More and more, native troops in Iraq and Afghanistan are doing the dirty street-level fighting while the U.S. and allies offer up airplanes for support. After all, it’s one thing to put rifles in the hands of a few hundred dudes and call them an “infantry battalion.” It’s quite another to put together safe, useful flying squadrons. (Video!)
But we’re making progress building up Iraqi air power, and last year Baghdad announced it would buy its first attack aircraft since Saddam days. Now Afghanistan is doing the same. “We need some ground-attack capabilities,” Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak said, according to Defense News. “The issue is still under consideration and we will welcome any help (from NATO) in restructuring and recreating our air force.”
Realistically, that means a turbo-prop airplane — like the kind that Chad used recently to defeat a rebel uprising. Iraq was predicted to pick either the popular Swiss Pilatus brand or the Tucano from Brazil. Instead, it’s paying $200 million for weapons from Serbia, including Lasta 95 attack planes (pictured). Thing is, the Lasta is only a prototype, in a country whose aerospace industry has been all but destroyed by war and recession. Smells like corruption to me, like someone in Baghdad pocketed a lot of cash in exchange for a bad deal.
Hopefully Kabul will pick a real attack plane and for the right reasons. In the meantime, the Afghan air force is beefing up its transport capability, according to U.S. Army General Bob Cone. Mountainous Afghanistan is notoriously difficult for getting from one place to another: aircraft are the best way. Cone says Kabul has 160 Mi-17 chopper pilots. “They’re actually not bad — older gents who flew for the Soviets.”
“We changed our investment strategy” for extra Mi-17s, he adds, boosting the chopper fleet through donations and purchases. The Afghan Mi-17 force flew 90 sorties hauling 4,400 troops in the last month, Cone says.