Airpower Making a Difference in Afghanistan

The easing of restrictions on what assistance US forces can provide Afghan troops, particularly from the air, is making a difference in the progress in that war, House Armed Services Chairman Mac Thornberry said Monday. Just back from a visit to Iraq and Afghanistan, Thornberry said a US commander told him the Afghan forces he is supporting did a lot more in the last 30 days than they had in previous months, after President Barack Obama eased the restrictions on when US aircraft could come to the aid of the national troops. Even though US planes had only dropped one bomb since that change, the commander told Thornberry, “just having an aircraft overhead makes a big difference for the Afghan and US forces,” he said. But Thornberry said he was concerned about the impact Obama’s recent decision to reduce the US troops in Afghanistan from 9,800 to 8,400 would have on an already poor readiness situation there. He said US commanders were “grappling with how to do that,” and were considering stationing more forces in nearby countries or contracting out some needed functions, such as maintenance, which is more expensive and reduces the skills of US maintainers.