US negotiating with Pakistan for more airspace access
The United States is closing in on an agreement with Islamabad for access to Pakistani airspace so that it can conduct military operations in Afghanistan, months after the US withdrew its troops from the Taliban-ruled country.
US President Joe Biden’s administration conducted a classified briefing with members of Congress about the matter, and three sources familiar with the contents of the meeting revealed to CNN that the governments were close to an agreement.
In return for using its airspace, Pakistan wants a memorandum of understanding on counterterrorism assistance and help with its difficult relationship with neighbour India, the sources said.
No formal agreement has been finalised.
The US withdrew its troops from Afghanistan in August of this year, but it retained the use of Pakistan’s airspace in an intelligence-gathering capacity.
The new agreement, if it goes through, would expand US use of the airspace to include the resumption of flights to Kabul and the evacuation of remaining American citizens from the country.
The Pentagon plans to rely on airstrikes to prevent a resurgence of Al-Qaeda now that US troops have left Afghanistan, but experts and some lawmakers are skeptical about the effectiveness of fighting extremist groups from outside the central Asian country.
President Joe Biden in April vowed he would not allow a comeback of Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, where Osama bin Laden planned the 11 September 2001 attacks on New York and Washington.
Since then, the Pentagon has repeatedly claimed it is capable of keeping Al-Qaeda and Islamic State (IS) militants in Afghanistan in check through "over-the-horizon" strikes from US bases or aircraft carriers.
"Over-the-horizon operations are difficult but absolutely possible," Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin told the House Armed Services Committee last month.
"And intelligence that supports them comes from a variety of sources, and not just US boots on the ground."