Kirby also said it was possible the Pentagon would temporarily send additional ground forces into the country to aid logistics and protect the armed forces.
The news comes a week after President Joe Biden announced that the United States would end its military presence in Afghanistan by September 11, 20 years after the terrorist attacks that sparked America’s longest war. But before the withdrawal begins, which is expected to begin May 1st, the Pentagon must deploy additional forces into the country to ensure a safe exit.
The additional forces are intended to prevent the Taliban from launching renewed attacks on American forces, which had largely stalled since a peace deal with the Trump administration in February 2020. However, there are concerns that once the US misses the May 1 withdrawal deadline negotiated under that deal, the group is likely to renew the attacks.
General Frank McKenzie, commander of U.S. Central Command, said this week that a small number of U.S. forces will be left after the withdrawal to keep the embassy safe.
McKenzie also said he intends to maintain a counter-terrorism capability from outside Afghanistan after the US exit. Currently, most of these forces will be based out of the Gulf, where the US already has access to bases and overflights. It’s also possible that the U.S. could deploy forces in neighboring countries like Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Kazakhstan, but the military doesn’t currently have any base agreements with these nations, McKenzie said.
McKenzie said during a briefing Thursday that he was working to finalize planning for the various options he will soon introduce to Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin.
“These operations will be more difficult, but not impossible,” said McKenzie. “We are determined to keep pressure on potential terrorist threats from Afghanistan.”