A squadron of A-10C “Warthog” Thunderbolt IIs deployed to this sprawling airfield in southern Afghanistan last week and has already started flying missions as part of a U.S. and Afghan air campaign targeting Taliban drug facilities.
The $19 million aircraft, beloved by ground troops and so far spared from Air Force efforts to ground them for budgetary reasons, will also support counterterrorism efforts.
Stars & Stripes reports the deployment comes as U.S. Central Command realigns its aircraft, crews and other assets in the region, as the anti-ISIS campaign in Iraq and Syria winds down and as demand for precision strikes and close air support ramps up in Afghanistan under President Donald Trump’s South Asia strategy.
In addition to the A-10s, the U.S. has deployed MQ-9 Reaper drones to provide armed overwatch and surveillance, as well as HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopters for personnel recovery and combat search and rescue.
“As we’ve applied increased pressure on the Taliban and their revenue sources with precision airpower, we’ve gained considerable momentum in our effort to force them to reconcile or face defeat,” said Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Harrigian, head of U.S. Air Forces Central Command, in a statement to Fox News. “As U.S. advisors move closer to the front lines in support of our Afghan partners, this additional airpower will give them the decisive advantage necessary to advance with confidence.”
The U.S. military dropped more bombs in Afghanistan in 2017, than in 2012 when the U.S. military had nearly 100,000 troops on the ground, according to the Air Force.
The spike in airstrikes began after Trump took office last year.
As the war against ISIS winds down in Iraq and Syria, more Air Force jets and drones are being sent to Afghanistan.
The new jets arrive at a time when both the Taliban and an ISIS-affiliate have stepped up their attacks on Afghanistan’s capital.
The warplanes, which are armed with a 30 mm cannon and can carry a payload of 16,000 pounds of munitions, arrived Friday and flew their first missions within 24 hours, he said. They joined an air campaign in Afghanistan that has taken aim at the Taliban narcotics trade since November.
Afghanistan is the global leading producer of poppies, supplying about 80 percent of the world’s opium. Despite more than $8.5 billion in U.S.-funded counternarcotics efforts in the country in more than a decade, production is on the rise. In 2017, a record of almost 10,000 tons of opium was produced, according to a joint survey conducted by the United Nations and the Afghan government.
“The Taliban still has not felt the full brunt of American and Afghan air power,” Hecker said in a statement. He is commander of 9th Air and Space Expeditionary Task Force—Afghanistan and NATO Air Command—Afghanistan. “With the arrival new air assets and the growing capabilities of Afghan pilots, the Taliban will have a constant eye toward the sky,” he said.
Mr Americana, Overpasses News Desk
January 23rd, 2018