The Taliban is warning the United States against flying drones over their “sacred airspace,” to avoid “any negative consequences,” even as President Biden has said the US military now relies on “over the horizon” operations to counteract terrorism in Afghanistan.
On Wednesday, the Taliban’s Twitter account released a statement accusing the US of violating “all international rights, laws and the United States’ commitments to the Islamic Emirate in Doha, Qatar as Afghanistan’s sacred airspace is being invaded by US drones.”
“These violations must be rectified and prevented,” the militant organization said.
“We call on all countries, especially the United States, to treat Afghanistan in light of international rights, law and commitments and considering mutual respect and commitments, in order to prevent any negative consequences.”
The warning came the same day as top US military leaders, Gen. Frank McKenzie, Gen. Mark Milley and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin testified before Congress on the chaotic end of the war in Afghanistan.
On Wednesday, McKenzie was asked if the administration has secured agreements with neighboring countries to “provide the basic and overflight requirements needed to perform over the horizon counterterrorism operations” in Afghanistan.
Despite the Taliban’s warning, McKenzie assured the US has the ability to execute the missions.
“As of today, I have the ability to enter Afghanistan and to fly missions, it’s a long haul in, but I have the ability to do that today. But, we don’t have an agreement with a neighboring country,” he said, adding, “We’re not based in any neighboring country.”
Following the withdrawal of US troops and evacuation of American citizens and Afghan allies from the embattled nation, Biden announced the US military would operate “over the horizon” missions to fight against terrorism in Afghanistan. Those missions do require the use of drones.
During the hearing, Rep. Mike Waltz (R-Fla.) pointed to the issue of how these missions can fail without on-the-ground intelligence in neighboring countries or Afghanistan.
“Now we’re going to get to really the crux of the issue, which is over the horizon counterterrorism. Those drones have to fly all the way around Iran, all the way up Pakistan and lose 70 to 80 percent of their fuel before they even get anywhere near a target.
“And we just saw from the failed attack – the botched attack – that you have to have multi-intelligence confirming what that drone operator’s seeing,” he said, referring to the retaliatory drone attack on Aug. 29 that killed 10 civilians, many of whom were children, instead of ISIS-K members.
“I know that drone operator would appreciate [somebody] on the ground saying, ‘No, that’s a civilian, don’t pull that trigger,’” Waltz added.
On Friday, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby assured that the U.S. has “all necessary authorities to execute over the horizon counterterrorism operations.”
“Without speaking to specific rules of engagement surrounding airstrikes, there is currently no requirement to clear airspace with the Taliban,” he said. “And we do not expect that any future over-the-horizon counterterrorism strikes would hinge on such a clearance.”
It is unclear if the US has continued drone surveillance or airstrikes in Afghanistan in recent weeks.