After hastily abandoning the war-ravaged country, the US government is now holding talks with Afghanistan’s neighbors about hosting “over the horizon” military operations that would help the US military to monitor and strike targets there, according to reports, citing US senators.
Those sites could include bases run by Russia in those countries, senators said.
A report in Politico, quoting senators who attended a classified hearing with Pentagon leaders this week, said discussions are underway with the governments of Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and others.
The top US military officials reportedly briefed lawmakers behind closed doors on the issue, after testifying publicly before the senate armed services committee on Tuesday.
The briefing to lawmakers came hours after US defense secretary Lloyd Austin acknowledged that the Joe Biden administration has sought “clarification” from Moscow about an offer from Russian President Vladimir Putin to host the US counterterrorism operations on Russian military bases in central Asia.
During the classified session, the Politico quoted the lawmakers as saying; senators were told the option is being seriously considered.
Gen. Kenneth "Frank" McKenzie, the US central command chief, provided specific details about the types of aircraft and launching points that could be used to strike targets in Afghanistan.
Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff, also briefed senators about his conversations with Russian counterpart, Valery Gerasimov, according to a report in Wall Street Journal.
According to the report, Pentagon’s top military officer discussed the issue with Gerasimov, without providing more details.
It said Milley raised the subject at the request of Biden’s national security council staff in his meeting last Wednesday with Gerasimov, citing unnamed US officials.
“It’s their territory. But I think, realistically, Russia has influence there,” US senate armed services chair Jack Reed was quoted as saying by Politico. “And so [Russia] may not have a veto, but they certainly have an influence. So you have to talk to them.”
It comes amid growing fears that the South Asian country could again become the breeding ground for Al-Qaeda. During a hearing on Wednesday, Milley said al Qaeda could regroup there in 6 to 36 months.
“It's a real possibility in the not too distant future, 6, 12, 18, 24, 36 months that kind of timeframe for reconstitution of al-Qaeda or ISIS and it's our job now, you know, under different conditions, but it's our job to continue to protect the American citizens against attacks from Afghanistan,” Milley told lawmakers at a House Armed Services Committee hearing on Wednesday.
Also present at the session, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin approved Milley’s assessment.
“Al Qaeda has been degraded over time. Now, terrorist organizations seek ungoverned spaces so that they can train and equip and thrive and, and so, there, there is clearly a possibility that that can happen here, going forward,” he said.
However, the US reaching out to Russia for help in counter-insurgency operations has revealed the declining power of the so-called ‘super-power’, especially after the massive Afghanistan debacle.
The US military is currently conducting operations — including the devastating drone strike in Kabul that killed civilians — from bases hundreds of miles away in the Middle East.
Sen. Kevin Cramer, a member of the armed services panel, was quoted as saying by Politico that it was a “pretty weird scenario” to be relying on Russia.
Backlash over botched mission
Over the past several weeks, the US defeat in Afghanistan and its failure to provide a safe passage for the US citizens and war-weary Afghans have drawn intense backlash and criticism.
Biden administration has sought to pin the blame on former US President Donald Trump, reiterating that he inherited a bad withdrawal agreement from his Republican predecessor.
Trump brokered a peace deal with the Taliban in Qatar in 2020, under which Washington was obliged to pull out all of its forces from Afghanistan by the end of May 2021.
Biden, however, missed the deadline, until all US military forces were pulled out from Afghanistan on August 31; two weeks after the country fell to the Taliban.
US Republican lawmakers have accused Biden of being dishonest and delusional about last month's full withdrawal from Afghanistan, calling his handling of the situation an “unmitigated disaster".
Former US president Donald Trump, reacting to the senate hearing on Tuesday, said the “horrible” withdrawal from Afghanistan was “developed by a child’s mind and only the Biden Administration is responsible for it.”
“The botched and embarrassingly incompetent withdrawal from Afghanistan had nothing to do with past Administrations or things that happened ‘from 20 years ago," Trump said.
He said Biden and Milley removed the military from the war-torn country in “one of the dumbest military moves in history”.
Milley, in an admission before the US house armed services committee on Wednesday, said the US “lost” the 20-year-long war in Afghanistan.
“It is clear. It is obvious to all of us, that the war in Afghanistan did not end on the terms we wanted, with the Taliban in power in Kabul. The war was a strategic failure,” he asserted.