VOA exclusive: The head of U.S. Central Command says U.S. air strikes in Afghanistan will focus solely on preventing terrorist attacks on the United States and its Allies

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U.S. military aircraft --
The top U.S. military commander in the Middle East says the United States does not plan to use airstrikes to support Afghan forces after a complete U.S. withdrawal, and will only launch counterterrorism operations inside Afghanistan if it detects plans to attack the homeland of the United States or its Allies.
Marine General Frank McKenzie, head of THE U.S. Central Command, spoke to VOA on a U.S. military plane heading to the region. "The reason we conduct any strike in Afghanistan after we leave must be if we find someone who wants to attack the United States, one of our Allies and partners, on the homeland," he said.
A report in the New York Times says the Pentagon is considering approving airstrikes in support of Afghan security forces if Kabul or other major cities are at risk of falling to the Taliban. The general's comments appear to contradict the report.
McKinsey's candid comments on post-withdrawal U.S. involvement in Afghanistan come as the Pentagon is narrowing its counterterrorism offensive against the Islamic State and aL Qaeda and focusing on competition with China and Russia. General McKinsey said his forces in the Middle East were now "close to 40,000," down from between 60,000 and 80,000 just 18 months ago.
Since taking office, Biden has ordered a full withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan and scaled back U.S. military support for the Saudi-led offensive against Iranian-backed Houthis in Yemen, while the Pentagon has moved ships, weapons systems and troops out of other Middle Eastern countries.
McKinsey says the withdrawal from Afghanistan is a resource-heavy event that affects not only every aspect of his Central Command, but also the entire U.S. Transportation Command. The U.S. Transportation Command helps move U.S. personnel and equipment around the world.
He told VOA that after the withdrawal of U.S. forces, those resources will remain strained as U.S. aircraft take off from bases thousands of kilometers away to gather intelligence, conduct reconnaissance missions and "maintain pressure" on terrorists inside Afghanistan.
"It is a long way to send troops and aircraft into Afghanistan from beyond the horizon," said McKinsey. We have said that this is going to be difficult. It's not impossible, and we're working on it."
Making plans' going very well '
Experts and former commanders have said they are concerned about the lack of detail on how Afghanistan will be secured after the withdrawal.
"The programme is going very well," says McKinsey. He said it was up to the Defense Department to release further information.
The former head of Central Command, retired Army General Joseph Votel, told VOA he had wanted to see "a more comprehensive plan of how this withdrawal is going to take place," to ensure that the Afghan government and Afghan forces are "as firmly on their feet as possible."
He noted that the United States was more deliberate when it withdrew its troops from Iraq in 2011, leaving behind a large embassy and security cooperation with special forces on the ground.
"This is the kind of thing I would expect to see. I think the challenge this time is that we don't see a lot of detail at all." "Walter added.
The Afghan air force is one of the government's biggest advantages over the Taliban. According to McKinsey, the United States will help the Afghan air force maintain its aircraft capabilities by combining virtual, networked, remote consulting with cross-border airlift of aircraft parts. That would slow down the maintenance process and limit the air support available to Afghan forces.
"The risk is going to increase, it's going to increase significantly," McKinsey admits.
He said there is also a comprehensive plan to pull out Afghans who have helped the United States if necessary, but that the number, scope and timing of the operation will be announced by the State Department
Focus on Turkey
Proposals for a post-withdrawal scenario that have yet to be finalized include how to secure Kabul airport. Both civilian and military aircraft use the airfield.
Several hundred troops from NATO ally Turkey have been guarding the airport, but it is unclear whether Turkish troops will remain once NATO pulls out, raising concerns that diplomats may not be able to travel safely to and from Afghanistan.
McKinsey said the U.S. military is still "in consultation with our Turkish partners on this issue." Biden is expected to discuss the airport security challenge when he meets with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Brussels on Monday.
Reports say Erdogan wants concessions from the United States in return for Turkey's defense of the airport, including a U.S. agreement to let Ankara keep and operate the Russian S-400 air defense system. The United States is opposed to Turkey buying the Russian system and using it with NATO weapons such as the F-35.
Another major concern is how the United States will be able to detect terrorist plots in Afghanistan without a military presence. It is precisely this kind of attack that American air strikes are supposed to prevent.
Bradley Bowman, a defense expert at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a Washington think tank, criticized the withdrawal as reducing the U.S. ability to monitor and deter terrorist groups. There are about 20 terrorist groups in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region.
"Even though we leave and we say it's over, it doesn't end there," Bowman said. "The Taliban is intent and aL Qaeda is intent on a perpetual jihad, and they will continue to fight
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