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Afghan Air Force pilots have run out of laser-guided weaponry due to the sudden loss of support from the United States and NATO after President Joe Biden decided to exit Afghanistan, according to a senior Afghan lawmaker.
“They're completely out of stock for the laser munitions,” Afghan member of parliament Haji Ajmal Rahmani told the State Department Correspondents' Association in a virtual briefing from Kabul. “It's not low — it's actually out of stock.”
The logistical difficulty arose as Taliban forces surged across the country in the wake of departing NATO forces, an offensive Afghanistan’s modest air force has tried to blunt as the number of U.S. strikes has dwindled. Rahmani and his colleagues are appealing Congress for additional support, warning Biden’s “hasty withdrawal” emboldened the Taliban and undermined the embattled Afghan military’s ability to repel the militants.
“It was a hasty withdrawal,” Rahmani said, explaining Afghan forces were left with the munitions at a time when NATO forces were expected to continue carrying out most of the airstrikes in the country. "When they have made a request [for more munitions], the feedback was, it will take some more time because they have to make the orders and it will take time to produce and ship to Afghanistan, and they are talking up around one year, more or less, till it will reach Afghanistan.”
That shortage deprives the Afghan military of an arsenal that had a “crippling psychological effect” on the Taliban, according to the Pentagon.
“The bombs are built by Afghan ammunitions specialists and loaded onto Afghan planes by Afghan maintainers,” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Justin Williams in 2018. “This is one example of how the Afghan Air Force is assuming ownership across the board.”
Three years later, Afghan pilots are reduced to using less sophisticated bombs to stem a rising tide of Taliban forces.
“[The planes] have different munitions, and [they are] trying to somehow manage the situation with the different munitions, but this one is much more [effective],” Rahmani said. “It definitely is somehow impacting the missions and operations, but ... they are having different munitions and trying to manage the situation with that, but it's critical, and it's very important and very important for making sure we don't have civilian casualties.”
Biden touted the Afghan Air Force as one of the key bulwarks against a Taliban takeover of the country when he offered a public defense of the U.S. withdrawal.
“We provided advanced weaponry,” Biden said earlier this month. "And we’re going to continue to provide funding and equipment. And we’ll ensure they have the capacity to maintain their air force.”
Defense Department officials announced a new flurry of “airstrikes in support of” the Afghan military.
“There were enemy forces, enemy personnel targeted,” a defense official told the U.S.-backed Voice of America, as well as “captured military equipment that the Taliban [were] able to seize from the [Afghan National Defense and Security Forces].”
That revelation coincided with a gathering of U.S. and European diplomats in Rome, who released a joint statement calling for a ceasefire and peace talks.
“We do not support any government in Afghanistan imposed through military force,” the U.S.-Europe communique released Friday. "We intend to maintain our support for Afghan institutions, including defense and security forces, to address the country’s urgent needs.”
A sluggish supply chain is just one of the problems threatening to jeopardize the strikes most useful for holding the Taliban in check, as the U.S. contractors who have maintained the warplanes are set to depart the country within months with no clarity about where the Afghan Air Force can find mechanics to work on the aircraft after September, according to the lawmakers.
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“As a summary, we need more support for the [air force], in terms of laser-guided munitions, with maintenance,” Rahmani said. “Almost one-third of the planes are grounded due to maintenance, and especially after September, we are not sure and fear what will happen.”
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Original Author: Joel Gehrke