United States to enter formal agreement to use Pakistani airspace for military operations in Afghanistan – .

United States to enter formal agreement to use Pakistani airspace for military operations in Afghanistan – .

Pakistan has expressed a desire to sign a memorandum of understanding in return for assistance in its own counterterrorism efforts and help in managing relations with India, one of the sources said. . But negotiations are ongoing, another source said, and the terms of the deal, which has not been finalized, could still change.

The briefing comes as the White House is still trying to ensure it can conduct counterterrorism operations against ISIS-K and other adversaries in Afghanistan now that there is no longer a U.S. presence on the ground for the first time in two decades after NATO withdrew from the country.

The U.S. military is currently using Pakistani airspace to reach Afghanistan as part of the ongoing intelligence gathering efforts, but there are no formal agreements in place to ensure continued access to a critical part of the airspace needed for the United States to reach Afghanistan. The air corridor through Pakistan to Afghanistan could become even more critical if and when the United States resumes flights to Kabul to remove American citizens and others who remain in the country. The third source said a deal was discussed when US officials visited Pakistan, but it’s not yet clear what Pakistan wants or how much the US would be willing to give in return.

In the absence of a formal agreement currently in place, the United States runs the risk that Pakistan will deny entry to American military planes and drones en route to Afghanistan.

A Pentagon spokesperson said the Defense Department does not comment on closed-door briefings due to security classifications. CNN has contacted the National Security Council, the State Department and the Pakistani Embassy in Washington for comment.

Long-term options in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan for operations on the horizon

At the same time, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan appear to be the best options for possible locations to establish a US military presence to conduct so-called “overseas” operations in Afghanistan, the sources said, but the two would clash. to strong opposition from Russia. President Vladimir Putin and some local politicians. “Both are long shots,” a source said, calling them “probably pipe dream because of the need for Putin’s blessing.”

Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman visited Uzbekistan earlier this month where she discussed “the way forward in Afghanistan” with President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, according to a report from the meeting.

Currently, the United States conducts its operations over the horizon from bases in the Middle East, forcing drones to fly from distant bases, such as those in Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, around Iran and through Pakistani airspace before reaching Afghanistan. The long flight limits the time that drones can hover over Afghanistan to gather intelligence, and the Biden administration has sought closer and more effective options.

The commander of the US Central Command, General Frank McKenzie, told lawmakers last month that he still had “the capacity to examine Afghanistan”, but that it is “limited”. McKenzie also said he was not confident in the ability of the United States to prevent ISIS and al Qaeda from using Afghanistan as a launching pad for terrorist activity in the future.

“The United States maintains ongoing ISR (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) capabilities necessary to meet the demands of on-the-horizon and counterterrorism missions,” a defense official told CNN. This includes not only drones, but also signals intelligence and cyber capabilities to monitor the situation in Afghanistan.

Biden vowed that the United States will maintain its counterterrorism capacity

President Joe Biden said in July, weeks before the evacuation of Afghanistan and the fall of Kabul to the Taliban, that the United States would maintain its ability to operate in the country, even if American troops were not more on the ground.

“We are developing a counterterrorism capability on the horizon that will allow us to keep our eyes firmly on any direct threat to the United States in the region and to act swiftly and decisively if necessary,” he said. July 8.

Escape from Kabul: As part of the voluntary effort of US troops to save their families from Afghanistan

But lawmakers questioned the White House’s ability to keep that promise. The Pentagon has repeatedly stated that the United States can continue to fight terrorism in the region with capabilities on the horizon, but the Defense Department has not indicated where those capabilities will be based in the region. .

“They build the plane while they fly it,” a Senate adviser told CNN about what Pentagon officials have shared about the plans on the horizon.

On Thursday, Senator Jim Inhofe (R-OK), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the United States was “in a worse position to understand and monitor terrorist threats from Afghanistan”, at the following a classified briefing on Afghanistan. The briefing included a discussion of capabilities on the horizon, according to an aide to the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Inhofe said in a statement that the briefing “confirmed” that the United States “is now less secure than before Biden’s disastrous decision to withdraw unconditionally and entirely from Afghanistan.”


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