US Wants to Build ‘Tsunami of Air Power’ in Afghanistan, but Impact is Years Away

The full fleet of 159 Black Hawk helicopters will not be in place and manned until 2022. (Massoud Hossaini/Associated Press)
The full fleet of 159 Black Hawk helicopters will not be in place and manned until 2022. (Massoud Hossaini/Associated Press)
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US Wants to Build ‘Tsunami of Air Power’ in Afghanistan, but Impact is Years Away

The full fleet of 159 Black Hawk helicopters will not be in place and manned until 2022. (Massoud Hossaini/Associated Press)
The full fleet of 159 Black Hawk helicopters will not be in place and manned until 2022. (Massoud Hossaini/Associated Press)

Just over one month ago, the top US military commander in Afghanistan declared at a ceremony in Kandahar that a new fleet of 159 Black Hawk helicopters, flown by Afghan pilots, would help create a “tsunami of air power” to turn around the stalemated conflict with Taliban insurgents.

But the UH-60s won’t have an impact for at least several years on an intense war that has already cost at least $700 billion since 2001 — and is showing no signs of letting up.

The versatile, hardy US Army aircraft, each costing more than $7 million to refurbish and deliver, are intended to gradually replace the Afghan fleet of Soviet-era Mi-17 choppers to carry out military cargo drops, troop transport and medical evacuations. But they are already coming late to the game, a drawback aggravated by the slow pace of UH-60 deliveries, the limit of six Afghan pilots in each three-month training course, and the need to keep the Mi-17 choppers in action in the meantime.

President Trump’s new military strategy in Afghanistan has made beefing up the Afghan air force a top priority, and US military officials said the Black Hawk program is being accelerated, amid the press of war and the broader agenda of building a professional air force.

Yet officials of the US air training, advising and assistance mission here said they expect to have only four Afghan flight crews ready for conflict missions by the next spring’s fighting season and 32 teams and Black Hawks ready by spring 2019. The full fleet of 159 choppers will not be in place and manned until 2022, and only 58 will be equipped with attack weapons. 

Meanwhile, the Taliban is continuing a relentless campaign of bombings and ground assaults, while numerous other attacks have been claimed by ISIS.

Civilian casualty rates continue to exceed records. In just the past month, more than 250 people have been killed in a wave of violence across the country that targeted mosques, military facilities and transport, and a diplomatic zone and TV station in the capital.  

Afghan field commanders have said that more efficient air combat, rescue and resupply support is urgently needed to motivate troops and push back the insurgents. Since 2012, the United States has supplied the Afghan defense forces with 24 smaller MD-530 scouting and attack helicopters, 12 A-29 Tucano fighter-bomber planes and 24 C-208 short-range airlift planes. It has sent Afghan pilots to the United States and other countries to learn how to operate them, then continued their training here. In some cases, though, the pilots were not ready to begin flying combat-zone missions until last year.

“Getting the aircraft is just the head of the snake. That’s the easy part. The hard part to get is the tail of the snake — training pilots and flight crews, doing maintenance and finding parts,” said Col. Darryl Insley, deputy commander of the US air advisory program. With the new Black Hawks, he added, “we are doing mission qualification during combat, and that is very aggressive.”

During two days of classroom training and aerial practice for six future Black Hawk pilots at Kandahar Airfield last week, the students’ motivation and experience were evident. All were seasoned Mi-17 pilots, mostly in their 30s and 40s, and they seemed confident in their ability to transfer their skills to the Black Hawks.

In one class, a US instructor rapidly reviewed a checklist of emergency procedures in English. Most involved multiple technical terms and required instant decisions in the cockpit. The six students, all Afghan air force officers, listened intently. Two sat on either side of an Afghan interpreter, who translated especially complicated phrases in a murmur. 

“We know the systems completely now, but we are still inside and practicing,” Capt. Jawad Saqib, 32, said during a class break. “When you are on a mission, you are not flying from airport to airport. You may be flying in dust or fog, at a low altitude or in a confined area, so it is more challenging. We have to memorize a lot of terms and know every possible condition,” Saqib added. “You have to feel the aircraft like it is a part of your body.”

