KABUL, Afghanistan (February 7, 2018) – A strong Afghan Air Force just got a whole lot stronger, according to U.S. Air Force Major General James Hecker, director, NATO Air Command-Afghanistan.
This increase in military strength, detailed by Hecker in a Pentagon press conference today, has routinely set the stage for a series of enemy failures, including zero strategic wins for the Taliban this winter.
"The Taliban cannot win on the battlefield,” Hecker said. "They initially tried to take provinces and weren’t able to do that. Then they tried taking districts and couldn’t do that either.”
"War is a test of wills, and the Afghan military has resolve and is becoming more capable every day.”
The Afghan Air Force has proven its lethality and effectiveness during sustained engagements with enemies such as the Taliban, IS-K (Islamic State in Afghanistan) and ETIM (East Turkistan Islamic Movement) in the past few months.
In 2017, the Afghan Air Force conducted 2,000 airstrikes, an average of 40 strikes per week.
"To put this in context, the AAF airstrike sorties are now almost double what the U.S. Air Force conducts in Afghanistan,” Hecker said.
These battlefield successes are expected to continue as the force adds new pilots and aircraft to its arsenal.
While A-29 airplanes and MD-530 attack helicopters already provide quick, lethal support to Afghan ground forces, the AAF expects to unleash UH-60 Black Hawks on the battlefield by May 2018.
Afghanistan has received eight Black Hawks to date, but the fleet will eventually include 159 helicopters.
Black Hawks are smaller and more maneuverable than the Mi-17 helicopters currently in use, and the platform is more sustainable when it comes to repair and maintenance. They’re also more versatile, capable of providing ground support as well as carrying troops and cargo.
Afghan Black Hawks are specifically designed with less complexity than their U.S. counterparts, which will reduce training time and add to the already decisive battlefield advantage for the Afghan military.
The air force has also added "air-drop” capabilities to their fleet of C-208 airplanes.
"These planes can travel 300 feet over a target at 100 knots and air drop munitions, or supplies, out of the door and hit their target within 70 meters,” Hecker said. "This enables them to do air drops rather than landing an Mi-17, which obviously reduces risk in some regions.”
In the future, Afghans will also receive 32 AC-208s, the attack version of the C-208.
"This aircraft will carry pods with laser-guided rockets and a gun,” Hecker said. "It can also capture full-motion video and assist other aircraft to achieve precision targeting, making it an ISR (intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance) asset, which is key to enabling the A-29.”
The A-29 "Super Tucano” already has the capability to drop "dumb” bombs – munitions that lack a guidance system. Even without a guidance system, Hecker says Afghan pilots "are very accurate and routinely drop these munitions within 10 meters of their target.”
The first laser-guided munitions were dropped during a training exercise this December and are expected to be used operationally in the near future.
In addition to the growth of the Afghan Air Force, the U.S. Air Force has recently added an A-10 "Warthog” squadron to their lineup. The A-10, often described as "a gun with an aircraft built around it,” will continue to provide close air support to Afghan soldiers on the ground.
INCREASED PRESSURE ACROSS THE COUNTRY
With Afghan and U.S. airstrikes continuing to degrade and decimate Taliban revenue streams in the south, the U.S. air campaign also has its eyes to the north, where U.S. B-52 strikes in Badakhshan province destroyed Taliban training camps and defensive fighting positions.
These training camps supported terrorist operations inside Afghanistan as well as operations conducted in the border region with China and Tajikistan by such organizations as the Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement.
"The B-52s demonstrated their capability for reach and lethality by setting a record employment of 24 precision guided munitions,” Hecker said.
The record-breaking numbers of munitions dropped were due to an upgrade the B-52s received at Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar.
This overwhelming pressure from the air campaign is just one of the elements to a campaign that "will force the Taliban to the reconciliation table,” Hecker said.