US considers Afghan airstrikes if Kabul falls to Taliban
The Pentagon could ask the government for permission to carry out airstrikes to support Afghan security forces in Kabul against the Taliban, with some political experts considering the move a return to the war-torn country despite US President Joe Biden’s decision to remove troops.
Whilst “no decisions have been made yet”, officials told The New York Times, one recommendation floating around the Pentagon is to use US warplanes or armed drones to intervene in extraordinary circumstances - and the fall of Kabul is one such circumstance, officials said.
Kabul has been targeted by frequent bombings by the Islamic State group and Taliban in recent months, killing dozens of civilians.
One of Biden’s first moves as president after Donald Trump was to stagger the removal of US troops, which would include the removal of air support with the exception of airstrikes targeting terrorist and militant groups.
The US is still planning to wrap up its longest war by withdrawing the last of its 2,500-3,500 troops along with 7,000 allied NATO forces. The last soldiers are to be gone by 11 September at the latest, generating fears of increased chaos in a country already deeply insecure.
Violence has escalated in Afghanistan even as the US struck a peace deal with the Taliban in February 2020 under the previous Trump administration.
The Pentagon plans to complete the withdrawal of its troops in by early July, and US-trained Afghan forces will be set to defend government-held areas.
Even if the US will supply some form of support in the future, it will likely not provide air support to Afghan forces in rural areas, many of which are already under Taliban control, officials said.
In addition, government enclaves under siege around the country are also unlikely to be given US support.
This new direction in US foreign policy suggests some "flexibility" in its military policy in the region, and in the definition of "counterterrorism".
There is however, new logistic challenges, including how aircrafts would be transported in the event of air support.
"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."