Countering terrorism in Afghanistan is now a Space Force mission.

About 90% of America's troops have left Afghanistan, with the rest out in the coming weeks. As the Kabul government totters and Taliban militants gain control over more of the country, there's a real possibility Afghanistan could once again become a convenient haven for international terrorism.

The only thing that can counter the rise of another Osama Bin Laden in the mountainous nation are Space Force troops whose satellites bring reconnaissance, communication, navigation and targeting capabilities that can be used to throttle terrorist threats before they reach American shores.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby recently addressed American efforts to keep U.S. troops in nations bordering Afghanistan to maintain an "over-the-horizon" quick strike capability to counter terrorism.

"But I do want to make sure it's very clear to the American people that we already have in place robust, capable over-the-horizon capability to continue to get at the terrorist threats that are affecting the homeland," he said.

That capability Kirby discussed includes planes and missiles that can reach Afghanistan and the constellation of military satellites overhead that keeps that counterterrorism capability connected and deadly.

In Colorado Springs, Space Force troops control navigation and communication satellites that would be needed for any raid into Afghanistan and would make bombs and missiles strike with deadly accuracy.

In Aurora, troops at Buckley Space Force Base have satellites designed to spot missiles that measure heat signatures. Leaders have a growing intelligence value in the formation that can be derived from those ever-staring infrared eyes.

At the National Space Defense Center in Colorado Springs, those troops are connected with their counterparts at intelligence agencies. American spy satellites can offer a detailed picture of situations on the ground below and gather electronic intelligence that signals terrorist plans.

Those combined capabilities should give would-be terrorists pause. And while they don't guarantee safety, the satellite capability makes America one of the safest places on the planet.

And those eyes won't just be watching Afghanistan for the kinds of threats that brought us the 9/11 attacks.

"I would also add, and we've talked about this before, but the terrorist threat — certainly the more significant terrorist threats to our interest and the interest of our friends and partners — has metastasized outside Afghanistan," Kirby said. "We aren't seeing the same level of terrorism threat emanating from Afghanistan that we once did."

Terrorism is nurtured in the cradle of failed states and there are plenty of them.

From Syria to the Horn of Africa to Yemen, internal strife has created spaces free of legitimate government where terror groups can find safe harbor and train recruits.

But memories of 9/11 remind Pentagon leaders of Afghanistan's symbolic value to terror networks. If we're not paying attention, the region could once again become what was dubbed "terrorism central."

"And we don't want to see it return, which is why the president talked today about being so focused on making sure that we're able to watch what's going on in Afghanistan from a persistent perspective," Kirby said.

Contact Tom Roeder: 636-0240

Twitter: @xroederx

City Editor

Tom Roeder is the Gazette's City Editor. In Colorado Springs since 2003, Tom has covered the military at home and overseas and has covered statehouses in Denver and Olympia, Wash. His main job, though, is being dad to two great kids.

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