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General Kenneth F. McKenzie, Jr. Alhurra Tonight Transcript, April 29th, 2021

Translator Withdrawal, will you take this (inaudible) into consideration while withdrawing or after?

General McKenzie First of all, it’s great to be with you here tonight. I appreciate the opportunity to join you and talk about these issues. So we are in the process now of beginning our withdrawal from Afghanistan, and as directed by the president, that withdrawal is going to be complete by September of this year. Everything is moving ahead as we have planned, and we have positioned forces in the theater to protect us should it become necessary. We will remain very concerned about Afghanistan’s future even after we leave. And we will do everything we can to assist the government of Afghanistan as they go forward. This will include keeping an embassy open. It will include continuing to provide assistance to the Afghan military, although from a distance and without U.S. forces actually being on the ground. As General Milley said earlier, it will be a difficult time for the Afghan military and indeed for Afghanistan writ large. We will help them in in any way that we can as they go forward.

Translator Yes, you mentioned other options, like deploying the forces in countries neighboring Afghanistan, and that you would be submitting these options to Secretary Austin. Are these options already available? And what can you tell us about that?

General McKenzie Certainly so. You know our main term objective in Afghanistan is preventing the development of attacks against the United States homeland and the homelands of our friends and partners by al-Qaeda and ISIS. So the posture that we keep in the theater after we draw out of Afghanistan will be what is necessary in order to do that. So we’re still working to find out exactly where those forces will go. And we’re working with our friends in the region in order to determine those locations. So those details are still in work right now, and I wouldn’t be comfortable sharing them with you. But the point I would make is this. It will be harder to see into Afghanistan after we leave, but it will not be impossible to see into Afghanistan after we leave. And as I think everyone recognizes, the United States of America has a very long reach.

Translator Yes, what is the level of confidence in the capabilities of the Afghan army to believe they will be able to control the situation? I mean, following all the support, the training, the equipment by the American forces to believe the military in Afghanistan can avoid the worst?

General McKenzie Well, I think we’re going to see. This is the time for them to step up and demonstrate that they can actually do that. I believe it will be a very tough and trying time for Afghanistan. We will help in every way that we can, but we will not be on the ground with them as we’ve been for the past few years. We will still continue to support from what we call “over the horizon”, and we’re working out the details of that right now. But now is the time when they’re going to actually have to do it and we will do everything we can to help them be successful. But it will be from a distance.

Translator Yes, and you said a few days back that the withdrawal from Afghanistan would not be followed by a similar withdrawal from Iraq. Is this following instructions from the White House?

General McKenzie Well, we were in Iraq at the request of the government of Iraq. We’ve been invited to be there. That’s why we’re there. And we’re there to continue the fight against ISIS, along with many coalition partners who are there with us. That fight is not yet completed, although we’re pleased to see that the Iraqi Security Forces have now moved into the lead, and where once we were fighting beside them on the ground, now the Iraqis are doing the fighting themselves. So our mission has shifted, shifted from a mission of direct combat to one of more support for them, training, advising, assisting, often at a very high level, that is to say, very far away from combat on the ground. This is the situation that we would have liked to have seen develop. So I think it’s very good. You know, we have just completed a strategic dialog with the government of Iraq. And our future in Iraq will be determined by negotiations and consultation with the government of Iraq going forward. But I don’t believe we’re going to be leaving Iraq.

Translator About the position of the American forces in Iraq, as you already said, the Iraqi government requested the presence of the American forces, but the American forces sometimes are facing attacks by pro (inaudible) militias that are supposed to be part of the Iraqi army. So how do you find a solution to this kind of situation?

General McKenzie So actually, the government of Iraq has been very aggressive and very proactive in taking measures to defend us at the various bases that we are located in inside Iraq. I’m very pleased with the activities of Iraqi Security Forces in protecting us and our coalition partners from attack, because as we’ve noted, that is, in fact the responsibility of the Iraqi government. So I’m pleased to see that they take it very seriously. They are not always successful. And the Iranian proxy groups that operate inside Iraq are, in fact, a direct threat ultimately to the sovereignty of Iraq. Even as they threaten us, so do they threaten the government of Iraq.

Translator Do you believe that if the United States once again joined the JCPOA with Iran, that was Iran, do you believe that these attacks against American forces in Iraq may stop?

General McKenzie You know, that’s a speculative question that I’m not going to be able to answer. I know this. We are prepared to defend ourselves against any attacks in Iraq in consultation and with the assistance of our Iraqi partners.

Translator Yes, as we witnessed decades back, there is a war of minds, many time one, minds in the Gulf, the Red Sea, there are threats between Israel and Iran. What is the position of the United States? I mean, is it possible that the United States could not attract and track confrontation with Iran and Israel?

General McKenzie Well, as to what Israeli or Iranian intentions are, it would probably be best to talk to them. But I can talk to you directly, as [to] the American military position. And I can tell you that it is not our desire to have a war with Iran. And we would hope it is not their desire to have a war with us. We take constant measures to ensure that our forces in the theater have appropriate force protection. And you’re right, there is a low-level conflict that’s being fought out across the theater. But we do not intend to enter that conflict. And as I said at the beginning of the answer, we do not seek war with Iran.

Translator Yes, and also about Iran and Iran proxies in the Middle East, there are talks about increasing attacks on Saudi Arabia by the Houthis in Yemen who are supported by Iran. What is the American strategy to help face these attacks?

General McKenzie Sure. So with the conflict in Yemen, it’s my belief that the kingdom of Saudi Arabia seeks a responsible end to that conflict. And I believe they’re willing to take measures to make that possible. I believe it is incumbent upon the Houthis to respond with the same approach in order to find a way to get a cease fire in place, which would allow humanitarian aid to enter Yemen in that tragically under-resourced and deprived country. And I think that is certainly the best path forward. Again, I’m convinced the Saudis actually are acting in the best of intentions here. The Houthi continued attacks in the Saudi Arabia are not helpful. And also the fight that’s going on in northwest Yemen over the city of Marib is seeing some very high levels of violence as well. We provide defensive assistance to the Saudis to allow them to take action to prevent the attacks that we’ve seen really multiply over the past few weeks and months, attacks that have not just been against airports and infrastructure, but also against cities and population centers. And this is very concerning. And the Houthis actions are certainly not helpful. I would refer you to the U.N. Security Council, the United Nations process, and Mr. Martin Griffiths and his activities, and also Mr. Timothy Lenderking, who represents the United States, is the president’s special envoy trying to bring a cease fire to this conflict.

Translator Anything you would like to add?

General McKenzie No, I thank you very much. It’s been a great opportunity to talk to you tonight. I’ve enjoyed it. I think it’s important that we communicate what our goals and objectives are in this vital region where we have so many friendships, particularly at such a dynamic time, dynamic time in history. Thank you for allowing me to speak tonight.

Translator From Tampa, Florida, General Frank McKenzie. Kenneth McKenzie, Commander of U.S. Central Command, thank you very much for joining us. Appreciate it.

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