April 1, 2023

Marine Corps General Kenneth McKenzie Jr., Commander of US Central Command, says before the Senate Armed Forces Committee during its “US Central Command and US Africa Command” hearing to review the application for approval of the defense for fiscal year 2222 and the Defense Program for the Coming Years out in Washington on Thursday, April 22, 2021.

Caroline Brehman | CQ Appeal, Inc. | Getty Images

WASHINGTON – The chief of the U.S. Middle East Forces said Thursday he was concerned that the Afghan military would collapse after U.S. and foreign troops left the war-torn country.

Marine General Kenneth McKenzie’s remarks follow President Joe Biden’s April 14 announcement that he would withdraw all US troops from Afghanistan by September 11, ending America’s longest war.

“I am concerned about the ability of the Afghan military to hold fast after we leave, the ability of the Afghan Air Force to fly, especially after we remove support for these aircraft,” McKenzie, head of US Central Command, said during an Armed Forces committee hearing of the Senate on Thursday.

The Afghan armed forces had got used to the support of the military of the US and other nations over several years.

Later at the Pentagon, McKenzie said Biden had consulted with him and other senior military officials before the commander in chief made the call for troops to withdraw.

“The president has done everything possible to ensure that all views are on the table,” he said. “I think we all recognize that there are risks ahead of us as a result of this decision. But I would reject the claim that we are not on the right track.”

A White House official referred CNBC’s request for comment on McKenzie’s remarks to the National Security Council.

An NSC spokesman cited recent comments from Deputy National Security Advisor Jonathan Finer, who said the government has no illusions about how difficult the situation will be after US forces leave Afghanistan.

McKenzie also told reporters that while the US will continue to provide remote assistance to Afghanistan, he was particularly concerned about aircraft maintenance.

The machines are largely serviced by contractors from the United States and other countries, he said. The US intends to find innovative ways to replace these services in such a way that no boots are required on site, he added.

When asked about the trillion dollars invested in training and assisting the Afghan military, McKenzie said he believed the US had made “a good return on our investment.”

According to a Department of Defense report, the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria have combined cost US taxpayers more than $ 1.57 trillion since September 11, 2001. More than 2,000 US soldiers have died in Afghanistan.

US Marines shoot during a Taliban ambush as they conduct an operation to clear an area in Helmand province, Afghanistan on Oct. 9, 2009.

Asmaa Waguih | Reuters

The removal of approximately 3,000 American service members coincides with the 20th anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks that spurred US entry into protracted wars in the Middle East and Central Asia.

“It’s time to end America’s longest war. It’s time for American troops to come home,” said Biden in his televised address from the White House treaty room in which former President George W. Bush took military action against Al Qaeda and the US announced the Taliban in October 2001.

Biden’s withdrawal schedule breaks with a proposed deadline agreed with the Taliban by the Trump administration last year. According to the agreement, all foreign forces would leave Afghanistan by May 1, 2021.