The U.S. is nearing a formalized agreement with Pakistan to use its airspace to conduct operations in Afghanistan, according to a CNN report Saturday.
Though the U.S. military already uses Pakistan's airspace for intelligence-gathering operations, a formalized agreement would be significant in guaranteeing that this access would continue. A classified briefing with members of Congress took place on Friday morning, at which the Biden administration told lawmakers the U.S. was nearing the agreement, CNN reported, citing three sources familiar.
The Biden administration is facing the reality of carrying out counterterrorism operations in Afghanistan after the U.S. withdrew from the country recently following a 20-year military presence.
In August, after a deadly attack on U.S. service members by ISIS militants outside the Kabul airport, President Joe Biden struck a hardline tone, saying the U.S. would respond with "force and precision" to the terrorists.
"To those who carried out this attack, as well as anyone who wishes America harm, know this: We will not forgive. We will not forget. We will hunt you down and make you pay," Biden said at the time. "I will defend our interests and our people with every measure at my command."
Following the fall of Kabul, counterterrorism experts have expressed concerns about the presence of terrorist groups like ISIS-K in Afghanistan. In a September hearing, Gen. Mark Milley, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said it could take al Qaeda six to 36 months to reconstitute in Afghanistan.
Pakistan "expressed a desire" to sign a Memorandum of Understanding in exchange for help with its counterterrorism efforts with India, though negotiations are ongoing, CNN reported on Saturday.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Pakistan released a statement on Saturday in response to inquiries about the report "alluding to formalization of an agreement for the use of Pakistan's airspace by the United States to conduct military and intelligence operations in Afghanistan," asserting that "no such understanding was in place."
"Pakistan and the U.S. have longstanding cooperation on regional security and counter-terrorism and the two sides remain engaged in regular consultations," the Ministry added.
The State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Saturday.