WASHINGTON – U.S. military planners are looking for options to base forces and equipment in Central Asia and the Middle East after U.S. and Allied troops leave Afghanistan in the coming months.
With preparations for withdrawal accelerating, US military commanders want bases for troops, drones, bombers and artillery to shore up the Afghan government, control the Taliban insurgency, and monitor other extremists. The options being assessed range from neighboring countries to more distant Gulf Arab Emirates and Navy ships at sea, the US government and military officials have said.
“The road to work seems to be a bit longer at the moment,” an official said.
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Zalmay Khalilzad, the United States’ special representative for Afghanistan, visited Uzbekistan and Tajikistan last week. Khalilzad’s talks focused on efforts to negotiate peace between Afghan factions ahead of the 9/11 withdrawal deadline – a topic a US official involved in the talks said is of concern to Uzbekistan and Tajikistan , who do not want any fallout from the violence. .
No official request for bases in Central Asia has been made to date, according to US officials, with the Pentagon still weighing the pros and cons. The State Department and the White House are also involved in the decision.
The hasty planning to find regional bases for the US military is part of a general rush to meet the September deadline set by President Biden last month, but which US defense officials say could be completed. from July. Tensions have mounted between Afghan groups even before the deadline was announced, and many U.S., Afghan and other officials fear the withdrawal could precipitate a slide into a larger conflict.
Army Gen. Scott Miller, the Commander-in-Chief in Afghanistan, and Naval General Frank McKenzie, who heads U.S. Central Command, submitted rough plans to the Secretary of Defense late last month. Lloyd Austin for the withdrawal of personnel and equipment from Afghanistan.
These plans, which military officials say are not complete, involve a total of 25,000 to 30,000 people, including the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and US forces and contractors. It remains to be determined how many people the State Department wants to detain at the major US embassy in Kabul, although that number could reach 1,000 Americans, US officials said.
Rough plans are also missing where to base US forces after the withdrawal, those officials said, and finding hosts could prove difficult.
Ultimately, administration officials said they wanted locations close to Afghanistan for troops, drones and other rapid reaction equipment, in the event, for example, of an attack on its embassy. in Kabul. When announcing the pullout last month, the Biden administration said it would launch airstrikes or conduct surveillance missions if Al Qaeda reappeared in Afghanistan or if another group like ISIS posed a threat. for the United States or their interests.
If neighboring countries are not accessible, US officials are looking further for options “on the horizon” among Arab Gulf allies, several of which are currently hosting US forces.
The back-up solution uses an aircraft carrier to house planes that could be used for missions over Afghanistan, although the Navy is reluctant to hire a full-time aircraft carrier in the area due to needs elsewhere. , according to the Navy and other officials.
Access to bases in Central Asia would return the United States to a position it occupied during the early years of the war in Afghanistan. The United States maintained two bases in Central Asia, one each in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, which were used for operations in Afghanistan. But he decamped from Uzbekistan in 2005 and Kyrgyzstan almost a decade later, after a regional group, led by Russia and China, pressured the United States to withdraw its forces. of the region.
Russia viewed the American presence in what was part of the Soviet Union with growing suspicion, especially after the uprisings in Ukraine, Georgia and Kyrgyzstan, of leaders loyal to the Kremlin.
Relations between Russia and the United States have deteriorated in many ways since then, as have relations between Washington and Beijing. Nonetheless, they share the United States’ interest in bringing stability to the region, and the countries of Central Asia also want a counterweight to the influence of Russia and China, US and foreign officials have said.
Uzbekistan is moving forward with a railway project that connects the landlocked country to Pakistan via the Afghan city of Mazar-e-Sharif and needs sufficient stability to achieve this.
“The countries of Central Asia want their cake and eat it too, and have a multivector foreign policy, so they don’t want the United States to leave them hanging,” said Paul Stronski, senior researcher for the Russia and Eurasia program. by Carnegie.
Write to Vivian Salama at [email protected] and Gordon Lubold at [email protected]
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