Marines headed to southern Afghanistan, where Taliban are reversing previous victories
Roughly 300 Marines are en route to Afghanistan to help Afghan troops stop the Taliban from swallowing more of the hard-fought territory for which so many Marines have bled and died, Marine Corps Times has learned.
The deployment of Marines from the II Marine Expeditionary Force at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, will be the largest Marine deployment to Afghanistan since 2014, when the U.S. military's combat mission known as Operation Enduring Freedom officially ended.
By the end of April, the Marines will be in Helmand province as Task Force Southwest, replacing the Army’s Task Force Forge. During their nine months in Helmand, the Marines will train the Afghan National Army’s 215th Corps and the 505th Zone National Police in marksmanship, indirect fire and small-unit tactics and other skills, Marine Corps officials said.
Helmand province is becoming increasingly dangerous for U.S. troops. In March, three American soldiers were shot at an Afghan military base in an apparent insider attack and in February, a Special Forces soldier was severely wounded in Sangin.
“Make no mistake, though we are no longer in a combat role in Afghanistan, it is still a combat environment,” Col. Matthew Reid, deputy task force commander, said in January. “As Marines, we train and deploy with a combat mindset.”
Army Gen. David Petraeus, who led U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan from 2010 to 2011, told Marine Corps Times that the 300 additional Marines, with the appropriate support, “can absolutely make a difference in Helmand province.”
The advise-and-assist mission can give Afghan troops and police “the support they need to reverse the momentum of the Taliban in that important province that sits astride the critical ‘Ring Road’ that connects the southern and western parts of the country to Kabul,” Petraeus said.
The Marines are returning to Afghanistan at a time when security is the worst it has been since the Taliban fell in 2001, said Peter Bergen, a military analyst and vice president of the New America think tank.
“That’s based on the assessment by U.S. military commanders that the Taliban control or contest a third of the population, which is about 10 million people,” Bergen told Marine Corps Times.
But unlike the Iraqi army in 2014, Afghan troops and police are fighting the insurgents, as evidenced by their soaring casualty rates, Bergen said. The Afghan troops in Helmand will definitely benefit from the Marines’ advise-and-assist mission.
To counter the Taliban’s momentum on the battlefield, the U.S. should make clear that its commitment to Afghanistan is open-ended instead of setting arbitrary dates to withdraw U.S. troops, he said.
“I think that was one of the problems the Obama administration had: Announcing withdrawals that came and went and really made no sense from any kind of point of view,” Bergen said. “They tended to undercut the government. They also, obviously, were really helpful to the morale of the Taliban.”
Since most U.S. troops left Afghanistan three years ago, the Taliban have captured much of southern Afghanistan, including Sangin, where nearly 50 Marines have died in fighting through the years.
Most of the gains that Marines achieved in southern Afghanistan from 2009 to 2014 have been either reversed or have not been built upon by Afghan security forces, said Caitlin Forrest, an Afghanistan expert with the Institute for the Study of War.
Having taken Sangin, the Taliban can now launch offensives against strategic cities such as Kandahar, Lashkar Gah and Tirin Kot, Forrest said.
Given the current strength of Afghan security forces and the level of U.S. support, an outright military defeat of the Taliban is unlikely, she said. The Taliban are also unlikely to negotiate for a political solution as long as they have the upper hand.
“They’re winning the war,” Forrest said. “They’re winning actual terrain and population control. They have no incentive to actually go to the table, especially as they are getting additional support from other malign regional actors, such as Russia and Iran.”
That's a daft remark."They have no incentive to actually go to the table, especially as they are getting additional support from other malign regional actors, such as Russia and Iran."
US to provide Afghanistan with up to 159 Black Hawks to help break 'stalemate'
As part of Afghanistan’s four-year road map to double its 17,000-strong special forces unit and bolster the Afghan Air Force, the U.S. plans to provide Afghanistan with up to 159 refurbished UH-60A Black Hawks to replace its aging fleet of Russian Mi-17 transport helicopters, according to Afghan and U.S. defense officials.
Ahmad Shah Katawazai, defense liaison and security expert at the Embassy of Afghanistan in Washington, D.C., told Military Times that the addition of Black Hawks to the Afghan fleet is vital for giving the security forces leverage needed to end the stalemate.
