Since President Biden announced his plans to pull combat troops out of Afghanistan, US military officials have said they plan to keep assets in the region so the US could maintain the ability to bomb targets in the country. But it’s not clear where US forces could be deployed.
David Helvey, acting assistant secretary of defense for Indo-Pacific Affairs, was asked about this issue on Wednesday during a hearing before the House Armed Services Committee.
“Those planning efforts are in parallel [with the drawdown], but they’re not linked,” Helvey said. “We have a substantial capability in the Middle East. We’ll still have the ability to prosecute terrorism from positions around the region. Looking at what that footprint is going to be like within the region is going to be an important part of the equation.”
Helvey said after the withdrawal, the US will “be able to help to manage and mitigate the threat of terrorism that can emanate from Afghanistan” due to the relationship with the Afghan government. The US plans to continue supporting the Afghan military financially and is even considering training Afghan forces in other countries.
Helvey shed no further light on where the US could reposition forces in the region. Media reports have said the US is considering Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, or Uzbekistan, but Washington has no basing agreements with these Central Asian countries. On Tuesday, Pakistan said it would never again serve as a base for the US military’s Afghanistan operations or any future US wars for that matter.
US Central Command said on Tuesday that the withdrawal from Afghanistan is about six to 12 percent complete, although it did not disclose how many troops remain in the country. The US could leave combat troops in the country under the guise of protecting its diplomatic mission. When asked how many soldiers the US might leave for this purpose, Helvey declined to comment.