Kirby also said it’s possible the Pentagon will send additional ground forces into the country temporarily, for logistics support and force protection.
The news comes a week after President Joe Biden announced that the United States would end its military presence Afghanistan by Sept. 11, 20 years after the terrorist attacks that launched America’s longest war. But before beginning the withdrawal, which is slated to start by May 1, the Pentagon says it must send additional forces to the country to ensure a safe exit.
The additional forces are meant to deter the Taliban from renewing attacks on American forces, which had largely halted since a February 2020 peace agreement with the Trump administration. However, the concern is that once the U.S. misses the May 1 deadline to withdraw negotiated under that deal, the group will likely renew the attacks.
Gen. Frank McKenzie, commander of U.S. Central Command, said this week that a small number of U.S. forces will remain after the withdrawal to provide embassy security.
McKenzie also said he intends to maintain a counterterrorism capability from outside Afghanistan after the American exit. Right now, most of those forces will be based out of the Gulf, where the U.S. already has access to basing and overflights. It’s also possible the U.S. could base forces in neighboring countries, including Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan, but the military currently has no basing agreements with those nations, McKenzie said.
McKenzie said during a Thursday briefing that he is working to finalize planning for the various options, which he will soon present to Austin.
“Those operations will be harder but not impossible,” McKenzie said. “We are committed to keeping the pressure on any potential terrorist threat emanating from Afghanistan.”