Lawmakers Scold Pentagon for Leaving Afghanistan Without ‘Over-the-Horizon’ Plan

May 12, 2021
In The News

By Jacqueline Feldshire- Defense One  


Helvey declined to say in an unclassified setting which countries the United States is talking with to maintain a presence in the region. But Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colo., laid out the options as he saw it.  


If the U.S. military is relying on reaching Afghanistan by air from ships in the Arabian Sea, it will require flights over Iran or Pakistan. “The first is 


impossible, the second is problematic,” Lamborn said.  


The nations that border Afghanistan include Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Iran, Pakistan, China, and a small stretch that’s disputed 

between India and Pakistan, many of which have significant tensions with the United States that make cooperation unlikely. 


The United States has three air options in the region about 1,000 miles away: Al Dhafra Air Base in the United Arab Emirates, Naval Support 

Activity in Bahrain and Al-Udeid Air Base in Qatar, where the military recently deployed bombers to protect troops during the withdrawal. 

Afghanistan is about 300 miles from the coast of the Arabian Sea, where the U.S. Navy typically has one or two aircraft carriers. 


Helvey said there is no agreement confirmed with any of the bordering countries, but that “we are working all the different options.”  


“It is a very difficult neighborhood,” he acknowledged.  


The drawdown is moving forward as these discussions continue. As of Monday, the military had shipped more than 100 C-17 cargo planes full of 

material out of Afghanistan and had sent more than 1,800 pieces of equipment to the Defense Logistics Agency to be destroyed. That means the 

withdrawal is between 6 and 12 percent complete, U.S. Central Command officials said in a statement.  


How the military can conduct surveillance and control the terrorist threat in the region has been the biggest open question since President Joe 

Biden announced last month that the United States would completely withdraw from Afghanistan in September.  


“We went to Afghanistan because of a horrific attack that happened 20 years ago,” Biden said on April 14. “That cannot explain why we should 

remain there in 2021.”  


Biden is following through on the Doha agreement President Donald Trump made with the Taliban to withdraw by May 1, though the president 

delayed the timeline by four months.  


Helvey said the administration intends to counter the terrorism threat in Afghanistan without troops in the country three ways: by leveraging its 

diplomatic presence in Kabul, using capabilities in the region, including through ongoing discussions to try to secure basing locations closer to 

Afghanistan, and bolstering the global effort to combat transnational threats.  


Still, the department faced tough questions from lawmakers in both parties pushing for more details on how the administration will fight terrorism 

in Afghanistan, especially with a planning timeline of just four months.  


“I feel sorry for you because you’re being asked very specific questions about how you’re going to do things…from an audience that’s incredibly 

skeptical, that doesn’t believe you can do them,” said Rep. Michael Turner, R-Ohio.