The United States (US), by mid-June, has withdrawn more than 50 percent of its military presence in Afghanistan, according to the Pentagon, as the administration of President Joe Biden speedily works towards a full withdrawal by the set and symbolic date of September 11, 2021.
The expedited American exit has thrown both Afghanistan and US policies into a chaotic mess. There is little clarity on the future US role in counterterror and counterinsurgency (COIN) operations in the country, an eventuality of the fall of Kabul once again; and perhaps most importantly, the future of the operability and vulnerabilities of the Afghan military fighting against an emboldened Taliban.
The Afghan Air Force (AAF) remains one of the most significant tools in fighting against the multiple insurgencies on the ground. However, the US withdrawal may throw a spanner in the workings of the air force as well, with more than 18,000 contractors aiding the efforts and keeping the flying machines running optimally also exiting.
This could significantly diminish the capacity of the AAF, as it operates a number of US-made aircraft such as the UH-60 Black Hawk and MD500 Defender helicopters along with fixed-wing counter-insurgency specialist aircraft like the A-29 Super Tucano, all relying heavily on Western contractors for their upkeep. Reports indicate that alternatives to plug these gaps have still not been organised, which could potentially leave the AAF crippled.
The apparent lack of foresight by the US is not new. The second major theatre of war for the US in its post-9/11 ‘war on terror’ campaign, Iraq, also witnessed a similar Washington DC–made crisis.