The head of US Central Command told Congress on Thursday that he is “concerned” that the Afghan military will not be able to stand on its own after the US withdraws from Afghanistan.
“My concern is the ability of the Afghan military to hold the ground that they’re on now without the support that they’ve been used to for many years,” Gen. Frank McKenzie told the Senate Armed Services Committee. In particular, McKenzie said he was concerned about the “ability of the Afghan air force to fly” after the US leaves.
On top of the 2,500 troops the US has in Afghanistan, there are about 18,000 contractors working for the Pentagon, including 1,575 that are armed mercenaries. The Afghan military is almost entirely reliant on these contractors for maintenance of its equipment, and McKenzie’s “concern” could be used as justification to leave some behind.
Last week, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin made it clear that the US would continue to support the Afghan military financially after the withdrawal. “We will seek to continue paying salaries for Afghan security forces,” he said at a NATO press conference.
Also last week, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said he wasn’t sure about the presence of contractors when asked if they will be leaving Afghanistan along with US combat troops.