Separately, Secretary of State Antony Blinken (left Sunday) and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin (left Sunday). They will meet with key U.S. leaders to stop a resurgence in extremist threats to Afghanistan. Some of these leaders were also partners in the fight against the Taliban for 20 years.
The Austin and Blinken trips together are intended to reassure Gulf allies about President Joe Biden’s decision to end U.S. military operations in Afghanistan to concentrate on other security issues like China and Russia. This does not mean that the U.S. will abandon its partners in the Middle East. For decades, the U.S. military has been present in the Gulf. This includes the headquarters of the Navy's 5th Fleet in Bahrain. Biden has not proposed ending this presence, but he has -- just like the Trump administration -- called China the No. Along with the strategic challenges from Russia, security is Biden's number one priority.
Biden stated that "there's nothing China or Russia would prefer to have, would like more, in this competitive than for the United States of America to be bogged down another ten years in Afghanistan," just hours after the last U.S. troops had left.
Austin announced his Gulf trip to a Pentagon news conference, saying that he will continue to fight terrorist threats by focusing on American citizens from all places. The United States is also putting a renewed emphasis on China's strategic challenges.
Blinken will travel to Qatar, and also make a stop in Germany to visit Afghan evacuees stationed at Ramstein Air Base. They are still waiting clearance to travel to America. He will be joining a virtual meeting of Afghan counterparts from 20 countries while he is there.
Ned Price, a spokesperson for the United States, stated Friday that the secretary would convey gratitude to Germany for its cooperation in transit operations and being an invaluable partner in Afghanistan over the past 20 years.
Austin will begin his trip by thanking Qatari leaders for their cooperation in the Kabul airlift, which cleared a pipeline full of desperate evacuees. Qatar allowed the U.S. to use al-Udeid's air base to process evacuees. In return, Qatar also agreed to host the American diplomatic team that withdrew in Kabul after the war ended. In cooperation with the Taliban, the Qataris have also offered their assistance in reopening Kabul's airport.
Austin will be making a stop in Bahrain to meet with Marines who spent several weeks at Kabul airport performing a dangerous and frantic evacuation of Americans, Afghans and other people. On Aug. 26, a suicide bomber attacked the airport, causing the deaths of eleven Marines and injuring fifteen others. The attack resulted in the deaths of 13 U.S. military personnel and scores of Afghan civilians.
The Pentagon chief planned to also visit Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, and to meet with senior officials in the region, which he is familiar with as a former Army general and head of U.S. Central Command responsible for all military operations.
Saudi Arabia was not included in the list of Gulf states that helped to facilitate the U.S.-led evacuation at Kabul airport. Washington's attempts to revive a nuclear agreement with Iran has caused tensions between Riyadh and Washington. The Saudis and Russia signed a military cooperation deal just days before the U.S. left Afghanistan.
Biden stated that his decision to leave Afghanistan after 20 years was part a plan to "turn page" on a foreign policy approach since 2001 that, he said, left the U.S. military there for too long. Allies in the Gulf where extremist threats are on the doorstep want to see the next U.S. policy pages.
Allies in Europe are also evaluating what Afghanistan's loss and immediate aftermath means for their collective interests. This includes the decades-old question of Europe's dependence on the United States.
Josep Borrell Fontelles (high representative of the European Union in foreign affairs and security policies) wrote on Twitter that "we need to increase our ability to act autonomously whenever and where necessary."
When Biden announced that he would withdraw the United States by September in April, America's European allies in NATO had greater troops in Afghanistan than the United States. Given their limited combat power, the Europeans were forced to leave. They also relied heavily on U.S. aircraft transport to escape. However, they did fly some of those evacuation sorties.
While some NATO allies doubted Biden's wisdom in withdrawing, it is uncertain that the Afghanistan crisis would weaken the ties between the United States of America and Europe. Two Center for Strategic and International Security Europe experts, Pierre Morcos and Rachel Ellehuus, wrote in an essay that the crisis revealed "inconvenient facts" about the transatlantic relationship.