The Journal reported Wednesday that the Pentagon plans to dispatch the USS Ronald Reagan, the only aircraft carrier operating in the Asia-Pacific theater, to the Middle East to cover the U.S. and NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan. This may seem like no big deal, but it highlights the U.S. Navy’s dearth of ships to meet its military missions.
The redeployment means the U.S. for several months will be without a carrier in the Western Pacific. The Reagan will sail to replace the aging USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, which has to return home soon after two long deployments in 36 months. The U.S. has to cover the retreat from Afghanistan, but the deployment dilemma won’t end once U.S. troops leave.
President Biden has promised the U.S. can fulfill an antiterror mission in Afghanistan from over the horizon, but it isn’t clear how that will be done. Doing it with a carrier in the region would be a misuse of naval resources. It would have made more sense to remain in Afghanistan with a residual military force.
The missing carrier in East Asia should send a message that the U.S. is going to need more naval assets and a better strategy, or it’s going to have to shrink its commitments around the world. The problem is more urgent than Americans recognize.