The Pentagon is considering whether to intervene with warplanes or drones in the event that Kabul is in danger of falling to the Taliban, though no decisions have been made, The New York Times reported on Wednesday.
Senior officials told The New York Times that the Pentagon is considering seeking authorization to carry out airstrikes to support Afghan security forces if Kabul or another major city is in danger of falling to the Taliban.
The report mentioned that Biden and his national security aides had previously suggested that once US troops left Afghanistan, air support would end as well, except for strikes aimed at terrorist groups that could be considered a threat to American interests.
No decisions have been made yet, officials said, but "one option under consideration would be to recommend that US warplanes or armed drones intervene in an extraordinary crisis, such as the potential fall of Kabul, the Afghan capital, or a siege that puts American and allied embassies and citizens at risk," according to The Times report.
President Joe Biden would need to approve additional airstrikes, said The Times, citing officials who added that that such air support would be difficult to maintain over a long period because of the logistical effort already being given to the US troop pullout.
The United States will leave all its air bases in Afghanistan by next month, and any airstrikes would most likely have to be launched from bases in the Persian Gulf, said The Times.
"A potential fall of Kabul is the crisis most likely to lead to military intervention after US troops leave, officials said."
Acting Air Force Secretary John Roth told US lawmakers Tuesday that “over the horizon” strike capabilities for US counterterrorism in Afghanistan--and protection as troops withdraw--will come from existing bases in the region, at least for now, according to media outlet Defense One.
"The Air Force is seeking about $10 billion in the 2022 budget to fund those operations and maintain its footprint to provide the over-the-horizon protection, Roth said. In previous budget cycles, the funds would have likely been added into the overseas contingency operations account, but the Defense Department ended the use of OCO funds this year," said Defense One.
Defense One also reported that at a Center for a New American Security event on Tuesday, Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks said that the United States would also provide “over the horizon” support to the Afghan security forces, but that the final shape for all of that support was still being planned.
Hicks said: “We are working through all of that right now,” Hicks said. “We have to take into account regional aspects and allied approaches. We will have, over the course of this summer, proposals to give to the president in terms of what that over-the-horizon capability should be.”
“It’s for counterterrorism. It’s not an over-the-horizon capability to do all things, to operate, as the United States was operating in Afghanistan,” Hicks said.
On April 14, Biden announced that the US troops will leave Afghanistan by September 11.
Biden in a "letter to certain congressional committees regarding Afghanistan" on Tuesday said that as American troops pull out “we will not take our eye off the terrorist threat in Afghanistan.”
“The United States will reorganize our counterterrorism capabilities and assets in the region to prevent the reemergence of a terrorist threat in Afghanistan,” Biden said. “We will hold the Taliban and the Afghan government accountable to their commitments not to allow terrorists to threaten the United States or its allies from Afghan soil. And we will refine our national strategy to monitor and disrupt terrorist threats wherever they arise.”
Biden in the letter said that over the past few decades, the US and its partners have trained hundreds of thousands of Afghan troops, adding that the Afghan security force members currently number close to 300,000, and “they will continue to fight valiantly to protect the Afghan citizens.”
“With the support of the Congress, we will continue to support the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces. We will also continue to support the rights of Afghan women and girls and to maintain significant humanitarian and development assistance to Afghanistan,” he said.
“We will continue to pursue diplomacy and fully support peace talks between the Government of Afghanistan and the Taliban, facilitated by the United Nations. And we will encourage other nations in the region, especially Pakistan, to do more to support Afghanistan and to support stability in the country,” he said. “But we will not allow United States troops to be a bargaining chip between warring parties in other countries. That is a recipe for staying indefinitely in Afghanistan.”
“We will withdraw responsibly, deliberately, and safely, in full coordination with our allies and partners. Our NATO allies and operational partners, who have stood shoulder-to-shoulder with us for almost 20 years and who have also made great sacrifices, will now withdraw alongside our forces as we stand by our enduring principle of “in together, out together,” Biden said.