The US Air Force is preparing the capabilities to be able to bomb Afghanistan after the US military completes its withdrawal from the country, Acting Air Force Secretary John Roth told a Senate hearing on Tuesday.
The Air Force has four bases in the Gulf region that it could potentially launch long-range airstrikes from. Two bases are in Kuwait, one is in the UAE, and another is in Qatar. The service is seeking $10 billion from Congress for the 2022 budget to maintain its presence in the Middle East.
“We have a series of air bases, they will stay for the time being, that’s where your over the horizon capability will come from,” Roth said, according to The Defense Post. “Over the horizon capability” is Pentagon jargon for being able to bomb Afghanistan after the withdrawal.
On Wednesday, The New York Times reported that the Pentagon might seek authorization to carry out airstrikes against the Taliban if it appears that major cities like Kabul are falling to the group. The report cited unnamed Biden administration officials. Until now, US officials have said only post-withdrawal bombings against groups like al-Qaeda and ISIS are possible but hinted that air support for Afghan forces would end. The Times report said the issue is still being discussed, and nothing has been decided.
The Pentagon was hoping to be able to get a new base closer to Afghanistan to make it easier to bomb the country. But so far, no deals have been reached with regional countries such as Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, or Uzbekistan. Pakistan has publicly denied that it would again host a US military base, but a recent agreement that allowed US warplanes to use Pakistan airspace has raised questions about the possibility of a secret basing deal.
President Biden on Tuesday sent a letter to Congress that said the US would not take its “eye” off Afghanistan. “The United States will reorganize our counterterrorism capabilities and assets in the region to prevent the reemergence of a terrorist threat in Afghanistan … We will refine our national strategy to monitor and disrupt terrorist threats wherever they arise,” he wrote.
Also on Tuesday, US Central Command said the withdrawal process was more than halfway done, although the command is not disclosing troop numbers. The US will likely keep its embassy in Kabul, which will likely be used to justify a small troop presence in the country. Questions still remain about the overall footprint the US will leave in the country and the region.