Top US general says war in Afghanistan is ‘not over,’ despite Biden repeatedly saying it’s done

Gen. Kenneth McKenzie
Marine Corps Gen. Kenneth McKenzie Jr., commander of US Central Command testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee in April 2021
  • Gen. McKenzie told senators that the war in Afghanistan is "not over," contradicting the president.
  • Biden on August 31 said, "My fellow Americans, the war in Afghanistan is now over."
  • But Biden has also said the US will continue to pursue terror groups in Afghanistan.
  • See more stories on Insider's business page.

US Marine Corps Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, the commander of US Central Command, on Tuesday told senators that the war on Afghanistan is "not over." This directly contradicts what President Joe Biden has said in the wake of withdrawing all US troops from the country, which precipitated the Taliban takeover.

"The war on terror is not over, and the war in Afghanistan is not over, either," McKenzie said while testifying on the Afghanistan withdrawal before the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Comparatively, after the last troops left Afghanistan in late August, Biden on August 31 declared, "My fellow Americans, the war in Afghanistan is now over."

During a speech to the United Nations General Assembly last week, Biden said, "We've ended 20 years of conflict in Afghanistan."

But even as he's asserted that the war is over, Biden has made it clear that the US will continue actively pursue terror groups like ISIS-K and other groups that may use the pariah state to plan attacks against Americans and the West.

"We will maintain the fight against terrorism in Afghanistan and other countries. We just don't need to fight a ground war to do it," Biden said in his August 31 speech. "We have what's called over-the-horizon capabilities, which means we can strike terrorists and targets without American boots on the ground, very few, if needed."

In other words, the war has not fully ended - it's just entered a new chapter. The US is no longer involved in ground operations against the Taliban, but it is poised to continue waging war in Afghanistan by other means via what Biden and his advisors refer to as "over-the-horizon" capabilities. This likely means that the US will conduct military operations in Afghanistan from afar, using drones and other assets to surveil and kill suspected terrorists.

This is likely to be a small footprint compared to the 2,500 US troops who advised and assisted Afghan forces earlier this year. But it's possible that some missions will require commandos and the forces needed to rapidly insert them to target suspected terrorists and disrupt their planning. Similar concerns have kept a force of roughly 900 US troops, including Green Berets, in northeastern Syria.

"Talking about the war as over is simply wrong," Catherine Lutz, a cofounder and codirector of Brown University's Costs of War project, recently said during a livestream discussion with other scholars on the consequences of the conflict in Afghanistan and the war on terror. Lutz emphasized that the war is not over for Afghans "by any means."

"This chapter in Afghanistan will not be over even after the last Afghan who remembers a family member who died in the war is dead, or until the last US veteran with a war wound takes her last disability payment somewhere in early 2100," Lutz added.

Biden has faced bipartisan criticism over his handling of the withdrawal. In response, he's contended that it was long past time to bring troops home and end the 20-year conflict. The president has made the case that keeping American forces in the country would not have fundamentally altered the situation on the ground.

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