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Prior to Middle-East Pullout, Watchdog Warned of Afghan Air Force Collapse

Last year, months before President Joe Biden announced the United States’ entire withdrawal from Afghanistan, Washington’s watchdog warned that without essential American supplies, training, and maintenance, the Afghan air force would collapse. On Tuesday, the report was declassified.

According to the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction John Sopko’s report, which was delivered to the Department of Defense in January 2021, American officials had been warned that Afghanistan’s air force lacked the capacity to continue after the United States left. The study also mentions the United States’ inability to educate Afghan support workers, which has left the air force unable to maintain its aircraft without the help of American contractors.

In the 20-year fight against Taliban rebels, US air support to government forces was critical. Its withdrawal, combined with the Afghan air force’s inability to fill the hole, was one element in the Taliban’s sweeping success when the Americans retreated.

The inspector general’s office told The Associated Press on Monday that while SIGAR reports are rarely classified, when they are, the Pentagon releases a declassified version in less than two months. The agency claimed it didn’t know why it took more than a year for the Defense Department to declassify this information, or why it did it now, five months after the Taliban took power.

Since its inception in 2008, SIGAR has tracked and recorded Washington’s expenditures and success in Afghanistan. It has issued a series of findings detailing corruption, Afghan and American leadership failures, and shortcomings within the Afghan army, as well as recommendations for how to improve.

Since the 2001 US-led invasion that deposed the Taliban and the protracted conflict that followed, Washington has spent more than $145 billion on rebuilding and almost $1 trillion on military operations in Afghanistan. The Afghan military forces were bolstered with billions of dollars.

Following an agreement negotiated with the Taliban by the Trump administration, Biden stated in April that the final 2,500-3,500 US forces, together with NATO’s 7,500 soldiers, would withdraw. As a result of the statement, the Afghan defense forces began to rapidly disintegrate.

The Taliban’s advance across Afghanistan was quick, with many regions surrendering without a struggle as Afghan forces — many of whom had not been paid in months by the Afghan government — fled. In June and July of last year, Afghan jets continued to strike Taliban strongholds in certain locations, but it was not enough to stop the tide.

After US-backed President Ashraf Ghani departed Kabul on August 15, the Taliban took control of the city. By the end of August, the United States had concluded its disorderly withdrawal and the evacuation of tens of thousands of Afghans, as shown by photographs of young men clinging to departing U.S. planes in the hope of escaping the Taliban’s harsh and oppressive rule.

Afghan authorities have warned in recent months that the air force would not be able to stand alone. The fleet was overworked and under-maintained, according to Ata Mohammed Noor, a strong warlord in northern Afghanistan who was a crucial US partner in the Taliban’s collapse in 2001.

“The majority of the planes have landed. He stated, “They can’t fly, and the majority of them are out of ammo.”

According to the recently declassified SIGAR assessment, the US spent $8.5 billion between 2010 and 2019 “to sustain and enhance” the Afghan air force and its special wing, the Special Mission Wing. Both, though, are ill-prepared, according to the assessment. It also advises against eliminating the hundreds of American contractors who keep the planes running.

According to the study, NATO and the US turned their focus in 2019 from growing the air force to ensuring its long-term viability.

However, Sopko gave them a failing grade, claiming that the Afghan air force lacked the trained people needed to begin on the road to independence.

He said that although a mix of US and NATO military troops, as well as US-funded contractors, concentrated on pilot training, the training of 86 percent of Afghanistan Air Force employees, including support workers, was not addressed.

Despite the fact that the U.S. The Afghan air force has made progress “in combat operation capabilities, pilot and ground crew proficiency, as well as air-to-ground integration,” according to the Department of Defense. However, they continue to “struggle with human capital limitations, leadership challenges, aircraft misuse, and a reliance on contractor logistic support,” according to Sopko.

Cedric Blackwater
Cedric Blackwater
Cedric is a journalist with over a decade of experience reporting on local US news, and touching on many global topics. He is currently the lead writer for Bulletin News.

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