Axeghanistan ’09: In Afghanistan Battle, Air Force Contribution Ignored


Categorie: Afghanistan, Air, Axe in Afghanistan '09, David Axe |

It was a war we thought we’d won. But after eight years of escalating violence, the Afghanistan conflict has morphed into something perhaps unwinnable. U.S.-led forces invaded Afghanistan in 2001 to deny sanctuary to Al Qaeda, a goal we’ve largely achieved. But in years of occupation, Washington has apparently conflated counter-terrorism with nation-building. Now the U.S., NATO and their allies are struggling to destroy a deeply-rooted insurgency in country with a corrupt, ineffective government, poor infrastructure and few prospects for everyday people, but to fight. David Axe visits U.S. forces to see for himself.



Nearly a week after Taliban fighters overran a U.S. and Afghan military outpost in eastern Afghanistan, killing eight Americans and at least two Afghan soldiers, details are finally emerging about the bloody battle. But one U.S. Air Force official wonders why the air service hasn’t highlighted its own vital contributions to it.

The battle in the Kamdesh district of Nuristan province pitted hundreds of Taliban fighters against several platoons of American and Afghan troops in an isolated outpost. A platoon typically numbers 40 people. In hours of heavy fighting, the Taliban managed to penetrate the outpost’s walls and overrun some buildings. U.S. forces counter-attacked, eventually reclaiming the base. Around 100 Taliban died, according to a NATO statement.

At Bagram, the main air and logistics hub for the entire Afghanistan war effort, one Air Force official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the Air Force’s efforts in the Kamdesh fighting haven’t been adequately explained. The oversight is mostly the Air Force’s fault: The flying branch has not yet released an official statement regarding the battle.

In bits and pieces, and in separate interviews over the past several days, officers at Bagram have provided some insight into the air battle for Kamdesh. Capt. Jerimy Maclellan, a pilot with the 335th Fighter Squadron, told World Politics Review that the squadron had two F-15E Strike Eagles airborne when the fighting broke out on Saturday. Those two aircraft quickly diverted to support the ground troops, while four more F-15Es launched to join them.

In the following days, the fighters maintained a constant presence over Kamdesh. The F-15E typically carries several guided bombs plus a cannon for attacking ground targets.

The Air Force also sent heavy bombers to attack the Taliban assailants during the height of the battle, one Air Force officer said.

As the fighting subsided, Air Force medical evacuation teams flew into action. Based on interviews with medical personnel at Bagram, it appears that several dozen soldiers were evacuated by air from Kamdesh to Bagram, and then on to U.S.- and Europe-based military hospitals — all within a few days, and without any reported fatalities.

“It would have been so much worse” if not for the Air Force’s efforts, the anonymous official said.

The Air Force’s unwillingness to highlight its own life-saving actions perhaps reflect an institution struggling with its identity, in the wake of high-profile scandals. In recent years, the Air Force has been entangled in several bungled, multi-billion-dollar weapons purchases, briefly lost a nuclear weapon, and saw its two top officials fired for butting heads with their Pentagon superiors. After a clean sweep of its senior leadership, today’s Air Force is more focused on supporting the Army and Marines in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But that doesn’t mean it’s willing to take credit for it yet.

(Photo: David Axe)

Related posts:

  1. Danger Room: U.S. Kills 70 Taliban, Loses No One In Huge Outpost Battle
  2. Danger Room: New Armed Stealth Drone Heads To Afghanistan (And Maybe Iran, Too)

8 Responses to “Axeghanistan ’09: In Afghanistan Battle, Air Force Contribution Ignored”

  1. ELP says:

    What many may not know is that this is normal performance for the USAF. They do their job and support the troops. Always have.

  2. lise houssen says:

    i have been saying in other comments that the airforce are a key to winning this war,i think that there should be more airforce doing reconnaisance ahead of the ground soldiers,it is most important and God be with you,thank you.

  3. Mat says:

    Somehow i suspect that response time wasn’t of record braking nature,that is why they are keeping quiet ,of its true that it took more than 30 minutes for first air support,it means that response is no good,but understandably so as airforce only operates fighter jets from one or 2 bases in afghanistan,on the other hand turboprop COIN craft could operate from almost any helicopter base,that can be more spread around the country and have time on station opposed to a loaded fighter that needs to refuel every 30-45 minutes.

  4. JV says:

    Once again the Army gets into a big fight and sustains significant casualties, and the AF is hurt that their contributions weren’t recognized. I’m sure that when their news release comes out it will tell us how the F-22 could save the day when if we could only buy 700 more.

  5. Mat says:

    I read detailed report of the battle,air spport a B-1 arrived in 30+ min droped a couple od ineffective bombs and that was it ,Apache’s arrived after 60-90minutes and were the ones to turned the battle as they were only ones that could operate close to friendly troops.Most of the air support was only used hours and next 2 days after the battle chasing an occasional insurgent here and there.So is this something that airforce can brag about. It just shows the need for dedicated turboprop COIN plane

  6. NCN says:

    The Air Force is quite secure in its identity. Boasting its capability would only serve to focus on the Air Force and fail to remind that the current fights in Afghanistan and Iraq are Joint fights with the Air Force fighting on a joint team. We understand our role in the fight, who we are, what we do and why we do it.

  7. Marcus says:

    Some day in the future our children and grandchildren will be less safe by the decision not to permit the Air Force from buying the correct number of F-22s. If not used in actual combat, they most certainly would once again have proven that “Peace Is Our Profession”.

  8. [...] Force officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity. The same officer complained that the Air Force never fully claimed credit for its role in the battle. But the absence of boastful press releases reflects changing attitudes [...]

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