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Afghans air force will rely on US maintenance for years: Experts

Afghans air force will rely on US maintenance for years: Experts

Jan 11, 2019 - 09:34

KABULinfo-icon (Pajhwok): Eleven years after the United States began building an air force for Afghanistaninfo-icon at a cost now nearing $8 billion, it remained a frustrating work in progress, with no end in sight, a report in the New York Times said on Friday.

Some aviation experts say the Afghans will rely on American maintenance and other support for years.

Such dependence could complicate President Trump’s moves to extricate the US from the 17-year-old war against Talibaninfo-icon insurgents — a war in which they lately appear to be gaining ground.

“It would be a home run if we got to 60 to 65 percent” self-sufficiency for the Afghan Air Force, said retired Air Force Brig. Gen. John E. Michel, who commanded the air training mission in 2013 and 2014. “You have to have a realistic view of how hard this is.”

For years beginning with the Obama administration, part of the American exit strategy has been to build and train the Afghan military — including the air force — to fight the insurgents on its own.

That strategy appeared to be undermined in December when Mr. Trump was said to have ordered preparations for half the 14,000 American troops in Afghanistan to come home.

At the same time, American military officials have been warning that the Afghans remain dangerously unprepared.

“If we left precipitously right now, I do not believe they would be able to successfully defend their country,” Marine Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie Jr., nominated to lead the United States Central Command, told Congress last month.

Today, American-led coalition aircraft carry out roughly five times as many airstrike missions as the Afghan Air Force — more than 6,500 last year alone. When insurgents overrun outposts or districts, it typically takes American warplanes and American-trained commando units to drive them back.

Airstrikes from Afghan aircraft have killed civilians at a disproportionately higher rate than American ones.

“The Afghan Air Force, while it is improving, has not in any sense offset the need for more and more U.S. air presence, and that’s a little discouraging,” said Anthony H. Cordesman, a security analyst with the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

“There is no plan to create an Afghan Air Force as yet that could replace the role of the U.S. air component,” he said.

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