The Afghan air force, a key factor in the government’s ability to keep Taliban insurgents at bay, won’t be able to fly effective combat missions within months if the few remaining allied advisers leave, a new report said.
Almost 94% of NATO’s Train Advise Assist Command-Air personnel, tasked with helping build Afghanistan’s air force, have already left the country over the last nine months, a report to Congress by the Lead Inspector General for Operation Freedom’s Sentinel said.
The sharp drawdown of foreign military advisers, mainly from the U.S., has virtually paralyzed the mission to train crews and maintain the service’s aircraft, it said.
As per the Stars & Stripes report, if U.S. forces leave Afghanistan by the May 1 deadline outlined in last year’s deal with the Taliban, the Afghan air force will have to maintain its aircraft and facilities on its own.
But the service is still “completely dependent” on expensive U.S. contractors, who are also supposed to depart as part of the deal.
Without this support, “no airframe can be sustained as combat effective for more than a few months,” the report said.
The strains of reduced manpower have left the command’s mission “largely static,” with less advising and oversight, the report reads. “Lost training time, lack of U.S. military evaluators to assess proficiency, and reduced advisor oversight have (led to a) decline in basic skills for aircrews and maintainers,” it said.
TAAC-Air said it is trying to figure out how it will train personnel and maintain equipment during the drawdown. Dwindling staffing and the coronavirus pandemic prevented most face-to-face meetings between U.S. advisers and Afghan airmen, the command said in the report.
The reduced U.S. military footprint has meant almost total reliance on contractors to train airmen, with fewer personnel to check on them.
“It has been difficult to hold contractors accountable,” the command said.
Afghan ground forces depend heavily on strike aircraft and helicopters to respond quickly to guerrilla attacks on isolated outposts, and to ferry troops and supplies. They are also crucial for the evacuation of casualties in a country with a poor road infrastructure.