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Why Afghanistan is critical to the struggle against China, Russia and Iran

MilitaryTimes: Why Afghanistan is critical to the struggle against China, Russia and Iran
By, Mike Waltz
May 3, 2021

Last month, President Biden shocked the world by announcing all U.S. forces will withdraw from Afghanistan by Sept. 11 this year.

As a veteran of the war in Afghanistan, I found this news heartbreaking knowing the American bloodshed that had been spilled in combating terrorism and for the millions who are likely to return to life under Taliban rule.

Set aside for a moment that most observers correctly point out an Afghanistan withdrawal will set the stage for similar events that unfolded following then-President Obama’s withdrawal from Iraq in 2011 that provided a path for the Islamic State Group to launch its reign of terror across the Middle East, Europe, and inspire attacks in America.

What gives me even more concern is the strategic foothold we are giving up in the back yard of America’s greatest rivals.

By abandoning Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan, we will no longer have a U.S. airfield in a country that borders China. Many analysts believe that should the United States and China come to blows in the Pacific, a second front will be critical given China’s ability to concentrate its naval and missile assets around Taiwan. Further, the thing the Chinese Communist Party fears the most is an uprising amongst its own people.

As China continues to unleash a genocide on the minority Muslim Uighur population in the western Xinjiang region, they fear American intelligence resources supporting their persecuted population from Afghanistan in resisting the oppression from Beijing.

Reagan-era CIA Director Bob Casey famously launched a whisper campaign that convinced the Soviet leadership in Moscow that American intelligence agencies had assets based in Afghanistan supporting dissidents and underground cells of separatists in the Caucuses. This campaign caused the Soviet military to divert divisions away from Eastern Europe to the Caucasus and Central Asia.

Unexplainably, in addition to giving up the only air base in the world located in a country that physically borders China and Russia’s southern border, the Biden administration will also give up a key strategic foothold along Iran’s eastern flank, and along the nuclear-equipped and unstable Pakistan.

Similar to the idea of having an option of a second front in case of hostilities for China, the U.S. air base at Bagram is also a platform that should be maintained in case of hostilities with Iran to maintain options outside of our carriers and Gulf bases, that in most wargames are flooded with Iranian missiles.

Finally, Pakistan’s stability is crucial in ensuring its nuclear weapons stockpile doesn’t fall into the wrong hands. With Pakistan’s population of 215 million compared with Afghanistan’s population of 30 million, the possibility of a failed state has exponentially more dire consequences. Should these terrorists network regain a strong presence in Afghanistan — which they likely will under an emboldened Taliban regime — they will refocus their efforts to achieve their long stated goal of obtaining a nuclear weapon.

In addition to the geo-political aspects of giving up our only base in the region, Afghanistan also sits on a trove of critical minerals — experts estimate up to $1 trillion worth of minerals are buried beneath its ground. Critical minerals such as lithium cobalt and copper will power the economies of the future and stand ready for American companies to extract and process. For the U.S. to take a leap in expanding its footprint in renewable energy, we have to end our reliance on China’s near monopoly on the supply chain.

Once we withdraw, we give up those resources and take a step backwards in America’s pursuit of renewable energy independence.

In his recent address to Congress, President Biden declared the U.S. will “maintain over the horizon the capacity to suppress future threats to the homeland.” But that won’t be so easy.

Bagram Airfield remains our sole strategic key terrain in the backyards of three of our four global competitors — China, Russia, and Iran — and we have no other options in the region.

The governments in Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan have shown little willingness to host American bases and the Gulf states are problematic as our aircraft have to fly over Iran or Pakistan.

We will be effectively blind in our abilities to fight back, should terrorists based in Afghanistan successfully launch another attack on our homeland.

Like the Obama administration, President Biden is dealing with the world as it wishes it to be rather than accepting the tough reality of what it is.

Michael Waltz represents Florida’s 6th District in the U.S. House of Representatives. He is a member of the Armed Services Committee, a Green Beret veteran of the war in Afghanistan, a former White House counterterrorism policy adviser, and a defense policy director for secretaries of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Robert Gates.

Editor’s note: This is an op-ed and as such, the opinions expressed are those of the author. If you would like to respond, or have an editorial of your own you would like to submit, please contact Military Times managing editor Howard Altman, haltman@militarytimes.com.

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