Regrouping of militants is Pakistan’s biggest worry: US general

Published April 26, 2021
Gen Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., Commander US Central Command (Centcom), warned at a recent Pentagon briefing that after the US withdrawal the biggest threat would be the regrouping of Al Qaeda and IS militants. — Photo courtesy US Central Command website
Gen Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., Commander US Central Command (Centcom), warned at a recent Pentagon briefing that after the US withdrawal the biggest threat would be the regrouping of Al Qaeda and IS militants. — Photo courtesy US Central Command website

WASHINGTON: The regrouping of terrorists like the militant Islamic State group and Al Qaeda would be a biggest concern for Pakistan, warned a top US general as the Pentagon started pulling out its troops from Afghanistan.

Gen Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., Commander US Central Command (Centcom), warned at a recent Pentagon briefing that after the US withdrawal the biggest threat would be the regrouping of Al Qaeda and IS militants who “will be able to regenerate if pressure is not kept on them”. And “that’s very concerning to all the neighboring states, biggest concern to Pakistan,” he added. As head of Centcom Gen McKenzie is responsible for all US military activities in the Pak-Afghan region.

According to a transcript the Pentagon released this weekend, Gen McKenzie also said that his command and American diplomats were working with nations surrounding Afghanistan on agreements to base troops and aircraft for countering terrorists after the US pullout.

“That would be ultimately a decision made at the national level by the United States if we were to seek basing rights in those countries,” said the general when asked if internal politics in Pakistan and other states could prevent Washington from having military bases in the region. During the early phases of the 18-year war in Afghanistan, the United States flew drone missions out of Shamsi airfield in Balochistan.

Gen McKenzie said he was now figuring out how the US will be able to conduct counter-terrorism activities in the area without being in Afghanistan.

“I’m actually conducting detailed planning, by the direction of the secretary, to look at those options right now. I will report back to him by the end of the month with some alternatives,” he said.

The pullout, he said, did not “mean that the US will be at the mercy of groups like IS, Al Qaida or the Taliban if they want to create problems and threaten our interests”.

The Centcom chief also said that militants regrouping was not just a threat to the US or Pakistan. “It’s a concern of all the Central Asian states to the north. It is even of concern to Iran in the West, I believe. Everyone has a vested interest in a stable Afghanistan,” he said.

Meanwhile, several major media outlets reported on Sunday that the US military withdrawal from Afghanistan was “now underway with equipment being packed and shipped out”.

The reports claimed that the Pentagon had also approved the deployment of hundreds of maritime, air and land forces to the region to ensure security for American and Nato forces as well as contractors as they withdraw, the officials said.

Various media outlets reported that the Pentagon had also started winding down local contracts for services such as trash pickup and maintenance work. “There have been indications that the pullout could be completed well before Sept 11, which marks the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks that triggered the US invasion of Afghanistan,” reported The Military Times newspaper.

The newspaper reported that Germany’s Defence Ministry was also discussing a plan with the Nato-led Resolute Support Mission in Kabul for a possible withdrawal of international troops from Afghanistan as early as July 4.

Published in Dawn, April 26th, 2021

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