“We are in the midst of an insurgency where the enemy is getting tacit support from neighboring countries. Our security forces are under immense pressure as they are fighting each day, on several fronts, with more than 20 terrorist organizations.”
The development comes after Gen. John Nicholson, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee in February, saying more U.S. troops were needed to help break the "stalemate" against terrorists groups fighting there. The Trump administration is evaluating how many additional personnel it may deploy.
There is $814 million designated this year to bolster Afghanistan’s air force, including enough funding for 53 of the 159 Black Hawks, a defense official told Military Times. Each year, the Defense Department will have to request additional funding for the remainder. Officials expect to deliver 30 a year. The first delivery is expected in about 21 months.
A fleet of 159 Black Hawks would nearly double the Afghan Air Force's current fleet of 78 Mi-17s, calling into question whether Afghanistan has the capability to maintain such a large fleet of U.S.-made helicopters. And not everyone agrees that the UH-60 is a good fit for Afghanistan.
“Given that it takes substantial U.S. support to maintain the airframes that the Afghan Air Force has already, it doesn't seem feasible that they would be able to support that many Black Hawks without a significant contribution from NATO,” Dr. Matthew Archibald, an independent researcher and consultant on South Asian issues, told Military Times.
Afghanistan has had considerable problems with maintaining its current fleet of aircraft. The 2016 Mi-17 crash that injured top Afghan military officials and
The replacement of the Mi-17 with the UH-60 has the potential to degrade Afghanistan’s total lift capacity and offensive firing capabilities, according to Archibald. “The Black Hawk doesn't bring nearly the amount of close air support capability that the Mi-17 does,” he said. In 2016, the Mi-17 fired its rocket pods over
U.S. defense officials push back on that claim. Pentagon spokesman Adam Stump said that although 63 Mi-17s were equipped with the ability to fire rockets, not all of them are actually armed and “very few of these aircraft have been outfitted with rockets because their primary role is to perform lift, air assaults and medevac missions rather than aerial fires missions."
Stump also said some of the Black Hawks will be equipped with rocket pods and additional offensive aerial platforms are being added to Afghanistan’s air force, which will make up for any loss in offensive capabilities with the switch.Afghanistan is also set to receive an additional armed 30 MD-530 Cayuse Warrior ground attack helicopters, six more A-29 fixed wing close attack aircraft, and five armed AC-208 fixed wing aircraft, he said.
American security detail watches while an Afghan MD-530 Cayuse Warrior takes off from Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul on Sept. 27, 2015.
Photo Credit: Staff Sgt. Sandra Welch/Air Force
As for a loss in total lift capacity, the Black Hawks are receiving a new engine designed to handle Afghanistan’s punishing terrain “and will be able to perform almost all of the same missions that the current Mi-17 fleet has been conducting in terms of number of people and cargo typically carried,” Stump said.
And then there's the question of timing and whether it will take too long to train pilots and deliver the helicopters in time to make a difference on the ground.
U.S. defense officials say it will only take 12 weeks to train Afghan pilots on the Black Hawk. For new pilots, training could take nine to 13 months depending on the English proficiency of the student. But according to a recent SIGAR report on Afghanistan, there are 68 Mi-17 pilots and 35 of them are instructor pilots, meaning Afghanistan could have to send almost hundred new pilots through entry-level training, taking up to a year to complete.
The nearly two-year time frame before the first UH-60's arrive may not be realistic or beneficial to Afghanistan, according to Franz-Stefan Gaddy, a senior fellow at the East-West Institute. "The Afghan military just does not have the luxury to wait a couple of years for the Black Hawks to arrive...these aircraft will certainly not be available by the time the AAF [Afghan Air Force] needs to retire its Mi-17 fleet next year," he said.
The procurement process to get the first batch of A-29 Super Tucanos took almost half a decade, and the entire fleet is still not operational, Gady explained. "From a tactical and operational perspective, acquiring the Black Hawk would be a bad decision for the Afghan military."
Training is expected to begin almost immediately according to an Afghan defense official. Four UH-60s slated for training purposes are expected to arrive in Afghanistan later this fall, the official told Military Times, speaking on condition of anonymity because the plan is still in initial stages. Officials at the Pentagon would not confirm the time or place of the training because the issues were still “pre-decisional.”
