If President Biden and his national security team believe the unmitigated debacle of the surrender of Afghanistan was behind them, they are wrong. The ghostly presence of that logistics and strategic planning failure covers the White House like an unrelenting fog. The military leadership, organizational, intelligence, and diplomatic failures linger with each new or recurring government analysis. Most egregious is the self-delusion terrorist groups like ISIS-K, and al-Qaeda would continue in their dormancy after the US and allied presence departed. The flimsy notion the US and possibly others could keep the terrorist at bay, not reorganizing with the threat of “over-the-horizon” aerial attacks from as far away as 1,200 miles, was folly. As one might suspect, those charged with periodic assessments of the current Afghan situation came to the same conclusion.
Each quarter, Congress receives the Lead IG report from The Offices of Inspector General for the Department of Defense (DOD), the Department of State (DOS), and the US Agency for International Development (USAID). The objective revealed in the January 1, 2022 – March 31, 2022 edition is to oversee the new US mission “to protect US national interests by disrupting violent extremist organizations and their external operations that threaten the US homeland, partners, and allies from Afghanistan.” The new US mission is designated Operation Enduring Sentinel (OES), where the DOD provides support through US Central Command (USCENTCOM) for US diplomatic efforts regarding Afghanistan. The recently established diplomatic mission and USCENTCOM staff work out of Doha, Qatar, and so does the airborne surveillance and attack Reaper unmanned aerial vehicle unit.
Doha is 1,232 miles from Kabul. But the Biden military leadership knew what the distance was when their commander-in-chief so confidently assured, “We’ve developed counterterrorism over-the-horizon capability that will allow us to keep our eyes firmly fixed on any direct threats to the United States in the region and to act quickly and decisively if needed,” according to Foreign Policy reporting. And don’t forget: “We’re still going to have the capability to go in ‘over-the-horizon’ to get after al-Qa[e]da and ISIS should those target emerge and be ones that we want to take,” General Frank McKenzie, then USCENTCOM commander, told Voice of America’s Jeff Seldin in June 2021. Those comments came just six weeks before the Biden administration’s inept display of diplomatic and military leadership during the beat-feet out of Kabul operation. It was a pipe dream then, and now, as the new Lead IG report confirms:
“General Kenneth F. McKenzie, Jr., the outgoing Commander of USCENTCOM, said that US air assets must travel long distances to arrive over Afghan airspace, which limits the amount of time then can conduct operations before needing to return for refueling. This limitation, combined with the loss of human intelligence on the ground, has significantly reduced the DOD’s capacity to track terrorist targets in Afghanistan.”
The report quoted McKenzie’s February 8, 2022, testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee. McKenzie’s comments make sense now and account for why “…[T]he US military has not conducted any airstrikes in Afghanistan since the completion of the evacuation efforts on August 29, 2021.”
Still, to keep up the façade of a plan to attack would-be Afghan terrorists, they created an organization they knew could not do the mission. “OES operations are conducted by the Over-the-Horizon Counterterrorism Headquarters, a joint headquarters located in Doha, Qatar, with a staff of approximately 100 personnel,” the Lead IG analysis continued. So, an organization in position has done nothing for eight and a half months. The only conclusion one can come to is our military leaders boasted of and relied on an over-the-horizon attack capability, knowing it couldn’t work.
Among the other troubling findings, the Lead IG quarterly report revealed that “In January , the Taliban’s Defense Ministry announced plans for a 100,000-member army, armed and equipped in part with US weapons and materiel provided to the former Afghan government by the US military.”
The final touch of disingenuous claptrap the White House should own up to is, and this is no joke, “The DOD Comptroller reported that it projects the FY [Fiscal Year] 2022 cost to support OES [the over-the-horizon counterterrorism] to total approximately $19.9 billion.” One wonders what the billions are for when the organization getting the money hasn’t done anything. Mark Antony’s line from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar rings true. “The evil men do lives after them.”
The views expressed are those of the author and not of any other affiliation.