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.

The U.S. and NATO will pull out all of their troops from the country. U.S. has 2,500 troops while NATO has 7,000 and 17,000 contractors, less than a third of whom are Americans. All will be withdrawn.

Afghan female soldiers work alongside Afghan Special Operations Forces
Ktah Khas Afghan Female Tactical Platoon members participate in morning physical training outside Kabul, Afghanistan May 29, 2016. The females work closely alongside the males on operations to engage and interact with women and children. The FTPs are trained in marksmanship, language, fast roping, and other combat-related skills. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Douglas Ellis/U.S. Air Force)

Will Afghanistan Again Be a Safe Haven for Terrorism?

The debate on whether or not the United States should withdraw from Afghanistan is over. The president has decided.

Nevertheless, the question remains. What about terrorist groups, especially al-Qaeda, using Afghanistan as a haven for setting up attacks against the U.S. and the West? After all, this is why we went to Afghanistan in the first place.

The Taliban, despite their public pronouncements, still allow access to and have not cut their ties with al-Qaeda.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has stated that the U.S. will maintain the ability to counter terrorists in Afghanistan. Yet, he offered few details.

The U.S. has no diplomatic agreements, with any of the neighboring countries, for basing counter-terrorist (CT) troops. Furthermore, the distances involved would reduce the effectiveness of CT troops based in neighboring countries.

Members of the Armed Services Committee pressed McKenzie on that question as well but he had no answers. 

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Could U.S. Funding Prop Up the Country?

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke to NATO leaders earlier in April saying that the United States will continue to support the Afghans after the withdrawal.

“We will look to continue funding key capabilities such as the Afghan Air Force and Special Mission Wing, and we will seek to continue paying salaries for Afghan Security Forces,” Austin said.

Yet, it is crucial to ensure that the money goes where it supposed to. Afghanistan’s government is horribly corrupt and that corruption is spread from top to bottom. Much of the $1.7 trillion the U.S. has spent has ended up in the pockets of politicians who have gotten rich on American largesse while their troops and citizens suffer. This was happening even with the U.S. presence on the ground. Therefore, with no American oversight, believing that Afghan corruption will not increase is foolish at best.