Take Bagram now, before Beijing does

Much has been written about the need to retake Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, to serve as a base for rescue operations to evacuate any Americans remaining in Afghanistan, and to facilitate strikes against ISIS-K or other extremists as the need arises.  The base could also resume its role as a hub for intelligence operations, including its function as a listening post near Iran, China, Russia, and Pakistan. 

Veterans' Day at Bagram 2008.
Public domain photo by Air Force staff sergeant Samuel Morse.

There have also been many warnings about China's diplomatic and economic inroads in the region, especially their potential exploitation of the trillions of dollars worth of rare earth minerals in Afghanistan.  While the possibility of linking Afghanistan to the "Belt and Road" initiative has also been examined, little has been mentioned of the direct military benefit to Beijing of our withdrawal from Afghanistan.  

Little discussion is evident, at least in open sources, regarding the possibility of China's leveraging its influence with the new Taliban government and occupying the Bagram base for its own purposes.  Chinese control of Bagram would give the Chinese a large facility, ready for use, within striking distance of targets in the Persian Gulf region, including the Strait of Hormuz, U.S. military forces, and the armed forces and territory of our remaining regional allies.  To forestall this, the United States should retake Bagram by air assault, fly in reinforcements as soon as a runway is secured, and re-establish Bagram as a hub for U.S. rescue efforts and for such additional purposes as we deem necessary.  

The Taliban are stretched thin, at least for now.  They are attempting to exert control over thousands of towns and villages at the same time, including setting up their own administrative structure.  They have come out of their mountain hideouts, and they are trying to put down local resistance where it exists.  They are in no position to mount a significant counterattack on Bagram once we are re-established there.

The Chinese are unlikely to act before the U.S. is finished with operations inside Afghanistan.  We have a narrow window between the departure of the last U.S. forces from Afghanistan and the time when the Taliban are able to mount a significant defense of Bagram.  We must act as soon as our forces are extricated from Kabul, and we should stay as long as we believe it necessary.

I urge readers to contact senators and representatives and demand that we salvage something from the debacle of Afghanistan by seizing and holding Bagram before Beijing does.

Rex Crigger is a retired officer of the Central Intelligence Agency and of the U.S. Army Reserve.

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