The commander of U.S. Central Command said that the recent use of a weaponized drone to attack U.S. forces with explosives underscores one of his greatest concerns in the threat landscape.
On April 14, a drone carried TNT near U.S. forces stationed at Erbil International Airport in the Kurdistan region of Iraq, according to the Kurdish interior ministry. The drone dropped the explosives but no one was injured in the blast — the first known attack of its kind on U.S. forces in the area.
“The UAS threat, the small-drone threat, the quadcopter less than the arm’s length of a human being, is what really probably concerns me the most in the theater, and this was an attack of that nature,” McKenzie said. “We are still trying to determine the attribution of that attack. We recovered part of it. We got good people looking at it, and we’ll eventually know where it came from.”
“Those things concern me greatly because our air defense system and our Patriots and our other radars, they’re very good at seeing the larger objects, be it ballistic missiles or be it larger land-attack cruise missiles or larger drones,” he added. “The smaller drone is a problem, and smaller drone is the future of warfare, and we need to get ahead of that right now.”
McKenzie said “there’s still great work to be done” battling ISIS on the ground in Iraq.
He said continued presence in Syria “is to complete the destruction of ISIS,” with the Syrian Democratic Forces “the principal weapon that we use to continue that operation, to finish.”
“The caliphate no longer holds ground in Syria. They are moving small bands, what we call at the insurgent level. And our partners there have been very effective in getting after that,” McKenzie said. “We will continue those operations.”
McKenzie said that al-Qaeda and ISIS “will be able to regenerate if pressure is not kept on them” in Afghanistan, but with impending withdrawal of U.S. forces that will fall to the Afghan government even as “we don’t know the exact composition of what the future government of Afghanistan is going to look like.”
And while the Taliban have claimed that they won’t allow ISIS nor their ally al-Qaeda to base out of Afghanistan, the Taliban have been absent from ongoing peace talks and “have never stopped fighting” with a pace of attacks “as high as any during the entire history of our war in Afghanistan.”
“Everyone has a vested interest in a stable Afghanistan,” Gen. Kenneth McKenzie told reporters at the Pentagon on Thursday. “Everyone has a vested interest in an Afghanistan that does not harbor terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda and ISIS that have an apocalyptic vision of a future world.”
Asked about the threat al-Qaeda could pose without the U.S. military and intelligence on the ground in Afghanistan, the general replied, “It first comes down to what is the future government of Afghanistan going to do? Is it going to keep an obligation to prevent Afghanistan from being used as a hotbed for terrorists to plan and plot attacks and launch them? That’s the first thing that we’ve got to determine. That is yet indeterminate, we don’t know that, and that will sort of be the big thing.”
“Once we know that, then we can begin to see what will be necessary to ensure that happens, because I can assure you of one thing, and the president has been very clear on this, we will not allow attacks against the United States to occur. We’ll do everything we can to prevent those. There are a variety of avenues to prevent those,” McKenzie continued. “Clearly the best way for all of this to happen would be that Afghanistan undertake its obligations as a member of the family of nations to prevent these attacks from being plotted, planned, or generated from there. We’ll see if that happens.”
Asked whether some Afghan cities could fall to the Taliban upon U.S. withdrawal, McKenzie called it “a future contingency that I would not care to speculate on.”