Gen. Frank McKenzie, the head of US Central Command, said that the US is not planning on giving the Afghan military air support after the withdrawal from Afghanistan is complete.
McKenzie’s comments appear to refute a report from The New York Times that said the Pentagon was considering authorizing airstrikes against the Taliban in support of the Afghan government after the pullout.
While McKenzie said the US is not planning to support Afghan forces with airstrikes, he left open the possibility of bombing Afghanistan if it can be framed as a “counterterrorism” operation.
“That would be the reason for any strikes that we do in Afghanistan after we leave, [it] would have to be that we’ve uncovered someone who wants to attack the homeland of the United States, one of our allies and partners,” he told Voice of America in an interview published on Monday.
US officials are working out plans to maintain the ability to bomb and fly surveillance missions over Afghanistan, what the Pentagon has dubbed “over the horizon capability.” The Pentagon had been hoping to reposition forces in neighboring countries, but it doesn’t appear that any progress has been made towards that end.
The US will have to settle for flying Afghanistan missions out of its bases in the Gulf region or from aircraft carriers. Last week, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said the US had already begun launching Afghanistan operations from outside the country.
CENTCOM said last week that the withdrawal is over 50 percent complete, although the command is not disclosing troop numbers. Questions remain over what the US’s diplomatic presence will look like and how many troops Washington will try to leave behind to protect its embassy.