- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 27, 2021

The sole U.S. Navy aircraft carrier in the Indo-Pacific region is being sent to the Middle East to help provide security for the ongoing withdrawal of American troops and equipment from Afghanistan.

The USS Ronald Reagan is expected to remain in the U.S. Central Command region for up to four months. President Biden has ordered all American troops out of Afghanistan by Sept. 11, and the pullout may be completed even more quickly than that. The Reagan will take the place of its sister aircraft carrier, the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower.

With the Reagan temporarily detached to Central Command, the waters of East Asia will be without a Navy aircraft carrier in the region for the first time in years. Mr. Biden and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin have characterized China as the “pacing threat” for the U.S., but have found it difficult to unwind from U.S. military commitments in the volatile Middle East.

Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe, the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, blasted the Biden administration for the decision to pull the carrier from the Pacific area and its home port of Yokosuka, Japan, at a time of stepped-up aggression by China.

“This sends a terrible signal to Beijing, who will also take note of this aircraft carrier leaving the Western Pacific,” Mr. Inhofe said. “The reported redeployment of the Reagan from Indo-Pacific Command to Central Command underscores that we are asking the military to do too much with too little.”



At a House Appropriations defense subcommittee hearing Thursday, lawmakers pressed Mr. Austin about whether China has a greater military capacity in the Pacific than the U.S.

“My assessment is that they don’t,” Mr. Austin said. “We’re investing in the right mix of capabilities that I think will continue to give us the advantage over China.”

After Mr. Biden announced his plans last month to order the last U.S. troops out of Afghanistan, officials at the Pentagon said they would keep an aircraft carrier strike group in the area for security during the withdrawal. Pentagon officials say they will keep an “over-the-horizon” watch on Afghanistan to make sure it does not re-emerge as a breeding ground for terror groups like al Qaeda.

A military analyst with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) said he understood how critical it is to protect troops during the Afghan withdrawal.

“It can be a period of vulnerability for our troops. We need to do whatever is necessary to protect them,” said Bradley Bowman, director of the FDD’s Center on Military and Political Power.

One of the central arguments from those who advocate a complete U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan is that the resources are needed in the Pacific to counter an increasingly aggressive China, he said.

“And now we’re taking that flagship and moving it in a way we haven’t done in years — out of the Indo-Pacific,” Mr. Bowman said. “It really is a tangible manifestation of this competition for finite resources that all combatant commanders engage in.”

Mr. Inhofe acknowledged that officials at the Pentagon had few good options, and said the mission was an argument for the Biden White House to boost the defense budget.

“There are no other carriers available and the [USS Gerald R.] Ford remains far behind schedule,” he said. “The secretary of defense should not have to choose between providing force protection and keeping an aircraft carrier in the priority theater.”

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