Offiziere.ch: In Afghanistan, Helicopters Represent NATO’s Biggest Strength, Greatest Weakness

01.12.09

Categorie: Afghanistan, Air, David Axe, Jason Reich |

by DAVID AXE and JASON REICH

Everyone knew election day was going to be hot. In the weeks before Afghanistan’s August 20 presidential election — only the second for the country’s current government — the terror group Al Qaeda and the extremist Taliban insurgent group had vowed to ratchet up their attacks on the Afghan people, the government and the U.S.-led NATO military coalition.

The dushman – that’s Dari for “bad guys” — made good on their promises. Violence spiked all over the country, especially in outlying provinces where NATO’s presence is thinnest. The bitter fighting on election day was a window into the eight-year-old Afghanistan war. Among the biggest lessons underscored by the election violence is the vital importance of helicopters to NATO’s far-flung operations.

Vertical lift has emerged as perhaps the most important enabling capability for waging a complex counter-insurgency campaign with relatively few troops in a country as big and rugged as Afghanistan. Where helicopters are available, NATO troops can move quickly over rough, contested terrain to out-maneuver their opponents. Attack helicopters are the most effective form of fire support: on countless occasions, the speedy appearance of U.S., British and Dutch Apache gunships has suppressed Taliban ambushes. Medical evacuation helicopters ensure that wounded soldiers reach a hospital within an hour’s time, resulting in the highest survival rate in history.

By the same token, the absence of gunships gets NATO troops killed in complex ambushes that can last for hours. A shortage of transport helicopters has curtailed NATO’s movements in provinces teetering on the brink of Taliban control. And the medevac mission, so vital to injured troops’ survival, is threatened by a combination of environmental and political factors.

In short, vertical lift is “my biggest headache,” said Lt. Col. Thomas Gukeisen, commander of a combined U.S. and Czech battalion in Logar province, in the mountains south of Kabul. Soldiers across Afghanistan seconded Gukeisen’s sentiment.

Read the rest at Offiziere.ch.

(Photo: David Axe)

Related:
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World Politics Review: After Setbacks, Human Terrain System Rebuilds
Taliban Propaganda Drools over Killed Vehicles
World Politics Review: U.S. Air Force Advisers Struggle with Afghan Cultural Gap
French Origins of the “Ink Spot”

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7 Responses to “Offiziere.ch: In Afghanistan, Helicopters Represent NATO’s Biggest Strength, Greatest Weakness”

  1. SM says:

    Makes you think what a blow it must have been to the Soviets when the locals started to be able to shoot down their helicopters. Fortunately, the Taliban today don’t have that capability.

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