Ahead of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, US SIGAR watchdog John Sopko warned that the Afghan Air Force would collapse
KABUL, Afghanistan — Months before President Joe Biden announced a full U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan last year, Washington’s watchdog warned the Afghan air force would crumble without critical U.S. assistance, training, and maintenance, according to a recently declassified report.
The report by John Sopko, the special inspector general for the reconstruction of Afghanistan, was submitted to the Ministry of Defense in January 2021.
Its publication now points out that US authorities had been alerted that the Afghan air force lacked the capabilities to survive after a US withdrawal.
In particular, the report highlights the US government’s inability to train Afghan support personnel, which has prevented that country’s air force from maintaining its aircraft without using US contractors.
US air support for government forces has been essential in the 20-year war against Taliban insurgents. Its withdrawal was one of the contributing factors to the Taliban’s landslide victory when the Americans withdrew, as was the Afghan Air Force’s inability to fill the void.
The Inspector General’s office told The Associated Press that it is rare for SIGAR reports to be classified, but when they are, a declassified version is released by the Pentagon within two months. The office said it did not know why it took more than a year for the Defense Ministry to declassify the report or why it had done so now, five months after the Taliban took power.
SIGAR has tracked and documented Washington’s spending and progress in Afghanistan since the office was established in 2008. It has published reports documenting the corruption, failures, and weaknesses of Afghan and U.S. leadership within the Afghan military, offering recommendations on how to improve.
Since the 2001 US-led invasion that toppled the Taliban and the long war that followed, Washington has spent more than $145 billion on reconstruction in Afghanistan and nearly $1 trillion on its military engagement. Billions have been used to reinforce the Afghan military forces.
In April, Biden announced that the last 2,500 to 3,500 American soldiers would leave with the 7,500 NATO troops, following a deal reached with the Taliban by the Trump administration.
The announcement triggered a rapid collapse of the Afghan defense forces.
The Taliban’s sweep across the country was swift, with many areas falling without a fight as Afghan soldiers – many of whom had not received their salaries from the Afghan government in months – fled. Afghan warplanes continued to strike Taliban positions in some areas in June and July last year, but that was not enough to stem the tide.
The Taliban entered Kabul on August 15 after US-backed President Ashraf Ghani fled the capital.
At the end of August, the United States completed its chaotic departure and evacuation of tens of thousands of Afghans, which was marked by images of young men clinging to a departing American plane for have the opportunity to live in the United States and escape the harshness of the Taliban. and restrictive rule.
In previous months, Afghan officials had warned that the air force could not be self-sufficient. Ata Mohammed Noor, a powerful warlord from northern Afghanistan who was a key US ally in the defeat of the Taliban in 2001, said the fleet was overstretched and under-maintained.
The recently declassified report says the United States spent $8.5 billion between 2010 and 2019 “to support and develop” the Afghan Air Force and its elite unit, the Special Mission Wing. But the report warned that the two were ill-prepared. He also warned against pulling out the hundreds of American contractors who maintained the aircraft fleet.
According to the report, NATO and the United States focused in 2019 on building the air force to ensure it had a chance of long-term survival.
But Sopko gave their efforts a failing grade. He writes that the Afghan Air Force has been unable to provide the trained personnel needed to embark on the path to independence.
He said a combination of US military and NATO personnel, as well as US-funded contractors, had focused on pilot training but had not prioritized training 86% of Afghan Air Force personnel, including its support personnel.
Even as the U.S. Department of Defense touted the Afghan Air Force’s progress “in combat operations capabilities, pilot and ground crew proficiency, and air-ground integration” , wrote Sopko, she continued “to struggle with the limits of human capital, leadership challenges, misuse of aircraft, and reliance on logistical support from contractors. »