The Taliban on April 12 announced the start of its annual spring offensive, which they are calling Operation Omari in honor of their former reclusive leader, Mullah Omar. It may be a decisive fighting season for Afghan or Taliban forces.
But the government forces won’t be getting all the help they need from U.S. and coalition air power. There are too many conditions on when and how coalition air forces can go after the militants who are trying to retake Afghanistan. That should change.
Last year, there were record numbers of casualties among Afghan security forces and headline grabbing gains by Taliban forces, including the temporary fall in September of Kunduz, a major population center in northern Afghanistan. There is much blame to go around for the poor performance of Afghan forces, to include disunity within the National Unity Government led by President Ashraf Ghani and his chief executive officer, Abdullah Abdullah.
After Afghan forces took the lead from NATO and U.S. forces in combat operations in late 2014, NATO took on a a train, advise and assist mission under Operation Resolute Support. . But the switch has resulted in a huge reduction of coalition air support.
Afghan forces have struggled to fill this void. The country’s air force is a hodgepodge of Russian Mi-17 transport helicopters and Mi-25/Mi-35 gunships. New to the Afghan air force this year is a fixed wing propeller plane, the A-29 Super Tucano, which will help fill the close-air support gaps.
Even with new air platforms, the Afghan air force is not expected to be at full strength until 2020, according to Army Gen. John Campbell, the former Resolute Support commander. With well-known capability gaps for Afghan forces heading into the 2015 fighting season, why didn’t U.S. and NATO forces aid their partner nation force with more air power as a reinvigorated Taliban swept through much of Helmand valley and northern Afghanistan? Read More