The predictable collapse of the Afghan Air Force is happening in real time

About one-third of the Afghan Air Force’s 160 aircraft can no longer fly because they lack spare parts since the United States withdrew its contractors from the country, Afghan lawmaker Haji Ajmal Rahmani reportedly said during a recent webinar sponsored by the State Department Correspondents Association.

“It’s not low — it’s actually out of stock,” the Washington Examiner quoted Rahmani as saying at the July 23 event.

None of this is surprising.

The predictable collapse of the Afghan Air Force is happening in real time
An Afghan Air Force UH-60A Black Hawk assigned to the 2nd Wing Afghan Air Force, conducts dust off landing practice on Dec. 10, 2018, as a part of Train, Advise and Assist Command-Air’s (TAAC-Air) mission at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan. The mission of TAAC-Air is to train, advise and assist Afghan partners to develop a professional, capable and sustainable Afghan Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Maygan Straight)

The U.S. Air Force also wasted more than $500 million on 20 Italian-made transport aircraft for the Afghans, which became unusable due to problems getting spare parts and related issues. The planes were eventually scrapped and the metal was sold for about $40,000.

Since then, the Afghan Air Force has become an effective fighting force. It currently has 162 aircraft, of which as many as 143 were mission-capable as of March 31, according to a Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction report from April.

The U.S. government has also vowed to provide the Afghans with 37 UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters to supplement the 42 Black Hawks they already have.

The predictable collapse of the Afghan Air Force is happening in real time
An Afghan A-29 pilot prepared for flight in the cockpit of his aircraft Sept. 10, 2017, at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Alexander W. Riedel)

But the U.S. military has been forced to completely retrain Afghan aircrews on how to use Black Hawk helicopters, and that has delayed the Afghan Air Force’s ability to sustain itself, John F. Sopko, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, previously told Task & Purpose.

In fact, the U.S. military’s Train, Advise, and Assist Command – Air estimated that without contractor support the Afghan Air Force would be unable to keep their aircraft combat effective beyond a few months, Sopko said.

The Taliban has also launched a concerted effort to assassinate Afghan pilots, potentially depriving the Kabul government of the one military advantage it has.

The predictable collapse of the Afghan Air Force is happening in real time
An Afghan Air Force member inspects a UH-60 Black Hawk as air crews prepare for their first Afghan-led operational mission on this aircraft May 8, 2018, Kandahar (U.S. Air Force photo/1st Lt. Erin Recanzone.)

“We often had occasions where those pilots would remain in a landing zone, under fire, so wounded could be loaded,” McCain previously told Task & Purpose. “They are asked to fly to the toughest places in Afghanistan, on a regular basis, and do so day in and day out. I’ve never seen the like.”

But with the Afghan Air Force running low on ordnance and desperate for maintenance, someone has to pick up the slack. For right now, that someone is the U.S. military.

The U.S. military is also prepared to have Afghan aircraft taken to a third country where they can be refurbished and repaired and then returned to the Afghan Air Force, McKenzie told reporters at a news conference in Kabul.

So far, U.S. government officials have not said publicly where that “over the horizon” maintenance of Afghan aircraft might take place. In the meantime, the remaining American contractors are using Zoom to teach Afghan maintainers how to repair their aircraft in anticipation of the final withdrawal of contractor support, J.P. Lawrence of Stars and Stripes recently reported.

Jeff Schogol is the senior Pentagon reporter for Task & Purpose. He has covered the military for 15 years. 
The predictable collapse of the Afghan Air Force is happening in real time