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Top general: US considering training Afghan forces in other countries

Top general: US considering training Afghan forces in other countries
© Greg Nash

The U.S. military is considering continuing to train Afghan forces from different countries after U.S. troops fully withdraw from Afghanistan, the U.S. military’s top general said Thursday.

Asked at a Pentagon press briefing whether training Afghan forces from a different country is an option, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark MilleyMark MilleyConcerns grow over China's Taiwan plans Overnight Defense: Austin and Milley talk budget, Afghanistan, sexual assault and more at wide-ranging Senate hearing Pentagon chief: Military has already started 'over-the-horizon' operations in Afghanistan MORE said. “It’s possible.”

“There's a lot of different options out there, and we haven't settled on one of them yet,” Milley added.

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Milley was speaking alongside Defense Secretary Lloyd AustinLloyd AustinConcerns grow over China's Taiwan plans Overnight Defense: Austin and Milley talk budget, Afghanistan, sexual assault and more at wide-ranging Senate hearing Austin says he's 'concerned' about Iranian ships in Atlantic MORE at the pair’s first joint press briefing since Austin took office in January.

On President BidenJoe BidenEx-Biden adviser says Birx told him she hoped election turned out 'a certain way' Cheney rips Arizona election audit: 'It is an effort to subvert democracy' News leaders deal with the post-Trump era MORE’s orders, the U.S. military is in the midst of fully withdrawing from Afghanistan by Sept. 11, the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks that sparked the war.

A top concern that lawmakers and others have raised amid the withdrawal is the fate of Afghan interpreters and others who helped U.S. troops whose lives would be in even more danger than they are now if the Afghan government falls to the Taliban.

The United States has a program called the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program to allow those Afghans to come to the United States, but thousands of Afghans are facing a years-long backlog in processing their applications.

On Thursday, Milley said it’s “a moral imperative that we take care of those that have worked closely with us.”

But he also reiterated that he does not think the worst-case scenario in Afghanistan after the U.S. withdraws is a “foregone conclusion.”

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“We're working through the SIV process through the State Department, but I think it's a bit early to really sound the alarm on getting everybody out just yet,” Milley said. “That's my own personal opinion, but I think that's based on some pretty good knowledge of what's going on right now.”

Even as U.S. troops withdraw, Biden has vowed not to allow terrorists to threaten the United States from Afghanistan, with the U.S. military crafting plans for so-called “over the horizon” forces to be able to conduct counterterrorism missions from afar.

But questions have lingered about how much support the United States will be able to provide Afghan forces after the withdrawal, with fears they will not be able to back the Taliban from taking over the country.

On Thursday, Austin acknowledged that fighting without U.S. military support “will be a challenge” for Afghan forces.

“We will remain partners with the Afghan government and with the Afghan military, and certainly we hope through our continued support the Afghan security forces can be effective,” Austin said.

Asked when during the withdrawal the U.S. military will stop providing air support to Afghans fighting the Taliban, Austin said that will be a call for Gen. Scott Miller, the commander of U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan.

The Afghan Air Force is also heavily reliant on U.S. contractors for maintenance. All U.S. contractors also are slated to leave the country in conjunction with the troop withdrawal, but Milley said talks are ongoing about whether any can be transferred to the control of the Afghan military to stay.

“That's one of the key questions and I will tell you that the final crossing of Ts and dotting the Is of that plan is not yet settled,” Milley said. “But maintaining logistic support to the Afghan Air Force is a key task that we have to sort out doing it over the horizon, but also in country. It could be done by contractors.

"A lot of that's going to be dependent on the security conditions on the ground," he continued. "But the intent is to keep the Afghan Air Force in the air and to provide them with continued maintenance support.”