Headquartered in Florida’s MacDill Air Force Base, the US Central Command is one of nine unified commands operating under the US Department of Defense. The branch oversees US military interests across much of the Middle East and Northeast Africa.
General Kenneth McKenzie, the commander of the US Central Command, recently claimed that both China and Russia have been attempting to bolster their global reach in areas where the US is seen as receding its presence.
The US commander made the remark on Monday during a special briefing with reporters that saw a wide variety of issues discussed, including the current status of the US troop removal from war-torn Afghanistan.
“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 US engagement to opportunistically establish and strengthen relationships,” McKenzie told reporters, before offering vague details on the matter.
“China engaged with nearly every country in the region in 2020, 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.”
He added that Russia has been “equally disruptive in the region” as Moscow has allegedly engaged in “largely opportunistic and transactional” engagements.
“Russia seeks ways 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,” McKenzie continued, touching on Russia’s calls for Israeli and Palestinian officials to de-escalate amid recent deadly tensions in the Gaza Strip and West Bank.
McKenzie did not further discuss the topic aside from stating that “nearly every country in the region” continues to regard the US as its “preferred partner.” The official underscored that “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.”
Apart from the US footprint receding in Afghanistan, it’s unclear what “perceived decline” the commander was specifically referring to during the speaking engagement.
Incidentally, the statements came just days after a senior Pentagon official warned Middle Eastern countries against trying to see what they may be able to gain from the US by testing their own respective cooperation with Russia or China.
‘Halfway Finished’ With US Troop Removal From Afghanistan
As US military officials continue with troop removal operations, McKenzie revealed during the Monday briefing that the recalling of US soldiers is nearing the end.
“We’re about halfway finished with [removing US troops],” the commander remarked, before adding that ongoing efforts “are on pace and it’s continuing very smoothly.”
“It is our intention to continue to be able to go after [al-Qaeda] and [Daesh] from over the horizon, from other locations in the theater, and we’re working now with friends in the region to establish that capability as we go forward,” he noted.
McKenzie went on to state that US officials are in support of establishing an embassy in Afghanistan, but that such a measure would only be put forth “at the invitation of the Government of Afghanistan.”
The commander’s remark came ahead of statements from the Defense Department that confirmed the US is weighing the possibility of setting up basing options near Afghanistan in neighboring countries. It had been previously reported that the Biden administration was in talks with Pakistan.