WASHINGTON — Afghanistan’s military will collapse without continued support from U.S. forces, though America’s original mission in the country has been achieved, the top general for U.S. Central Command told Congress on Thursday.

Marine Corps Gen. Frank McKenzie, the top commander for U.S. forces in the Middle East and parts of Asia, expressed concern over “the Afghans' ability to hold ground” after American forces withdraw from the country by Sept. 11, the deadline set by President Joe Biden.

"The long-term view for the war on terror is this: it's not going to be bloodless,” McKenzie told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee. “The war on terror is probably not going to end."

Later Thursday at the Pentagon, the general told reporters that the pace of the Taliban’s attacks in the country “have been as high as any during the entire history of the war in Afghanistan,” though the targets have not been U.S. or other forces of the coalition.

“The Taliban has never stopped fighting,” McKenzie said. “… Afghan soldiers and policemen are fighting and dying every day in significant numbers.”

However, McKenzie said the U.S. achieved its intent in Afghanistan after nearly 20 years of war there.

“I think that we accomplished the mission that we set out to do, which was to prevent an attack against the United States,” he said. “We can all have judgments about what other missions crept in during our 20 years that we were engaged in there, but the core mission — with regard to the United States — was actually accomplished.”

McKenzie spent much of the week on Capitol Hill painting a cautious picture for lawmakers of what the impending drawdown and its effect will look like. On Tuesday, he told House Armed Services Committee members that it will be difficult to battle terrorism in Afghanistan without U.S. troops in the country.

The drawdown, set to begin May 1 and end by Sept. 11, will mean the only U.S. forces stationed in Afghanistan will be those needed to protect the American embassy there.

Though the permanent forces will be gone, McKenzie said Thursday that the U.S. will continue to remotely support the Afghan forces financially and militarily — the details of which he said were still being worked out.

“We believe that it will be a tough fight for the Afghans, but we intend to continue to support them,” he said. “We want them to be successful — that remains a very high priority — so we will look at innovative ways to do that.”

“One thing I can tell you is that we’re not going to be there on the ground with them,” he added.

Stars and Stripes Reporter Sarah Cammarata contributed to this report. Twitter: @CaitlinDoornbos

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Caitlin Doornbos covers the Pentagon for Stars and Stripes after covering the Navy’s 7th Fleet as Stripes’ Indo-Pacific correspondent at Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan. Previously, she worked as a crime reporter in Lawrence, Kan., and Orlando, Fla., where she was part of the Orlando Sentinel team that placed as finalist for the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for breaking news. Caitlin has a Bachelor of Science in journalism from the University of Kansas and master’s degree in defense and strategic studies from the University of Texas at El Paso.

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