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US airstrikes plan to keep al-Qaeda under control in Afghanistan

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President Biden vowed he would not allow al-Qaeda to return to Afghanistan. (file)

Washington:

The Pentagon plans to rely on air strikes to halt the resurgence of al-Qaeda now that US troops have left Afghanistan, but experts and some lawmakers are skeptical about the effectiveness of the so-called “over-the-horizon” strategy. are in.

Announcing a full withdrawal of US troops in April, President Joe Biden vowed he would not allow the withdrawal of al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, where Osama bin Laden launched the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington.

Since then, the Pentagon has repeatedly claimed that it has been able to stop al-Qaeda and Islamic State (IS) terrorists in Afghanistan through “over-the-horizon” attacks from US bases or aircraft carriers.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday, “Campaign over the horizon is difficult but entirely doable.”

“And the intelligence that supports them comes from a variety of sources, not just on American boot ground.”

Austin’s remarks came two weeks after the Pentagon chief was forced to apologize to the families of civilians killed in the August 29 drone strike in Kabul.

The drone strike was targeted by suspected IS militants, but it killed 10 civilians, including seven children, in what Austin called a “horrific mistake”.

It was the latest in a long line of US drone strikes that caused civilian casualties in Afghanistan, becoming one of the most contentious issues in the 20-year war and prompting harsh criticism from Afghans.

In his congressional testimony, Austin declined to publicly reveal much about the Pentagon’s “over-the-horizon” plans, telling committee members that he could provide more details in a closed classified session. .

‘May you be successful’

Many experts and lawmakers cast doubts about the efficacy of long-range attacks on land-locked Afghanistan, which is thousands of miles (kilometers) away from the nearest US base.

An article by James Holmes, Professor of Maritime Strategy at the Naval War College, was titled, “Kill Terrorists in Afghanistan ‘Over the Horizon’? Good Luck.”

“When the battlefield is within easy reach of the sea or air force, over-the-horizon operations work well,” Holmes said in the article published on the National Security website. 19fortyfive.com.

Holmes, a former US Navy officer, said “land-based aircraft flying from Persian Gulf airstrips into the Arabian Sea around hostile Iranian airspace and northward through Pakistani airspace to targets in Afghanistan.” Must attack.”

“It is easier for carrier aircraft from a distance because their mobile airspace can stop in the Arabian Sea,” he said.

“But still, the Afghan capital of Kabul is closer to 700 miles from the closest point to the Pakistani coast,” Holmes said. “Inflight refueling will be necessary.”

‘A Fiction’

Mike Waltz, a Republican lawmaker from Florida, accused Biden and Austin of pushing a “fiction” when it came to “over-the-horizon” potential.

Waltz said that unlike Iraq, where US troops fought IS alongside Iraqi government forces, or Syria, where Americans partnered with Kurdish fighters, the United States had no base on the ground in Afghanistan or nearby. There is no collaborator.

“Those drones have to fly around Iran, all over Pakistan and lose 70 to 80 percent of their fuel before getting anywhere close to their target,” said Waltz, a former US Army Green Beret who served in Afghanistan. “

“The President of the United States is selling this country a fantasy that there is nothing we can do here,” Waltz said, pointing to Afghanistan on the map, “what are we going to do with the neighboring bases here (in Iraq and Syria). are having access, with allies on land and with access to the sea.”

“It’s a fantasy you all must have,” he said.

In the early 2000s, the United States had military bases in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, but this no longer exists in Central Asia, which Russia considers its sphere of influence.

General Mark Milley, the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, told lawmakers that he had recently met with his Russian counterpart General Valery Gerasimov in Europe.

“Primarily, we’re not asking for permission — the conversation, I think, is the word,” Milley said.

“President (Vladimir) Putin and President Biden had a conversation and I was following that conversation,” he said.

Andy Kim, a Democratic lawmaker from New Jersey, asked Pentagon chief Austin if US overflights to Afghanistan were legal.

“Yes,” Austin replied, adding that he would provide further details in a classified setting.

The Taliban this week accused the United States of violating international law with drone flights over Afghan territory and warned of “negative consequences” if they continued.

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