The commander of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) told a Congressional panel last week that funding will still flow to Afghanistan security forces after a withdrawal of U.S. troops but it will be less efficient.
“We’re going to go to a zero solution in Afghanistan, so whatever we do it will largely not be done by people on the ground in Afghanistan. We can still do some things from remote locations, we can work the administration, the Afghanistan security force funding, which is sort of the bedrock programmatic weapon or tool we use to support the Afghan military and other things,” CENTCOM Commander Gen. Kenneth McKenzie told the Senate Armed Services Committee on April 22.
He noted the Defense Department “will not be able to do it as efficiently as we do it now where we have people in the country that can really follow the money all the way to its destination, but we can still follow it into the country at least and we will work tools to mentor from remote locations that will allow us to work with the Afghans themselves.”
McKenzie said some measure of this will be dependent on how large of an embassy staff remains after the troops withdraw, which will be worked out over the next few weeks.
“So we could have a security cooperation office in the embassy, we may not have a security cooperation office in the embassy. That will be ultimately a Department of State decision, informed by our assessment of the security situation that’s there.”
Regardless, McKenzie said while it is “certainly not impossible” to continue security cooperation after U.S. forces withdraw, it will be “far more difficult” than the way it works now.
“We will not have the oversight that we have now just because we won’t have the people on the ground to actually perform those functions.”
Separately, McKenzie said while a majority of his operational intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) requirements are met, not all of them are. He said his command focuses their ISR resources where U.S. and coalition forces are in combat, particularly Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and sometimes Yemen.
He admitted that “we take risks sometimes in the ISR that we apply to the Iran problem simply because I place a higher priority in ensuring where we have Americans on the ground we want to make sure we’ve got the resources there that we need to take a look at them in order to protect them.”
At the same hearing, Commander of U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) Gen. Stephen Townsend said his command receives about 30 percent of its ISR requirements, as measured by a Joint Staff formula evaluating ISR requirements.
“If I take a hard look at that formula, I can probably get by with less than that if I take that into account with our resourcing levels approach 40 or 50 percent,” Townsend said.
“Every day in Africa we have to make decisions about what we will do and what we won’t do based on how much ISR we can apply to the day and we don’t need a tremendous amount of grey-tail or military ISR platforms, we need some to protect our troops. But we can do a lot of our work with contracted solutions which are a good bargain for the taxpayer,” he continued.
When asked how useful the ISR presence has been in deterring hostile acts, McKenzie underscored “I can say unequivocally the maneuver of ISR assets in the summer of 2019 deflected imminent Iranian attack planning.”
Similarly, Townsend said “We know that Al Shabab looks over their shoulder every day looking for our ISR and so we know that they limit their activity because of the presence of our ISR.”
This comes after Townsend told the House Armed Services Committee earlier last week AFRICOM requires more ISR capabilities in the future to meet the requirements posed by peer competitors like China.
Townsend also reiterated his message before the House committee to the Senate panel that China’s first overseas military base in Djibouti is “applying final coats of paint” to a large and capable naval pier that can dock China’s largest ships, including its aircraft carrier and nuclear submarines.
In the near future, “I expect that we will see increased Chinese naval presence there,” Townsend said.
While Chinese presence at the base in the past has largely been focused on securing and sustaining their small naval task force operating in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden, “I anticipate now with this pier being recently completed, they will increase their naval activity into Djibouti soon.”