Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin on Wednesday said the US would continue to support the Afghan government’s military after President Biden withdraws troops from the country and hinted at a possible “counterterrorism” force in the region that could strike targets in Afghanistan.
“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 at a NATO press conference in Brussels. “We will also work closely with them and with our allies to maintain counterterrorism capabilities in the region,” he added.
“I think you’ll understand why I won’t get into specific details about where our counterterrorist assets may be positioned,” Austin said when asked where counterterrorism troops could be deployed in the region. “In terms of our ability to acquire targets and engage them in places where we are not … We have the reach and the ability to in fact do that,” he said, suggesting the US wants to maintain the capability to bomb Afghanistan.
The New York Times reported on Thursday on how the US is planning to continue fighting in Afghanistan “from afar.” The report reads: “The Pentagon, American spy agencies and Western allies are refining plans to deploy a less visible but still potent force in the region to prevent the country from again becoming a terrorist base.” Unnamed US officials speaking to the Times floated neighboring Tajikistan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, as possible locations to reposition forces from Afghanistan.
When asked if Biden plans to leave special operations forces in Afghanistan after his new September 11th withdrawal deadline, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki declined to comment. “I’m obviously not going to get into operational specifics from the podium,” she said.
A different New York Times report from Tuesday cited unnamed current and former US officials who said some sort of US presence will continue in Afghanistan. The officials said: “The United States will most likely rely on a shadowy combination of clandestine Special Operations forces, Pentagon contractors and covert intelligence operatives.”