Pentagon officials have long promoted the military’s presence in other parts of the Middle East, such as the Gulf region, for its ability to provide over-the-horizon capabilities, but Gen. Frank McKenzie has warned that this means longer flight times to and from Afghanistan and less time for assets to be over the country.
The US military is already performing so-called over-the-horizon operations, undertaken from outside the nation, as it is currently withdrawing from Afghanistan, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said on Thursday.
Speaking at the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, Austin refused to confirm a claim in Wednesday’s The New York Times report that the Pentagon is considering providing military air support to Afghan forces if Kabul or another major city falls to the Taliban after US soldiers leave.
Instead, the Defense Secretary noted that capabilities such as intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) have already begun to be transported into Afghanistan from outside the nation during the ongoing pullout.
“In terms of our efforts to establish over-the-horizon capability, I would just point to the fact that, as we have retrograded a lot of our capability out of country, we are doing a lot of things over-the-horizon now,” Austin said. “ISR is being flown from [Gulf countries]. A lot of our combat aircraft missions are being conducted from platforms in the Gulf. And so we have the capability now to do that.”
Austin also stated at the hearing that the military is aiming to reduce the distance between over-the-horizon forces.
“What we are looking for is the ability to shorten the legs going forward by stationing some capability in neighboring countries. That is still a work in progress,” he said, without specifying a time frame for achieving such an objective.
The United States currently has no basing agreements with Afghanistan’s neighbors, and various geopolitical factors, such as the countries’ ties to Russia, could prove difficult to make such arrangements.