Watchdog predicted collapse of Afghan air force months before US withdrawal

·3 min read

The U.S.'s watchdog for Afghanistan predicted the collapse of Afghanistan's air force months before U.S. troops withdrew.

The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) revealed its findings in a report that it first issued to the Department of Defense in January 2021 but was not publicly released until last Wednesday.

According to that report, the Afghan Air Force continued to struggle with a host of issues, including leadership challenges, aircraft misuse, and a dependence on contractors for support.

"The U.S. and Afghans' lack of focus on the non-combat support activities of the [Special Mission Wing] and [Afghan Air Force] risks the development of independent, self-sustained Afghan aviation capability," reads the report.

"Further, the potential absence of both military advisors and contractors before the AAF and SMW are able to staff, manage, fund, or maintain their forces puts at risk the entire U.S. investment in the Afghan air forces," it continued.

Army Maj. Rob Lodewick, a Defense Department spokesperson, told The Hill in a statement that the department is "well aware" of the report and the issues facing the Afghan Air Force at the time.

"DoD has long-acknowledged the important role the [Afghan Air Force] had within the [Afghan National Defense and Security Forces] and its efforts/ability to secure Afghanistan, the need and importance of continued funding and maintenance, logistics and training support, and the challenges faced with continuing such support amidst a withdrawal of on-ground forces," Lodewick said.

"The specific challenges presented by SIGAR were well known to DoD at the time of the report's original release and were actively being addressed all the way up to the fall of Kabul," he continued.

The US withdrew from Afghanistan on Aug. 31, 2021, ending America's longest conflict. Leading up to the withdrawal, the Taliban rapidly took over strategic areas of the country, eventually leading to the fall of the Afghan government.

During the 20-year conflict, Washington spent over $145 billion trying to rebuild Afghanistan.

According to SIGAR's report, which predates the withdrawal by several months, the U.S. spent over $8.5 billion to support the Afghan air forces since 2010. The force includes the Afghan Air Force and Special Mission Wing.

However, the watchdog found that the Afghan Air Forces would continue to rely on U.S.-funded initial pilot training conducted outside of Afghanistan.

Further, the force had been dealing with issues of slow capacity development due to limited personnel, gaps in training personnel, inefficient leadership development leading to misusing aircraft, and few U.S. and coalition advisers.

SIGAR recommended US and coalition forces coordinate to implement formal recruitment strategies and personnel placement procedures, and prioritizing support personnel and their training requirements.

The watchdog also recommended finalizing a mitigation plan to ensure to ensure the continuation of maintenance, operation and advisory support should the U.S. and Taliban agree to require contractors to withdraw from Afghanistan.

Updated at 12:10 p.m.

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