This week, both the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) and the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) held hearings on the debacle in Afghanistan. The main witnesses were the three American generals who oversaw the chaotic withdrawal of American forces at the very end. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, and CENTCOM Commander Gen. Kenneth “Frank” McKenzie were all called to testify before the committees. I, too, was honored to testify before SASC on Thursday. You can read my written testimony here, if interested, and also watch a video of the session.
There are many lines of questioning I could focus on in this Vital Interests newsletter, but I’ll stick to just one. Many of the representatives and senators were worried about America’s ability to conduct so-called “over the horizon” counterterrorism operations, which are principally missile strikes from outside the theater of operation. America no longer has a footprint inside Afghanistan, so any attempt to go after al-Qaeda or Islamic State (ISIS) figures will be from an “over the horizon” posture.
I agree with many of the concerns that were expressed. America’s ability to collect intelligence on he ground has been severely hampered, if not eliminated entirely. Quite frankly, it wasn’t that great to begin with, as al-Qaeda’s presence inside Afghanistan was consistently underestimated.
Some claim that the U.S. can go after terrorists in Afghanistan just as it does in places such as Somalia, Syria, and Yemen. But Afghanistan is different. Unlike those three countries, it is landlocked. There aren’t nearby waterways to operate in. And the U.S. still hasn’t secured basing rights in any neighboring countries. Some of Afghanistan’s neighbors, such as Iran, are hostile to any American presence.