The US plans to keep its embassy in Afghanistan after it pulls troops out of the country, but the diplomatic mission could be closed if the US presence is not welcome by a future Afghan government, the head of US Central Command (CENTCOM) said on Monday.
According to Defense One, CENTCOM chief Gen. Frank McKenzie told reporters that the US’s diplomatic presence might not be welcome if a new power-sharing Afghan government includes the Taliban. “We won’t be there unless we’re, you know, we are invited to be there,” he told reporters.
McKenzie said it would be the responsibility of the Afghan government to protect the US embassy staff. “We do plan to have an embassy in Afghanistan. It will be at the invitation of the government of Afghanistan,” he said. “It will be first and most important their responsibility to protect that embassy, although we will always take whatever measures are necessary to protect our diplomats in any embassy anywhere in the world.”
In April, the US ordered a drawdown of its embassy staff in Kabul before the withdrawal began. President Biden broke the US-Taliban peace deal by pushing back the original May 1st withdrawal deadline, which raised fears of Taliban attacks on the US. But so far, the Taliban has refrained from attacking US or other foreign forces, and the US appears to be on track to complete the withdrawal by mid-July, although keeping the embassy open could be an excuse to leave a few hundred troops behind.
McKenzie also said Monday that the withdrawal process from Afghanistan is about halfway done. He said the US is working with allies to maintain “over the horizon” capabilities in Afghanistan, which is Pentagon jargon for keeping the ability to bomb the country after the pullout. Both the US military and the CIA are looking to reposition assets in the region for that purpose.
Whether or not a new power-sharing government is formed, it’s not clear if Washington’s post-withdrawal plans will be acceptable to the Taliban. If the US continues to launch airstrikes in Afghanistan, the Taliban would see that as a clear violation of the Doha agreement, and it would make it less likely that the group would continue peace talks with the Afghan government. The Biden administration is also committing $3.3 billion to support the Afghan government for the 2022 fiscal year.