Air support is one of the weaknesses of the Afghan National Security Forces, and it could get worse by year’s end, after US and coalition forces sharply reduce their presence, said Army Gen. John Campbell, commander of the International Security Assistance Force and US Forces in Afghanistan. Campbell, who was speaking to reporters at the Pentagon via a satellite feed, was highly complementary of the ability of the ANSF to defeat the Taliban insurgents. He said they “have some shortfalls we continue to work on,” such as aviation—especially close air support and ISR—as well as intelligence and logistics. Asked how much air support US forces will be able to provide after the drawdown, Campbell said, “With the number of platforms we will have, ISR, close air support, and medevac will be greatly reduced.” He said they continue to work with the ANSF and government leaders “on what will be able and not able to provide.” Asked about the US supplied Russian Mi-17 helicopters, Campbell extolled their value to the ANSF, particularly to the elite Afghan special forces aviation unit, calling them “game changers.” Congress has strongly criticized buying the Russian helos instead of American aircraft.
The Air Force overall reduced its size by 120 aircraft in fiscal year 2021, but kept about the same number of fighter, bomber and attack aircraft, according to data supplied by the service. The F-35 fleet saw the biggest increase while the B-1B bomber fleet saw the largest decline.