- Aug 23, 2020
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There’s a good chance that most of the Afghan military’s planes and helicopters will be unable to fly shortly after all US troops leave the country, and the Pentagon does not yet have a plan for how to keep the Afghan Air Force in the fight against the Taliban.
Even though the Defense Department has spent more than $8.5 billion since 2010 to develop an independent Afghan Air Force, the Afghans rely heavily on civilian contractors to perform most of their aircraft maintenance, according to a recent report from the Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction.
“Contractors provide 100% of the maintenance of Afghan Air Force Black Hawks and C-130s and a significant share of maintenance of its light combat support aircraft,” said John F. Sopko, the consistently blunt Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction. “DOD’s Train, Advise, and Assist Command – Air (TAAC-Air) reports that no Afghan airframe can be sustained as combat effective for more than a few months without contractor support. So this is a critical need.”
But Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told reporters in May that American contractors are leaving Afghanistan by September along with U.S. troops.
With the U.S. withdrawal roughly three months away, defense officials are still coming up with a plan for how contractors could continue to support the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said on Tuesday.
“All of those decisions have not been completed, but rest assured: We’re working hard on that, and when we have more discrete solutions to present, we’ll do that,” Kirby said during a Pentagon news conference.
Airpower is the one major advantage that the Afghan security forces have over the Taliban, Bradley Bowman of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies think tank told NBC News.
“If we don’t help them maintain those aircraft, then the Afghan security forces will be deprived of that advantage, and that could have a decisive impact on the battlefield and ultimately on the state of the Afghan government,” Bowman told NBC.
Jack McCain, a former advisor to the Afghan Air Force and son of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), said that the Taliban knows how important airpower is to the Afghan security forces so they assassinate Afghan pilots and try to shoot down Afghan helicopters, especially the Black Hawks provided by the U.S. government.