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Top general: Counterterrorism strikes in Afghanistan after withdrawal 'harder' but 'not impossible'

Top general: Counterterrorism strikes in Afghanistan after withdrawal 'harder' but 'not impossible'
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Striking terrorist targets in Afghanistan without a U.S. troop presence there will be “harder” but “not impossible,” the top U.S. general overseeing the region said Tuesday.

Speaking to the House Armed Services Committee, Gen. Frank McKenzie, commander of U.S. Central Command, said he is in the midst of “detailed planning” for options for "over the horizon” forces, or forces positioned elsewhere in the region that could continue counterterrorism strikes in Afghanistan. He plans to give Defense Secretary Lloyd AustinLloyd AustinBiden to host Afghan president at White House on Friday Biden struggles to detail post-withdrawal Afghanistan plans Overnight Defense: Pentagon pulling some air defense assets from Middle East | Dems introduce resolution apologizing to LGBT community for discrimination | White House denies pausing military aid package to Ukraine MORE those options by the end of the month, he added.

“If you leave Afghanistan and you want to go back in to conduct these kinds of operations, there are three things you need to do: you need to find the target, you need to fix the target, and you need to be able to finish the target,” McKenzie said. “The first two require heavy intelligence support. If you're out of the country, and you don't have the ecosystem that we have there now, it will be harder to do that. It is not impossible to do that.”

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McKenzie was testifying about a week after President BidenJoe BidenExpanding child tax credit could lift 4 million children out of poverty: analysis Maria Bartiromo defends reporting: 'Keep trashing me, I'll keep telling the truth' The Memo: The center strikes back MORE announced he was ordering all U.S. troops out of Afghanistan by Sept. 11, bringing an end to U.S. military participation in America’s longest war.

Later Tuesday, Austin, Secretary of State Antony BlinkenAntony BlinkenKim says North Korea needs to be 'prepared' for 'confrontation' with US The Senate just passed the next Apollo program Young Turks founder on Democratic establishment: 'They lie nonstop' MORE, Director of National Intelligence Avril HainesAvril HainesFBI warns lawmakers of violence from QAnon conspiracy theorists Concerns grow over China's Taiwan plans Lawrence Livermore report finds Wuhan lab leak theory plausible MORE and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark MilleyMark MilleyBiden struggles to detail post-withdrawal Afghanistan plans Overnight Defense: House votes to repeal 2002 Iraq war powers | Pentagon leaders press senators to reimburse National Guard | New pressure on US-Iran nuclear talks Milley downplays report of 1,900 lost or stolen military firearms MORE are also scheduled to brief the full House and Senate behind closed doors on Biden’s plan for Afghanistan.

Biden's decision came despite repeated statements from U.S. military officials that the Taliban was not yet upholding its end of a deal made during the Trump administration to reduce violence and break from al Qaeda, as well as warnings about the potential for chaos in Afghanistan that could allow an al Qaeda resurgence should U.S. troops withdraw.

McKenzie’s comments about the difficulty of intelligence gathering without a troop presence echo comments last week from CIA Director William BurnsWilliam Burns30-year CIA veteran to run espionage operations 'Havana Syndrome' and other escalations mark a sinister turn in the spy game Intel community: Competing COVID-19 origin theories not 'more likely than the other' MORE, who told senators the ability to collect intelligence on threats in Afghanistan will “diminish” with a U.S. military withdrawal.

On Tuesday, McKenzie also said he continues to have “grave doubts” about the Taliban’s reliability in upholding its commitments under the deal signed last year.

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McKenzie declined to tell lawmakers how he advised Biden as the president deliberated the withdrawal, but said he had “multiple opportunities” to provide Biden with his perspective.

Speaking broadly about options to continue strikes once U.S. troops leave, McKenzie said surveillance drones could be positioned in a place where they can reach Afghanistan “in a matter of minutes” or ”perhaps much further away.”

“We will look at all the countries in the region, our diplomats will reach out, and we'll talk about places where we could base those resources,” he said. “Some of them may be very far away, and then there would be a significant bill for those types of resources because you'd have to cycle a lot of them in and out. That is all doable, however.”

Right now, McKenzie added, the United States does not have any basing agreements with Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan or other countries surrounding Afghanistan.

McKenzie also said there are a “variety of ways” to strike targets, including long-range precision fire missiles, manned raids or manned aircraft.

“There are problems with all three of those options, but there's also opportunities with all three of those options,” he said. “I don't want to make light of it. I don't want to put on rose-colored glasses and say it's going to be easy to do. I can tell you that the U.S. military can do just about anything. And we're examining this problem with all of our resources right now to find a way to do it in the most intelligent, risk-free manner that we can.”