Contractors continued to advise Afghan troops via video, but former officials said it was no substitute for working with them. Kabul`s small but active air force, consisting of 162 planes and helicopters, is given the monumental task of supporting tens of thousands of Afghan soldiers on the ground with airstrikes, treating distant outposts, and evacuating the wounded on the ground without U.S. help or repair expertise. Nevertheless, billions of dollars of U.S. funds and dozens of replacement helicopters will continue to flow into the country. www.wsj.com/articles/afghan-air-force-struggles-to-stay-aloft-as-u-s-leaves-and-taliban-advances-11628155801 “We built the Afghan army in our image to be an army that operates with air support and intelligence [and] whose backbone is entrepreneurs,” David Sedney, former deputy assistant secretary of defense for Afghanistan, said in a recent interview with Foreign Policy. Dealing with contractors is just one of the many pressing problems created by the rapid withdrawal of U.S. troops. The CIA is struggling to ensure that it can gather information about potential threats from Afghanistan once the U.S. military presence is over.
But Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told reporters in May that U.S. contractors would leave Afghanistan by September with U.S. troops. Over the past decade, the United States has built an Afghan air force modeled on its own forces and preferences, spending $8 billion on the use of fighter jets such as the A-29 Super Tucano and the AC-208 Combat Caravan, both of which are propeller-driven aircraft capable of firing laser-guided munitions at ground targets. The United States has also sent new Black Hawk helicopters. The air force is the only major advantage of afghan security forces over the Taliban, Bradley Bowman of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies think tank told NBC News. The Black Hawk was damaged in June in the fight against the Taliban in Kandahar, its fuel bubble ignited with holes. Afghan aircraft mechanics, known as maintenance technicians, have repaired the leaks well enough to bring them back to Kabul, where they have been in need of more serious repair for weeks. Soon, American contractors will replace the fuel cell and the helicopter will restart. But ten years ago, it was clear that the fault lay not with the entrepreneurs, but with the U.S. government. I was a member of the Iraq and Afghanistan War Treaties Committee, mandated by Congress in 2008.
Initially, many of my fellow Commissioners were inclined to believe that any waste or fraud we were likely to find was due to misconduct on the part of contractors. When we looked at the situation on the ground in both countries for almost two years, we found that the government was primarily responsible for waste – which we estimated to be between $31 billion and $60 billion. And that was ten years ago! Poorly designed treaties, automatic renewals, and poor oversight were among the causes of the massive waste that consumed U.S. efforts to stabilize both countries and structure their armed forces. In addition to maintaining more than 170 aircraft, U.S.-funded contractors also maintain thousands of armored vehicles and crew carriers for the Afghan army and police. If the Afghan government secures contractors on its own, perhaps with the financial support of the West, the U.S. military would not be on the ground to provide security. Entrepreneurs would also not benefit from U.S. legal protection and would be subject to Afghan law, meaning companies would likely charge much higher fees, experts said. These planes and helicopters are Kabul`s best hope for pushing back the Taliban as government forces continue to lose territory in the countryside. Even if the contracts are transferred, several senior U.S. commanders and policymakers say it`s unclear how many foreign entrepreneurs will choose to continue working in Afghanistan when the U.S.
security umbrella is gone, or whether those companies will bear the risk. When the Obama administration withdrew U.S. troops from Iraq in 2011, defense contractors remained in the country. With the departure of subcontractors, U.S. defense planners are now pinning their hopes on remote work technology, adding local maintainers through phone calls or video chats. Hard-to-repair aircraft are now being shipped to facilities outside Afghanistan. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and other senior officials have long recognized the “crucial role” of the Afghan Air Force and other military aircraft, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said, adding that the Defense Department will continue to provide the resources it needs. “If the air force stays on the ground, in whole or in large part, it would be a turning point for the military balance between the ANDSF and the Taliban,” Schroden said.
“Because air dominance is one of the few – though the only – facet in which the ANDSF completely overwhelms the Taliban`s fighting forces.” Pentagon officials say one possible solution would be to transfer contracts with private companies now paid for by the United States to the Afghan government. Under such an agreement, U.S. and foreign entrepreneurs would remain in Afghanistan, but they would be paid by Afghan officials in overseas aid, mostly from the United States. “If the air force disappears, or at least is significantly degraded, it is a turning point in terms of the military balance between the two sides,” he said. It`s unclear how this will work in practice, but taking more than 16,000 contractors to hundreds could have a bigger impact on the security posture than sending the last 2,500 Americans home.