter of great concern to me whether or not the future government of Afghanistan will be able to do that once we leave.” Undoubtedly, the U.S. Embassy will be significantly downsized following the withdrawal. Nevertheless, securing the grounds and the personnel will be difficult for the normal Marine contingent of embassy support. 

McKenzie said the Biden administration’s “deliberate and methodical” discussion on the withdrawal of troops “was heartening.” This could have been a subtle dig at former President Trump’s habit for making abrupt troop withdrawal decisions and announcing them on Twitter.