The United States is considering intervening with drones or warplanes in the event big Afghan cities are at risk of falling to the Taliban, the NYT reported.
On June 9th, the outlet reported that officials are weighing the option of sending in warplanes in what the newspaper described as “an extraordinary crisis”, such as the imminent fall of the Afghan capital Kabul.
Such an intervention would require presidential approval, unnamed officials said.
They added that it would be difficult to maintain attacks over a long period, as the US is leaving all its airbases in Afghanistan and would likely launch operations from the US bases in the Persian Gulf.
While pledging to support the Afghan government through aid and diplomatic efforts, US officials had previously said it would launch future military attacks in the country only as part of “counterterrorism” operations if there is a direct threat to the US.
Still, it is unresolved is how U.S. troops will carry out counterterrorism missions to prevent Al Qaeda and other militants from rebuilding their presence in Afghanistan, and how to allow Western contractors to continue to support the Afghan military.
At the same time, the C.I.A. is under intense pressure to find new ways to gather intelligence and carry out counterterrorism strikes in the country.
The United States is not likely to provide additional air support to Afghan forces in rural areas, many of which are already under Taliban control, the officials said.
And even government enclaves around the country, which are already under siege, are unlikely to receive much military help from American warplanes, the anonymous officials said.
A spokesman for the White House’s National Security Council declined to comment on the options under discussion, saying the administration did not publicly discuss rules of engagement.
Separately, Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III declined to comment on any future combat operations in Afghanistan.
Senior officials said that at the moment, that threshold looked like a looming fall of Kabul, a situation that would most likely require a signoff from the president before American warplanes — most likely armed MQ-9 Reaper drones but possibly fighter jets — provided air support to Afghan forces.
Afghan officials said they had been told by their American counterparts that the United States would also stop any takeover of major cities, a vague statement without any clear backing.
That support would be tough to maintain over any extended period.
“It’s a very hard thing to do,” said Gen. Joseph L. Votel, the former commander of United States Central Command. “It’s an operation to get aircraft to Afghanistan, especially if you’re having to come from the Gulf or an aircraft carrier. There is limited loiter time for them to do anything.”
This all happens alongside reports that US warplanes actually carried out strikes on Taliban positions in the Narkh district.
#AFG “ Over last 24 hours, The US Air Force carried 2 Air strikes against Taliban positions in Narkh district, Wardak province and Tarin Koat city in Uruzgan. US Air Force flew 36 show of support flights across Afghanistan.” Multiple Afghan CT officers tells me.
— BILAL SARWARY (@bsarwary) June 10, 2021
Header: A United States Air Force pilot training Afghan service members in 2018. Afghan security forces are at risk of being overwhelmed by the Taliban once American troops withdraw from the country. Credit: Bryan Denton for The New York Times