DoD Readies Counterterror Plan For Post-Afghanistan Withdrawal

Kabul: The Pentagon will provide US President Joe Biden with options for “over the horizon” capabilities to protect the US from terrorist attacks after US troops withdraw from Afghanistan, Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks said on Wednesday.

“The secretary and the chairman and the CENTCOM commander, among others, are looking at exactly what that idealized capability is,” she told the Center for a New American Security (CNAS). “We have to take into account, regional aspects and allied approaches.”

The 2022 budget request, Hicks said, takes into account the fact that there will be a need to fund other sorts of counterterrorism activities in the absence of US forces in Afghanistan. “Our budget accounts for over the horizon requirements — it creates some space there as we determine what that will look like,” she said.

Central Command chief General Kenneth McKenzie told the House Armed Services Committee in April that stopping Al Qaeda from striking the United States from outside Afghanistan — “over the horizon” — will be “extremely difficult” but “not impossible.”

Even the US air force is prioritizing an enduring presence across the Middle East as the US prepares for “over-the-horizon” operations following the withdrawal from Afghanistan. Acting Air Force Secretary John P. Roth told members of the Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee on June 8 that the Air Force’s direct war funding takes a hit in its 2022 budget request, reflecting the ongoing withdrawal from Afghanistan. Roth said funding for “day-to-day operations” decreases about a billion dollars in 2022, though the department still budgeted “about $10 billion” for an “enduring presence” in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility.

“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. The Air Force’s enduring and direct war request of $10.07 billion is $2.3 billion less than the 2021 enacted amount. The service, in budget documents, said it is “taking risk in enduring missions, reducing the request amount to align with current assumptions.”

Unlike prior years, the 2022 budget eliminates the “overseas contingency operations” funds, pulling much of that money into the Pentagon’s $715 billion base budget. The Air Force is requesting $154.52 million for primary combat forces funding for Operation Freedom’s Sentinel in Afghanistan, up from $108.84 million in 2021 as strike aircraft face longer missions. Continued operations will focus largely on locations such as Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, which is hosting B-52 bombers for long-distance strike operations in Afghanistan.

On June 8, CENTCOM announced that more than 50 percent of the entire retrograde process has been completed, with about 500 C-17 loads of material flown out of the country. Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr., appearing alongside Roth in the hearing, said the current capabilities in use in CENTCOM will largely remain in the Air Force in 2022, though he acknowledged the service’s priorities are shifting. In fact, some of the very last Estonian Defense Forces (EDF) personnel to serve in Afghanistan arrived back home in Estonia late on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, even at the EP plenary debate, the peace process was discussed and High Representative/Vice-President Josep Borrell, said, “Afghanistan is another place where there is not a lot of room for optimism. We have to continue being engaged in a country where a lot of civilian casualties have been happening and 40% of these casualties are women or children. As international troops are withdrawing, the peace process is largely stalled and violence continues.

The security situation in Afghanistan is evolving quickly. The Taliban control more than half of the country’s territory and increasingly have less incentive to compromise, so short-term prospects for a peace deal look bleak. The European Union will make every effort to support the peace process and to remain a committed partner to the Afghan people. Disengagement is not an option for many reasons: Firstly, because over the past two decades, in the last 20 years, we have invested significant political capital and financial resources to support Afghanistan’s stability and development. But these achievements can be jeopardized, these achievements are in danger because Afghanistan today is at a crossroads. We have to continue being engaged and to provide new perspectives for the Afghan citizens when finally, we hope, an agreement will be obtained on the Doha negotiations.

Secondly, because our strategic interests are also at stake. Independently of the troops’ withdrawal, political and civilian assistance disengagement from Afghanistan would not serve our interests. A collapse of the democratic order in Afghanistan will lead to a new surge of international terrorism, to further forced displacement and irregular migration. We are currently in intense discussions with our Member States, the United States, NATO and the United Nations on the absence of essential security conditions for our continued diplomatic presence. It will be difficult to keep it. We need hospitals and airports if we want to continue being there. This comes on top of the pledges of NATO partners to continue their support to the Afghan National Defence Forces under the Afghan National Army Trust Fund. Let us go back to the peace process. There is no alternative to a negotiated political settlement, through inclusive peace talks. This also means that there can be no sanctions relief for members of the Taliban at the United Nations Security Council without a genuine commitment on their part to the peace process, through a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire and substantial progress in the peace negotiations.”

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