The United States has agreed to keep contractors in Afghanistan to receive Afghan military equipment as a stopgap measure while the Biden administration determines the Pentagon's role in combating targets in Afghanistan from bases outside the country following the withdrawal of American troops becomes.
The contractors will remain in Afghanistan for the time being until officials work out a more permanent contract for the repair, maintenance and overhaul of American assets that will be made available to the Afghan military, a senior Afghan official who plans to speak about sensitive military personnel on condition of anonymity said Foreign policy.
The official, citing operational safety, did not provide any information about the number of contractors present or their location. The exact schedule for the whereabouts of contractors – perhaps after US President Joe Biden's self-imposed deadline on August 31 for US troops and contractors to leave – has not been discussed by American and Afghan officials.
But the move could give the beleaguered Afghan forces breathing space, which collapsed from a devastating attack by the Taliban in recent weeks. As the Taliban appear to be shifting from guerrilla tactics to a more conventional military approach focusing on retaking cities, increasing the Afghan air force could stifle the Taliban's progress.
"The symmetry of the battlefield is likely to shift to more conventional warfare and the Taliban will try to concentrate their forces," said Asfandyar Mir, a South Asia expert at Stanford University. "So far, the US Air Force [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] has been a major deterrent."
The State Department referred questions about the United States' plans for the Afghan military to the Department of Defense. In a statement, Pentagon spokesman Rob Lodewickwick said Foreign policy that the department has already started to implement maintenance support for the Afghan Air Force and special operations squadrons from third countries.
“Airplanes that require heavy repairs and phase maintenance are moved to other locations; In many ways this is not much different from the way such maintenance is currently done, and it includes the higher level of maintenance that Afghan military maintenance workers in general cannot do anyway, ”he said before speaking about a spate of helicopters that Kabul depends on. “Afghan UH-60, MD-530, and Mi-17 have long been taken to facilities outside of Afghanistan for such repairs, just as the US military withdraws its aircraft to specific locations for such repairs, regardless of where they are doing combat operations . "
Afghan Air Force readiness implications "will primarily result" from increased reliance on Afghan mechanics to perform routine maintenance and on-the-job training, Lodewick said. In the past, half of this was done by Defense Department contractors. To mitigate this risk, contractor maintenance mentors will continue to participate virtually to support and instruct Afghan technicians and provide spare parts. The senior Afghan official added that some aircraft are being moved out of the country while others are being serviced in Afghanistan, with contractors doing some repairs and maintenance in the country.
Leaving American-hired contractors behind after most of the remaining US combat forces closed Bagram Airfield and left the country last week is a sign that the Biden administration's rationale for providing air support to Afghans after the war may change . But it is not yet clear what the threshold would be for the United States to provide air defense on its own.
In a speech at the White House on July 2, Biden told reporters that the United States had worked out a way to assist Afghans with air forces from outside the country that "can add value," but said, "The Afghans will have to do it ”. do it yourself with the Air Force they have. ”Biden is due to speak at the White House Thursday about the government's plan to move Afghan interpreters to third countries while they wait for visa processing.
The senior Afghan official said Foreign policy that the decision to retain contractors was part of an urgent overhaul of existing Afghan aircraft that are out of service for repair and maintenance needs, which has severely hampered the government of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani in its efforts to do so stop the Taliban offensive.
Biden had previously insisted that all American personnel, including contractors, leave the country. On July 2, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the United States was still working to assist the Afghan security forces and the air force, possibly remotely or physically outside the country.
In the past six days, the Taliban have taken control of 10 percent of the country, according to a record by the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a think tank that claims the Afghan government controls less than a fifth of the country.
The United States will also provide dozens of new air forces to Afghans, including UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters and A-29 Super Tucanos, the Afghan official said. guided ammunition and surveillance missions over rugged terrain in Afghanistan.
"In addition, the DoD will seek to provide the Afghans with additional aircraft to both make up for combat losses and to provide a 'buffer' inventory to replenish aircraft being sent out of the country for expanded service," Lodewick said , the Pentagon spokesman. Shipments of UH-60 Black Hawks, first acquired as part of a 2016 aviation modernization plan, will begin this month, and the Pentagon is also planning to equip the Afghan Air Force with fighter jets to replace assets lost in combat.
The Afghan military will receive an air boost as it intensifies its efforts to reverse the Taliban's battlefield gains on the ground. NATO will begin remote training of some Afghan Special Forces in Turkey in the coming weeks, an effort that could be extended to all Afghan National Security Forces by early next year.
Kabul is also betting that the Afghan public will be fed up with the Taliban after decades of war. The military build-up coincided with the emergence of anti-Taliban militias, which emerged as the group, which for the most part still clung to its hardlining Islamist ideology of the 1990s, grew in the north of the country.
The senior Afghan official said these groups are organizing in support of or in conjunction with the Afghan National Security Forces and are seeking the help of the military to arm their people. The official said the Afghan government is considering integrating the local groups into the Afghan National Army's territorial forces, which serve as local holding force for provincial areas but are unable to conduct more complex operations.
But as the military rebuild begins, US and Afghan officials and experts are still trying to figure out how far the Taliban are ready to push their latest offensive. "I think the Taliban play 'by ear' and only test their own military skills and the courage of the government," said Ibraheem Bahiss, advisor to the International Crisis Group and independent Afghanistan researcher.
If the Taliban's military wing is able to capture and hold territories for extended periods of time, they could push for more say in peace talks in Doha, Qatar, said a senior Afghan diplomat Foreign policy. And pushing too hard and too fast could upset neighboring countries and larger powers, which, despite a recent diplomatic charm offensive, may still be lukewarm to the group.
"Even if they took over Kabul, which would be almost impossible, they wouldn't be able to sell it to the world," said the diplomat, who requested anonymity to discuss sensitive negotiations. “Ultimately, the Taliban need help because they have to provide services, they have to govern. It doesn't work without help and support, especially in a country that is mostly drunk on donors. "