US to meet September deadline in troop withdrawal from Afghanistan
US Central Command chief says China and Russia seeking influence in the Middle East
MANILA – General Kenneth McKenzie said included in his priorities are deterring what he described as “Iran’s destabilizing activities which remains the biggest threat to stability in the Middle East.”
Speaking at a teleconference hosted by the U.S. Department of State’s Dubai Regional Media Hub at 11:00 P.M. (Manila time), General McKenzie said the US Central Command’s presence in the region had a deterrent effect on Iran.
“It is evident that China and Russia are seeking greater influence and stronger ties to nations in the region. Both nations try to exploit any perceived decline in U.S. engagement to opportunistically establish and strengthen relationships,” he said.
He explained China engaged with almost every country in the Middle East last year “using exploitative debt traps, the Belt and Road Initiative, and medical diplomacy with their vaccine, which has dubious efficacy, to try to expand its influence.”
General McKenzie added he considers Russia as “equally disruptive” in the Middle East with their engagements “largely opportunistic and transactional.” He explained Russia hopes to position itself as an alternative to the West “by offering to mediate regional conflicts, selling arms, offering military expertise, and participating in regional and multilateral organizations to advance their interests.”
However, he said the United States remains strong with its partners and allies in the region.
“In my experience, nearly every country in the region continues to regard the U.S. as its preferred partner. This is true even among the states of Central Asia, where Russia and China have the benefit of proximity to support their efforts to expand their influence,” he explained.
Before he entertained questions from the international media, he said there are 20 million displaced people across the Middle East and Central Asian region. He said these people fled their homes to avoid conflict. They are one-fourth of the 80 million people displaced globally. The refugees struggle to find daily sustenance and almost dependent on international charitable organizations.
“This extremely vulnerable population is ripe for exploitation, and in some cases, subjected to harsh recruiting efforts by extremists, which has the potential to become a much greater problem in the future. This has no military solution, and it requires an international effort that will be very dependent on nations from the region if it’s to be effective,” he said.
During the same interview, he said they will meet the September 11 deadline for the US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan as ordered by President Joe Biden and in coordination with their NATO allies and partners.
“We’ve completed about half of the entire retrograde process, and we will mee the September deadline to meet the full deadline to complete the full withdrawal from Afghanistan,” he explained. (Melo M. Acuña)
General Kenneth McKensie, US Central Command chief. (Dubai Regional Media Hub photo)