President Donald Trump is headed to the NATO summit in Brussels this week where the war in Afghanistan will be high on the agenda. Nicholson submitted his recommendation in April calling for an additional 3,000 to 5,000 more U.S. troops to assist with the "train and advise" mission called Operation Resolute Support. NATO allies are also considering a a troop increase in the war-torn country.
Shawn Snow is a Military Times staff writer and editor of the Early Bird Brief. On Twitter:
The ground reality is Afghan regime is effective in areas where Coalition forces are based, while rest of the Afghanistan is still in the hands of either Taliban or local war lords (even Army Generals are also having different belongings & supports of different war lords).That's a daft remark.
US lacks the capability to solve Afghanistan's problems, just as every other outside actor. Russia and Iran as well as other nearby countries have more interest in ending the Afghan "troubles" than US.
As you say. This is also industrial policy. The Afghans wouldn't be able to maintain new UH-60's let alone second hand ones. So some US company will be hired to maintain them providing lots of pork and making the Afghan regime even more dependent on US.Early on the US gave the Afghans Mi17 Hips From Russia. The Reasons were many the filled a number of missions, Transport, CAS, Utility. But as we all know the Relations between the US and Russia have been breaking down, and as time as gone by Paying the Russians for new helicopters for the Afghans has become more and more unpopular among the powers that be.
moving to the UH60 is... troubled. It's smaller than the Mi17 and leaves CAS missions behind Farther more the Afghans don't have the repair training.
The Mi17 and Mi35 had a history that could be worked from but there age has worked against them, they have also had issues of not enough crews for machines and needing extensive support to repair and overhaul.
Replacing the Mi17 with H60 runs into problems first because of size. The H60 is almost exactly half the size in cargo and personnel carry.
There are other options avalible from the west the S92 Superhawk, the AW101 Merlin, the EC752 Caracal.
The next one is the aim to field the MD530 Gunship for the Afghans. The MD 530 though is a very light machine intended for fast strikes and powered by very small single engine this has Afghan Pilots and Hot and High issues.
Actually they already have to Ship the Mi 17's out of country for a number of repairs and overhauls. The Afghans just don't have the infrastructure. You can call it Pork but frankly They already need to pay outside parties to fix their fleet.As you say. This is also industrial policy. The Afghans wouldn't be able to maintain new UH-60's let alone second hand ones. So some US company will be hired to maintain them providing lots of pork and making the Afghan regime even more dependent on US.
And the old helicopters will have to be replaced by new ones.
The size of the UH-60 was determined from the requirement that it could be carried by the C-130 a restriction Mi-17 hasn't been handicapped by.
MD Helicopters to support MD 530F Cayuse Warrior in Afghanistan
By Stephen Carlson | May 25, 2017 at 1:18 PM
"The MD-530s are flying multiple missions a day across Afghanistan," Air Force Lt. Col. Bill Ashford of the 438th Air Expeditionary Advisory Squadron said last year, including aerial escort to convoys and responding to "troops in contact" situations. Photo courtesy of MD Helicopter Inc.
May 25 (UPI) -- MD Helicopters Inc. has received a $76.7 million contract for logistical and contractor support for the MD 530F helicopter, the Department of Defense
U.S. Army Fiscal 2017 funds of $37.6 million have been allocated to the program. Work will be completed in Mesa, Ariz., and Afghanistan. The program is expected to be finished by May 31, 2018.
"The MD-530s are flying multiple missions a day across Afghanistan," Air Force Lt. Col. Bill Ashford of the 438th Air Expeditionary Advisory Squadron
"They are often engaged in providing aerial escort to convoys, providing over-watch to ANDSF operations and responding to 'troops in contact' situations."
The helicopter model has received many updates and been produced in many variations, including the AH-6J "Little Bird," which is used extensively by U.S. Special Forces as a light attack and transport helicopter.
The Cayuse Warrior can carry both unguided rocket pods and .50mm machine guns. It has an improved sighting and targeting system over previous models. The helicopter has a range of over 270 miles, flight ceiling of 16,000 feet, and can carry over a ton of weapons, personnel and cargo.