As U.S. and allied forces withdraw from Afghanistan, various security alternatives are being considered to keep Afghanistan from returning to a Taliban enterprise. Liberty Nation covered the Biden administration’s intention to pull troops out of Afghanistan, but left open one question: “And then what?” It appears as though the decision to leave Afghanistan has prompted the Biden administration and the U.S. Defense Department to come to grips with the consequences and potential courses of action.
As Jeff Seldin writes in a Voice of America dispatch:
“Provincial officials from across Afghanistan have warned of mounting losses in a series of attacks, some with heavy casualties, since the United States officially began its withdrawal on May 1. But the Pentagon insisted that the withdrawal was ‘going according to plan,’ with no surprises.”
According to Selden, General Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters at the Pentagon, “It’s not a foregone conclusion, in my professional military estimate, that the Taliban automatically win and Kabul falls. I’m a personal witness … that the Afghan security forces can fight. We’ve been supporting them, for sure, but they’ve been leading the fight.”
To ensure that the progress in Afghanistan achieved by U.S. and coalition forces is sustained, the challenges for the Defense Department are three-fold:
- Ensure that the Taliban is held at risk from long-range airstrike and reconnaissance capability.
- Find suitable locations for continuation training of Afghan security forces.
- Address the strategic geopolitical aspects of U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan regarding China.
Effective long-range airstrike and overhead reconnaissance capability must be established. Having air assets in place and flying long-distance combat support missions cannot come soon enough. To that end, Robert Burns and Lolita Baldor, writing for the Associated Press, said:
“Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said F-18 attack planes have been added to a previously announced package of air and sea power — including the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower aircraft carrier in the North Arabian Sea and six Air Force B-52 bombers based in Qatar — that can be called upon as protection for withdrawing troops. Also, part of that previously announced package are several hundred Army Rangers.”
Several options are being explored to have U.S. troops based at locations that would allow for rapid deployment to Afghanistan should the occasion arise that a return of U.S. ground forces was needed. The Wall Street Journal reports:
“U.S. military commanders want bases for troops, drones, bombers, and artillery to shore up the Afghan government, keep the Taliban insurgency in check and monitor other extremists. Options being assessed range from nearby countries to more distant Arab Gulf emirates and Navy ships at sea, U.S. government and military officials said.”
Long-range air missions are the solution in the near term. In an interview with the Washington Examiner, former Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson described her thinking on long-range, or “over the horizon,” air missions. She said:
“When people say, ‘over the horizon,’ who is that? That’s the United States Air Force. Certainly, we can do it from over the horizon. That requires long-range strike capability and the ability to get it there, which means tankers and bombers. It doesn’t come quickly. It was exquisite intelligence, American and coalition airpower, and supporting indigenous forces on the ground. In some ways, the first part of the Afghan flight was that way, as well.”
Additionally, continuation training for the Afghan forces is essential to maintain pressure on the Taliban and other enemies of the Kabul government. The Hill reported that General Milley suggested, “The U.S. military is considering continuing to train Afghan forces from different countries after U.S. troops fully withdraw from Afghanistan.”
This came as a response to a question during a Pentagon press briefing when the general was asked if training the Afghan forces in other countries was an alternative. Milley responded, “It’s possible. There’s a lot of different options out there, and we haven’t settled on one of them yet.”
Few in the Pentagon have discussed the larger geopolitical issues surrounding the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. In a commentary in Military Times, Congressman Michael Waltz (R-FL) raised his concern that when the U.S. departs bases in Afghanistan, the U.S. absence will be giving away a significant strategic advantage. His point, and a reasonable one, is that the mere presence of the U.S. provides the U.S. strategic presence should there be a conflict with China. Waltz explained his concern this way:
“By abandoning Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan, we will no longer have a U.S. airfield in a country that borders China. Many analysts believe that should the United States and China come to blows in the Pacific, a second front will be critical given China’s ability to concentrate its naval and missile assets around Taiwan.”
In an interview with Fox News, Waltz explained further, saying, “If we do have to go to some type of military confrontation over Taiwan, we need the ability to open a second front on China’s western flank.” It is important to consider that Afghanistan has a 47-mile border with China.
The pull out of U.S. and coalition forces from Afghanistan is and will continue to present challenges that the U.S. has prepared for and others for which the Department of Defense will have to improvise. Being able to adapt to new and dynamic circumstances has historically been the hallmark of the U.S. Armed Forces’ tactical and strategic capability. There is nothing to suggest that the U.S. military won’t rise to the occasion this time.
The views expressed are those of the author and not of any other affiliation.
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