The commander of U.S. Central Command confirmed that American special operators would serve as the main security force to combat terrorists and militants across Afghanistan as U.S. troops begin to draw down.
A U.S-Taliban deal inked Feb. 29 that could see the withdrawal of all American forces has lawmakers worried that the Taliban could return to power in Afghanistan and breathe new life into the plethora of terror groups that operate in the region.
Pentagon planners and lawmakers have voiced support for maintaining a small counterterrorism footprint in Afghanistan as hedge against the Taliban reneging on its commitments outlined in the agreement. The deal with the Taliban calls for all American troops to leave within 14 months.
But Marine Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie, Jr., the commander of CENTCOM, explained to lawmakers Thursday during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing that even a small counterterrorism footprint below 8,600 troops would require major progress in intra-Afghan talks and integration between the Taliban and Afghan army.
McKenzie explained to lawmakers that the U.S. could not maintain a small counterterror presence in Afghanistan below 8,600 troops if the Taliban continue large scale attacks against Afghan forces. He said on Thursday that going smaller requires integration between the Taliban and Afghan government.
The special operations security construct was first reported by the Washington Post.
The CENTCOM commander explained that the principle driver to maintaining a smaller counterterror posture below 8,600 was a “far lower level” of violence across the country — something the Taliban has failed to deliver on despite their signed commitment with the U.S. to do so.