Speaking at an event organized by the Washington Post, Dunford said that American military presence in Afghanistan is essential to contain terrorists who otherwise would regroup and take revenge on the US.
"Were we not to put the pressure on Al-Qaeda, ISIS (Islamic State) and other groups in the region we are putting on today, it is our assessment that, in a period of time their capability would reconstitute, and they have today the intent, and in the future, they would have the capability to do what we saw on 9/11," Dunford said when asked about a potential withdrawal of the US military contingent from the war-ravaged country.
Dunford stressed that his top priority is not to ensure security and stability in Afghanistan, which has been lying in shambles as a result of the 17-year-long war, but to "make recommendations for the deployment of military force that protects the American people, the homeland and our allies."
Afghan forces on the ground are suffering their heaviest losses since the US-led invasion – but at least Americans on the other side of the globe are safe, says Dunford: "The presence that we have in Afghanistan has, in fact, disrupted the enemy's ability to reconstitute and pose a threat to us."
At his confirmation hearing on Tuesday, the incoming head of US Central Command Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie also said American forces must stay, lest the Afghan government succumb to the pressure of the Taliban – which is still going strong despite years of US involvement.
The death toll for the Afghan forces has been on the rise, with some 28,529 soldiers estimated to have died fighting the Taliban since NATO handed control of security to local forces three years ago. According to official estimates, the insurgents now control or have a presence in 44 percent of the country's territory.
There have been attempts at reconciliation, with the Afghan government saying on Wednesday that it is ready to negotiate with the Taliban without preconditions. However, the Taliban has long regarded the Afghan government a puppet of foreign masterminds, insisting that the conflict can only be resolved after NATO troops withdraw. Much hope has been heaped on a new effort led by the US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, who has reportedly held talks with Taliban representatives on several occasions.
Over 2,400 US soldiers have perished in Afghanistan during the protracted conflict, a number that is closing in on the death toll from the attacks of September 11, 2001, which prompted the US’ invasion. A total of 2,996 people were killed and over 6,000 injured in the deadliest attack in the American history when hijacked planes crashed into the twin towers of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
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