Top U.S. military leaders have sought clarification from Moscow about an offer to use Russian military bases in Central Asia as a launching pad for counterterrorism missions in Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Tuesday.
Mr. Austin told the Senate Armed Services Committee that Gen. Mark. A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recently asked his Russian counterpart, Gen. Valery Gerasimov, about the matter. The offer for the U.S. to potentially use Russian facilities in neighboring Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, first reported by the Wall Street Journal, was made during a phone call between Russian President Vladimir Putin and President Biden.
Mr. Austin stressed that the U.S. isn’t seeking Russian’s approval for counterterrorism missions in Afghanistan, but he acknowledged the two nations now have a dialogue about sharing resources in the region.
“I can assure you we are not seeking Russia’s permission to do anything, but I believe … [Gen. Milley] asked for clarification what that offer was.”
Republicans said such cooperation with Moscow is evidence of the difficult position the U.S. now finds itself in thanks to the Biden administration’s total military withdrawal from Afghanistan.
“They’ve really left us in a terrible position that we have to ask the Russians to be able to protect the United States from terrorists, and we have to ask them to use their installations,” said Sen. Deb Fischer, Nebraska Republican.
The U.S. has insisted that even after the Afghanistan withdrawal, American drones can strike terrorist targets from “over the horizon,” though military leaders have acknowledged such missions are much more logistically challenging. Permanent American bases near Afghanistan would make the task far easier, but the U.S. so far has not secured an agreement with a nearby nation to house American personnel, planes or vehicles.
While there is no clear solution, powerful Republican lawmakers say working with Russia isn’t the answer.
“Inviting Russia into discussions will not further vital U.S. counterterrorism goals, nor is it the path to the ‘stable and predictable’ relationship with Russia the Biden administration claims it wants,” the top Republicans on the Senate Foreign Relations and Armed Services committees, and the House Foreign Affairs and Armed Services panels, wrote in a letter late Monday to Mr. Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken.