Russia, China to expand Middle East influence as US withdraws

Russian President Vladimir Putin with Chinese President Xi Jinping during a welcoming ceremony prior to the dinner on September 4, 2017 in Xiamen, China.

Russia and China will likely work to expand their influence in the Middle East as the US withdraws its troops from the region, the head of US Central Command warns.

Speaking to a group of reporters traveling with him through the Middle East, Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie, who leads US Central Command, made the comments while addressing a persistent question: what kind of support can be expected from the US going forward.

“The Middle East writ broadly is an area of intense competition between the great powers. And I think that as we adjust our posture in the region, Russia and China will be looking very closely to see if a vacuum opens that they can exploit,” McKenzie began.

“I think they see the United States shifting posture to look at other parts of the world and they sense there may be an opportunity there,” he continued.

Getting more specific, McKenzie said at one point, while speaking from his hotel room after meeting with Saudi officials, that Moscow and Beijing could likely exploit weapons sales as a means for gaining favor in the region.

Russia tries to sell air defense systems and other weapons to any nation looking to buy, McKenzie explained, while China’s long term goal is to expand economic power and ultimately establish military bases in the Middle East.

Russian President Vladimir Putin with Chinese President Xi Jinping during a welcoming ceremony prior to the dinner on September 4, 2017 in Xiamen, China.
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The US Central Command chief’s comments come as the Afghanistan troop withdrawal remains in motion, a process on which President Biden placed a Sept. 11 deadline.

Biden announced that deadline in April, offering US troops an additional four months from former President Donald Trump’s order to withdraw all troops from the nation by May 1.

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Biden had hinted prior to the announcement that Trump’s withdrawal date would be hard to meet due to “tactical reasons” and would be impossible to accomplish in a safe and orderly fashion.

In a speech explaining his decision, Biden argued that the US had achieved its goal of bringing Osama bin Laden to justice and destroying al Qaeda, his terror network, a contention that many progressives and a growing number of Republicans support.

“I’ve concluded it’s time to end America’s longest war. It’s time for American troops to come home,” Biden said at the time.

“I’m now the fourth United States president to preside over American troop presence in Afghanistan: two Republicans, two Democrats. I will not pass this responsibility on to a fifth.”

Critics of the move have cautioned that it could lead to the creation of a new ISIS, as President Barack Obama’s decision to withdraw from Iraq did in 2011.

Speaking to Associated Press and CNN reporters earlier this month, Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, warned that Afghanistan-backed military forces face the potential for “bad possible outcomes” after the withdrawal was complete.

The Afghan military, as well as other law enforcement entities in the area, are “reasonably well equipped, reasonably well trained, reasonably well led,” the Joint Chiefs chairman noted.

“The Afghan army, do they stay together and remain a cohesive fighting force or do they fall apart? I think there’s a range of scenarios here, a range of outcomes, a range of possibilities,” he went on to say.

“On the one hand, you get some really dramatic, bad possible outcomes. On the other hand, you get a military that stays together and a government that stays together,” he continued, noting how both possibilities needed to be considered.

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As for which of the two “becomes reality” once the withdrawal is complete, Milley said we will have to “wait and see.”

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