A top U.S. general says he has “grave doubts” about the Taliban's reliability as the United States prepares to remove its troops from Afghanistan, but he stressed that the American military would still be able to observe the militant group and verify its actions after American troops leave.
Marine General Frank McKenzie, head of U.S. Central Command, also said on April 20 that the Taliban will be held accountable after the planned departure of U.S. and NATO forces later this year.
"If they want any form of future international recognition for Afghanistan...they're going to have to keep the agreements that they've made," McKenzie told the House Armed Services Committee.
McKenzie’s comments come a week after President Joe Biden announced that all U.S. troops will be withdrawn from Afghanistan by September 11, ending America's longest war.
The withdrawal plan, which breaks a May 1 deadline for the pullout laid out in a U.S.-Taliban deal reached in February 2020, has raised concerns that the country could erupt in a civil war that would give Al-Qaeda an opportunity to rebuild and plan new attacks on U.S. and other targets.
When Biden announced the troop withdrawal, he said the United States would reorganize counterterrorism capabilities and keep substantial assets in the region to respond to any threats emerging from Afghanistan.
McKenzie was asked about those plans by several members of the committee, who indicated their skepticism over the United States' ability to maintain focus on any such threats.
The general admitted it would be difficult but not impossible for U.S. forces to find and destroy the threats.
“I don’t want to put on rose-colored glasses and say it’s going to be easy to do,” McKenzie said, adding that if the United States must go back into Afghanistan because of a threat, it would require significant intelligence support.
The general said he would provide the defense secretary a plan for counterterrorism forces outside of Afghanistan by the end of the month.
Asked whether there were any agreements with countries around Afghanistan -- Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan -- to base forces on their soil, conduct lethal strikes, or carry out surveillance, McKenzie said: "At this time, we have none of those agreements in place."
But McKenzie insisted that the United States will retain the ability to define and detect threats in Afghanistan and take action against them if necessary.
He stressed that the United States is “going to go to zero in Afghanistan,” including all contractors, but said the military will still have a variety of means to “be able to see into Afghanistan.”
He told lawmakers who asked about possible attacks on U.S. troops during that withdrawal that the forces are prepared for such attacks should they occur.
“We will defend ourselves,” he said. “We are ready for whatever they choose to do.”