Earlier that morning, four of the trainees took turns at the controls of a UH-60 cockpit, circling over the airfield with an American trainer beside them. It was an ideal flying day, with a light breeze and a cloudless blue sky. One after another, the helicopters descended and approached, hovering in place before touching down, and then taking off for another round.

Three months from now, the six students will be ready to take the controls unaided and head back into war: delivering troops and dropping supplies to battlefield outposts, evacuating the wounded and dead, and, in some cases, firing mounted machine guns to provide defensive air cover. 

The Washington Post



What Are the Challenges Faced by Hezbollah after 8 Months of Fighting Israel?

People inspect the destruction outside a charred building hit by an Israeli airstrike in the southern Lebanese town of Wadi Jilo, east of Tyre, on June 6, 2024. (AFP)
People inspect the destruction outside a charred building hit by an Israeli airstrike in the southern Lebanese town of Wadi Jilo, east of Tyre, on June 6, 2024. (AFP)
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What Are the Challenges Faced by Hezbollah after 8 Months of Fighting Israel?

People inspect the destruction outside a charred building hit by an Israeli airstrike in the southern Lebanese town of Wadi Jilo, east of Tyre, on June 6, 2024. (AFP)
People inspect the destruction outside a charred building hit by an Israeli airstrike in the southern Lebanese town of Wadi Jilo, east of Tyre, on June 6, 2024. (AFP)

Hezbollah is facing mounting challenges in its eight-month long conflict with Israel in southern Lebanon. Hezbollah, which unilaterally launched the fight in the South, believed that its war in support of Gaza would last a few days or week.

However, the Iran-backed party is now confronted with an open conflict that has transformed into a war of attrition of its forces and no one knows when the fight will end or whether it will develop into a wide-scale conflict against Hezbollah throughout Lebanon.

Experts said the greatest challenge Hezbollah is contending with is Israel’s ongoing assassination of its top commanders.

Political activist and Hezbollah critic Ali al-Amine said another challenge is the possibility that the conflict may spiral into a wide-scale war that the party does not want.

Such a war will lead to unpredictable changes and consequences, he told Asharq Al-Awsat.

Another challenge is the extent to which Hezbollah’s security has been compromised given Israel’s “unprecedented ability in killing several of the party’s top security, military and technical officials.”

“No one predicted that it would be this compromised,” he added.

Another challenge is related to morale and politics. The party will need to regain the trust of its supporters, who believed that it was capable of deterring any Israeli assault on border towns and villages, which have been devastated during the war, al-Amine remarked.

The destruction has prompted several supporters to reconsider whether they would invest in the South - a Hezbollah stronghold - after the war is over, he noted.

04 June 2024, Lebanon, Naqoura: A Hezbollah flag is seen hanged on rubble of destroyed houses caused by Israeli air raids in the Lebanese southern village of Naqoura, located at the Lebanese-Israeli border. (Marwan Naamani/dpa)

Political and strategic affairs researcher retired general Khalil al-Helou said the greatest challenge faced by Hezbollah is the incessant assassination of its top commanders and Israel’s targeted strikes against its positions in the South.

The continuation of the fight will turn the war into one of attrition against the party, he told Asharq Al-Awsat, while dismissing Hezbollah’s shooting down of four Israeli drones.

Another challenge is that Hezbollah is greatly outgunned by Israel, especially in terms of the artillery at the country’s disposal and its air power. Hezbollah doesn’t possess artillery that can rival Israel’s.

Israel also boasts drones that can carry out precise hits, while the party has suicide drones, which can be effective, but it is unknown if they are successful in hitting their targets, Helou said.

Head of the Middle East Center for Studies and Political Research retired general Hisham Jaber said the greatest threat faced by Hezbollah is the possibility that Israel could invade Lebanon.

Hezbollah will definitely not instigate such a war, he told Asharq al-Awsat, but Israel prefers such a scenario.

Should a large-scale war happen, the destruction and casualties will be immense, and Hezbollah will be held responsible for this by internal Lebanese parties, he explained.

“Yes, Israel is being depleted and it is more in crisis than Lebanon, but the attrition is also affecting Hezbollah on all levels,” he added.

“Despite the challenges, Hezbollah cannot stop the war, because it will appear defeated. So, the war will continue and expand in the coming months, but it will not cross a certain line because ultimately a wide-scale war will lead to Iran and the United States’ involvement and they both don’t want that,” he stated.