Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK), chairman and ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, expressed concerns regarding the redeployment of the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier to help with the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, saying it demonstrates the United States military is being asked “to do too much with too little,” and sends a terrible message to China.
“Force protection must always remain our highest priority, and I have complete confidence in the crew of the USS Ronald Reagan. However, 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,” Inhofe wrote in a statement provided to American Military News. “There are no other carriers available, and the Ford remains far behind schedule. The Secretary of Defense should not have to choose between providing force protection and keeping an aircraft carrier in the priority theater.”
According to the Wall Street Journal, the USS Ronald Reagan is the only aircraft carrier currently in the Asia-Pacific region, but officials said the ship will leave its post in Yokosuka, Japan, and travel to Afghanistan in early summer, where it will operate for at least four months.
Defense officials added that the Asia-Pacific region will not have a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier for a period of time while the USS Ronald Reagan is in the Middle East.
Inhofe noted that President Joe Biden’s administration is expected to present its budget proposal for fiscal year 2022, likely including cuts to military funding. “This sends a terrible signal to Beijing, who will also take note of this aircraft carrier leaving the Western Pacific,” the senator added.
The chairman went on to criticize the “unconditional withdrawal” of troops from Afghanistan as a whole, calling it “fundamentally flawed.”
“While no one wants to keep American troops in Afghanistan forever, leaving without a plan will certainly require continued deployment of warships and aircraft as the military attempts to conduct a similar counter-terror mission from afar,” he wrote. “Every day, it becomes clearer that the American military requires much more funding to carry out U.S. strategy.”
On May 25, the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) provided an update on the U.S. troop withdrawal efforts ordered by President Joe Biden that began on May 1 and are expected to conclude on Sept. 11, the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The command said the withdrawal is between 16% and 25% complete.
Earlier this month, retired U.S. Army Gen. David Petraeus said he was concerned that Biden’s decision to withdraw all U.S. troops from Afghanistan by Sept. 11 would allow the Taliban to take control of the country.
“How long can the Afghan security forces hang tough?” Petraeus said. “They have been doing really a very admirable job over a number of years taking very tough casualties. You cannot say that the Afghans are not fighting and dying for their country. They very much are.”