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.
by DAVID AXE
Boeing F-15E Strike Eagle tail number 89-0487 is one lucky jet. Deployed to Bagram air base in eastern Afghanistan with the 335th Fighter Squadron, the jet has dropped lots of bombs on the Taliban. But that’s not what makes it stand out. It hasn’t been reported anywhere else, but 89-0487 is the fighter that shot down a “rogue” U.S. MQ-9 Reaper drone in September, after the Reaper’s controllers lost contact with the robot and it hurtled towards the Afghan border.
Today 89-0487 sports a tiny Sidewinder missile, painted under the canopy, to commemorate the kill. The marking is next to a star marking, indicating that this storied jet was also the one that killed an airborne Iraqi Mi-8 helicopter during Operation Desert Storm, by dropping a laser-guided bomb on it.
Most jets are lucky to get one kill, of any type. F-15E 89-0487 has two of the weirdest kills possible.
The Afghan air war is deadly serious business. But that doesn’t mean airmen can’t have a little fun. One F-16 pilot invited me to write message to the Taliban on a laser-guided bomb. I’m sending them my Website address. Always interested in reaching out to new readers.
(Photo: David Axe)