Senior U.S. military officials say they will be able to conduct anti-terrorism missions in Afghanistan after the expected departure of American military troops in September, but acknowledged it won’t be easy.
Marine Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie, commander of U.S. Central Command, told a Senate hearing Thursday that the counter-terror mission could be done even with American and NATO forces no longer stationed directly in Afghanistan.
Redeploying troops to bases around the region “will give us the capability to go back in as necessary, to strike targets when they need to be struck,” the general told the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Military thinking breaks down a mission into three categories — find the target, fix the target and finish the target, Gen. McKenzie told the senators. “Finding the target” will require some sort of intelligence-gathering ability.
“You will need the ability to bring persistent overhead coverage in, possibly from extended ranges, to loiter and take a look at areas you’re going to want to further examine,” Gen. McKenzie said. “We want to make sure that if we go after something, it’s really what we want to hit and we’re not going to kill innocent people.”
If necessary, U.S. forces will still be able to conduct anti-terror missions inside Afghanistan, ranging from long-range precision strikes to close-in, boots-on-the-ground type combat.
“I don’t want to make it sound too easy. It’s going to be extremely difficult to do that,” he said. But “it’s certainly possible and we will have the forces that will allow us to accomplish those tasks.”
While the U.S. military footprint in Afghanistan will be limited to the security detail at the American Embassy in Kabul following the pullout, Gen. McKenzie said he doesn’t anticipate the same thing happening in Iraq, which is also under Central Command authority. But if so ordered, the Afghanistan plan could be used there as well, he said.
“Right now, we don’t anticipate withdrawing from Iraq,” Gen. McKenzie said. “We believe we will maintain a footprint in Iraq going forward.”