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.
(Photo: David Axe)
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