A top military official says the United States will still be able to stop terror rising in "ungoverned" spaces, despite active troop reduction in the Middle East.
General Kenneth Franklin McKenzie, Commander of US Central Command, said the American military is "in execution of a plan" to reach a national presence of 4,500 in Afghanistan by November.
Connecting with several journalists on a video call, the general made the announcement from Iraq, a country from which 2,200 American personnel with withdraw by the end of September.
There are fears carrying out US President Donald Trump’s promise to remove troops from "endless wars" could leave behind power vacuums - leading to the emergence of hostile Islamist terror groups.
In Afghanistan, a peace deal between the US and the Taliban signed in February has yielded limited promise.
"The Taliban has still not shown conclusively that they're going to break with al-Qaeda," said Gen McKenzie, adding that decreased violence toward the US and coalition forces is overshadowed by "pretty high tempo" attacks on the Afghan National Security Forces they have been training.
Crucially, the 2020 peace agreement also detailed a prisoner swap between the Taliban and the Iraqi government, though the latter party was not present for the signing of the deal – leading to stalled progress.
The general cited "worrisome" but not "concrete" evidence surrounding reports of Russian bounties on American soldiers in Afghanistan, admitting neither the Russians nor Iran wish the US well in the strategic country.
Despite this, the top US Middle East commander remained confident in the decision to further deplete troops numbers by November, whilst simultaneously calling for the Taliban to uphold its end of the peace deal.
Gen McKenzie said reducing the size of the US force in Afghanistan must not enable terror groups to use the land left behind as a launchpad for attacks on the West.
"Our first task in Afghanistan is making sure that neither al-Qaeda nor ISIS [have] the ability to generate in ungoverned spaces attacks against the homeland of the United States or those of our allies and partners," he said.
"We can continue to do that at the number and troop level we've got now."
Cover Image: US 48th Infantry Combat Team in Kapisa Province, Afghanistan in 2019 (Picture: US Department of Defense).