US President Joe Biden had in April announced that all American troops would be withdrawn from Afghanistan by September 11 this year, thus bringing to end the country’s longest war, spanning across two decades.
During a hearing on budget proposal, Austin on Thursday told a Senate Armed Services Committee that the US has retrograded a lot of its capability out of the country.
“We are doing a lot of things over the horizon now. Intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance missions are being flown from GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) countries, a lot of our combat aircraft missions are being conducted from platforms in the Gulf.
“What we are looking for is the ability to shorten the legs going forward by stationing some capability in neighbouring countries. That is still a work in progress,” he said.
The defence secretary asserted that the retrograde remains on pace to bring back all US troops by September 11.
“The president has been clear that our mission in Afghanistan has been accomplished. We are focused on retrograding our people and equipment out. Going forward, our counter-terrorism efforts will be focused on those elements that can possibly conduct attacks against our homeland,” Austin said.
Responding to a question, he said the United States intends to maintain a good and productive relationship with the Afghans post-withdrawal.
“That entails making sure we continue to provide funding for their military and support for their government as well. That support is critical in ensuring the government retains the ability to function, and that the military remains intact,” he said.
In his annual budgetary proposal, Biden has requested USD 3.3 billion for the Afghan Security Forces Fund to ensure continued support for the sustainment infrastructure, equipment and training requirements for the Afghan security personnel.
Austin said the Pentagon has the authority needed to be able to focus on a discrete set of threats such as those against the US that would emanate from Afghanistan.
“Our counter-terrorism threat is focused on Al-Qaeda and we are confident that we will have the authorities to continue operations,” he said.