The United States always reserves the right to respond to attacks “at a time and place of our choosing,” a senior US general said Wednesday, adding that “the memory and reach of the US are very long.”
The head of US Central Command (CENTCOM) Gen. Kenneth McKenzie said this was shown in 2020 when a US drone strike killed both the head of Iran’s Quds Force and the deputy leader of an Iran-backed Iraqi militia.
Speaking to the Beirut Institute during a webinar, McKenzie also touched on other areas in the Middle East where US troops are present.
There are “legitimate doubts” about whether the Taliban is following through on its commitments made during last year’s peace talks with the United States,
McKenzie said that the Taliban had refrained from attacking US-Coalition troops, but there were still worrying signs.
“Right now, as we speak today, there are some legitimate doubts about the Taliban’s commitments,” he told the Beirut Institute during a webinar.
These include no signs of the Taliban breaking with al-Qaeda. “The violence, while too high on both sides, in my judgment, rests on the Taliban,” McKenzie said.
Asked about US troops in Afghanistan, he said there were 2,500 remaining. But there are close to 5,000 NATO forces as well, according to the US general.
The US has achieved state-on-state deterrence with Iran, but it continues to have a level of “contested deterrence,” McKenzie said.
“We still see Iranian proxies seek to attack our allies and partners in Iraq … and Saudi Arabia is under constant attack. What Iran believes is that these can be non-attributed to Iran,” he said.
But the Iraqi government wants the US to remain in the country and this is frustrating Iran, according to McKenzie. “Iraq faces significant economic and other problems; they want an international presence to remain. That has very much frustrated Iran.”
Inside Syria, there is a US presence of around 900 troops. “We are there to work with the [Syrian Democratic Forces] to finish ISIS off, up and down the Euphrates River valley,” McKenzie said.
As for Russia’s presence inside Syria, McKenzie said it was looking for inroads in the region. “They’ll use that to sell military equipment to whoever will buy it. They’re actively looking to undermine US interests in the region,” he said.
“Our posture is clear about why we’re there, to fight ISIS. I’m not sure how they see their long-term goals.”
In Lebanon, McKenzie said the US would continue its support for the Lebanese Army. But he would not elaborate or answer if the weapons and type of military aid would be upgraded.
“Lebanon’s in the queue with everyone else,” he said, referring to the Biden administration’s current process of reviewing aid to foreign countries.
The country, which is experiencing one of its worst economic, financial and social crises in recent history, continues to move forward without a fully functioning government.
A massive explosion ripped through Lebanon's capital last August, and the coronavirus pandemic has further deteriorated the situation.
But the Beirut blast gives Lebanon an opportunity to move forward, according to McKenzie. “I’ve been to Lebanon once, and it is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen.”
The US general revealed that he was planning to visit Beirut in the spring, without elaborating on specific dates.