Pentagon officials confirmed Thursday that F/A-18 Super Hornet jets based off the aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan have been flying overwatch missions during the harried and continuing evacuation of Americans and Afghan allies in Kabul, but they called reports that the jets had been flying show-of-force low passes “erroneous.”
Ronald Reagan deployed to the Arabian Sea earlier this summer to provide such capabilities as U.S. forces continued their withdrawal from Afghanistan.
But the past week has seen such overwatch missions take on renewed import with the Taliban’s seizure of the capital and a frenzied flood of Afghans seeking escape via Hamid Karzai International Airport, where more than 5,200 U.S. troops have arrived in recent days.
Ronald Reagan’s Super Hornets “flew armed overwatch flights over Kabul to ensure enhanced security” over the past 24 hours, Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Hank Taylor, deputy director of Joint Staff Regional Operations, told reporters Thursday morning.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby disputed news in recent days that U.S. jets are conducting low-pass flights over Kabul after civilians on the ground reported seeing the jets flying low over the city.
“They are at altitude,” he said Thursday. “They are overwatch.”
Asked if the jets are authorized to use force, Kirby said that “we have the right to defend ourselves, our people and our operations.”
Such air support is there just in case it is needed and has been a constant presence during this year’s withdrawal, Taylor said.
“As prudent military operations, we ensure there are always assets available, so that the commander, if required, can ensure the time and space of reaction is as little as possible,” he said.
Taylor added that he and Kirby were discussing the issue Thursday due to “some reporting out there that we were … flying low passes over the city, or some kind of show of force. That’s not what this is.”
The Japan-based Reagan and its carrier strike group tend to deploy solely in the West Pacific waters of U.S. 7th Fleet but steamed into the Middle East in June to relieve the Virginia-based carrier Dwight D. Eisenhower, which had been on station for much of the year.
Reagan had not headed into U.S. 5th Fleet territory since 2012.