Pentagon to consider authorizing airstrikes in Afghanistan if country falls into crisis: report

The Pentagon is weighing whether to authorize airstrikes in Afghanistan if its capital, Kabul, or other parts of the country fall to the Taliban, senior administration officials told The New York Times.

Officials told the newspaper that military officials are actively discussing how to respond to potential consequences following the withdrawal of U.S. troops, slated to be completed by September.

President Biden and his administration had said previously that air support would also end, except for strikes that target terrorist groups that could impact American interests, the Times noted.

The officials said that decisions to potentially allow airstrikes following troop withdrawal haven’t been made yet, but one option now would be to recommend U.S. warplanes or armed drones intervene in a major crisis, such as the fall of Kabul.

One official told the newspaper that intervening to help Kandahar, Afghanistan’s second-largest city, would be far less certain.

The U.S. is not likely to provide additional air support to Afghan forces in rural areas, many of which are under Taliban control. Military help is also not likely at government enclaves across the country, the newspaper reported.

Additional airstrikes would require Biden’s approval, the Times noted. 

The National Security Council declined to comment to the Times on the options being discussed.

The Hill has reached out to the White House and the Pentagon for comment.

The report comes as the U.S. military reaches the halfway point of withdrawing forces. 

Biden said in April that all U.S. troops would be withdrawn from Afghanistan by Sept. 11, the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks that sparked the conflict.

The president said at the time that the U.S. would continue to provide humanitarian assistance and support peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban.

Still, questions remained about how the U.S. would handle threats from the region. 

Concerns over a rise in violence have grown amid clashes between the Afghan military and the Taliban since Biden announced the withdrawal.

Biden is also under pressure to evacuate Afghans who helped U.S. forces during the conflict and are at risk of being hunted by the Taliban.

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