WASHINGTON -- The United States plans talks to reposition some of its forces in neighbouring countries to Afghanistan after it withdraws from the country, the top US military commander for the region said Tuesday (April 20).
"We are further planning now for continuing counterterrorism operations within the region, ensuring that the violent extremist organisations fighting for their existence in the hinterlands of Afghanistan remain under persistent surveillance and pressure," Central Command chief Gen. Kenneth McKenzie told a hearing in the US Congress.
President Joe Biden has pledged to remove the last American troops from Afghanistan -- a force currently made up of about 2,500 personnel -- within six months, aiming to end US involvement in the country two decades after al-Qaeda used Afghanistan to plan the September 11, 2001, attacks.
The Pentagon is studying its options to continue surveilling and potentially attacking those groups from neighboring countries, said McKenzie.
"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," he told the hearing.
All three require heavy intelligence support, he said, making it harder from outside Afghanistan but "not impossible."
McKenzie did not name any of the countries under consideration.
"We will look at all the countries in the region, our diplomats will reach out and we'll talk about places where we can base" US resources, McKenzie told the House Armed Services Committee.
"Some of them may be very far away, and then we will get a significant bill for those types of resources because you'd have to cycle a lot of them in and out," he warned.
"At this time, we have none of those agreements in place," he added.
"I have grave doubts about the Taliban's reliability … but we need to see what they're going to do here," McKenzie said during the hearing.
"If they want any form of future international recognition for Afghanistan … they're going to have to keep the agreements that they've made," McKenzie said.
Turkish conference postponed
Meanwhile, Turkey said Tuesday an international peace conference on Afghanistan scheduled for Saturday in Istanbul has been postponed until mid-May.
"We decided to postpone the talks" until celebrations for the holy month of Ramadan end in mid-May, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told HaberTurk television in an interview.
Turkey had first announced the conference, co-sponsored by the United Nations (UN) and Qatar, to run from April 24 to May 4.
But Cavusoglu said, "We believed it would be useful to postpone" after consultations with Doha and the UN.
"Unlike [the Afghan government], Taliban demonstrate NO sense of urgency to end the war & so far has not indicated interest to a political settlement for a shared future. The current national consensus for peace will not last longer. They will be judged by our nation once again for the consequences," a member of the Afghan government negotiating team tweeted Tuesday.