Since President Biden announced his plan to withdraw from Afghanistan by September 11th, US officials have been clear that they want to maintain some sort of presence in the country. In an interview on Sunday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken insisted that the US will still “have the means” to monitor Afghanistan and “take action” if needed.
“We will have the means to see if there is a resurgence, a reemergence of a terrorist threat from Afghanistan,” Blinken said. “We’ll be able to see that in real-time with time to take action. And we’re going to be repositioning our forces and our assets to make sure that we guard against the potential reemergence.”
Last week, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said the US plans to continue “paying salaries ” for the Afghan military and suggested the US wants to maintain the ability to bomb Afghanistan. A report from The New York Times said US officials are considering repositioning forces in neighboring Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan for “counterterrorism” purposes.
The US currently has 2,500 troops in Afghanistan, but there is another heavy US presence in the form of contractors working for the Pentagon. The latest numbers released in January said there are currently 18,000 US military contractors in Afghanistan, 1,575 of which are armed mercenaries.
Blinken also said in his interview on Sunday that the US needs to reshift its resources to focus on China, which the Pentagon recently identified as the top “threat” facing the US.
While the US is shifting its foreign policy focus away from counterterrorism in the Middle East towards so-called “great power competition” with Russia and China, Afghanistan is in Central Asia and shares a small border with China’s Xinjiang province. Considering the country’s location, the US likely hopes to maintain some influence or capabilities in Afghanistan, whether it be through contractors, proxies, or a CIA presence.