WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has ordered long-range bombers and the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower aircraft carrier to help provide security for U.S. troops as they withdraw from Afghanistan, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said Friday.
Austin has extended the mission of the Eisenhower, which is already in the Middle East, Kirby told reporters, and two B-52 bombers have already arrived in the region.
NBC News reported Thursday that two senior Defense officials said U.S. commanders had asked for the deployment of a carrier to help protect troops as they withdraw.
With fighter squadrons at the ready, a aircraft carrier in the region would provide additional cover in case U.S. and other NATO forces come under fire as they depart by a Sept. 11 deadline set by President Joe Biden. The request underscores concerns at the Pentagon that the Taliban may launch attacks on the troops as they pull out.
The Taliban has hinted at the possibility that it could target U.S.-led forces after May 1 as the U.S. had pledged to pull out all forces by the deadline under an agreement signed last year with the insurgents.
The New York Times first reported the request for a carrier.
In announcing Austin’s decision, Kirby said, “The secretary has been clear we have to assume — and it would be foolhardy and imprudent not to assume — that there could be resistance and opposition to the drawdown by the Taliban given their staunch rhetoric.”
“We’re going to make this a safe, orderly, deliberate and responsible withdrawal. … I’m not going to get ahead of future possible deployments. But I think it’s reasonable to assume as I said before that there could be temporary force protection measures and enablers that we would require to make sure again that this drawdown goes smoothly and safely for our men and women.”