Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby briefs the press at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., April 16, 2021. Photo By: Lisa Ferdinando, DOD
The United States is well aware of Taliban threats to the U.S. military drawdown, which are scheduled to begin May 1 and be completed by Sept. 11, 2021, Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby told the media at the Pentagon.
We’ve seen their threats, and it would be imprudent for us not to take those threats seriously,” he said. “It would also be imprudent for the Taliban to not take seriously what [President Joe Biden and Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III] both made clear: Any attack on our drawdown, on our forces or our allies and partners, … will be met very forcefully.”
While work remains to be done on the specifics of the drawdown, the previous administration drew up an agreement to leave on May 1, so some preliminary drawdown plans have been completed, the spokesman said. Those plans have to be revised with the president’s direction to begin the drawdown May 1, and military leadership is working on that. “[More] specific tasking will be coming from Secretary Austin very, very soon,” he added.
Kirby said it is not out of the realm of possibility that for a short time there will be some additional enabling capabilities added to Afghanistan to help bring about a safe, orderly and deliberately planned drawdown. The Defense Department might need logistical, engineering and some force protection capabilities temporarily, he noted.
The spokesman emphasized the drawdown will bring home the 2,500 troops stationed there. “The Resolute Support Mission will be ending, and that includes the training support that we will offer the [Afghan National Security Forces]. Going forward will be largely through a financial perspective,” he said, adding Afghanistan has its own air force now, and they are fighting their own missions to defend their people.
“They’re far more competent and capable now than they have ever been before,” Kirby said.
The United States is working on its future bilateral security relationship with Afghanistan, but it’s expected to be similar to the bilateral military relationship it has with other countries. “It will not include a U.S. military footprint on the ground in Afghanistan, with the exception of what’s going to be required to support the diplomatic mission there,” he said.
The secretary said we will maintain counterterrorism capabilities to continue to prevent Afghanistan from becoming a launching pad for terrorist attacks on our homeland, Kirby said, adding that the United States has a vast range of capabilities available from the U.S. Central Command.
The president and the secretary both made clear it’s still in U.S. national security interest that terrorist attacks on the homeland don’t emanate from Afghanistan and that the country won’t be a safe haven for groups like al-Qaida and other terrorist groups that would threaten the United States. “They’re serious about that objective,” Kirby said, adding as the secretary said, “we will maintain as robust as possible the counterterrorism capabilities in the region to prevent that from happening.”
The president’s withdrawal decision also gives the department an opportunity to refocus its efforts on threats and challenges that are more relevant to our way of life, and those that are threatening our way of life here in the United States, Kirby said, calling Afghanistan threats greatly diminished.
“The secretary considers China our pacing challenge,” he said. “We certainly have obvious and deep concerns about where Russia is going, not only in the region but around the world. We’ve got continued malign activity from Iran and the Middle East. And of course, there’s North Korea, where there are a plethora of significant challenges and threats.”