The U.S. military is providing Afghanistan with six additional A-29 Super Tucano light attack planes to bolster the fight against the Taliban.
The U.S. had planned to give the Afghan military 20 of the A-29s; the new order will bring the total to 26. The Afghan Air Force also recently received UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters from the U.S.
“The A-29 and new UH-60s represent platforms that provide close air support and mobility capabilities the Afghan Air Force provides in support of Afghan Army ground operations. They are both effective and demonstrate the development of the Afghan Air Force,” Lieutenant Colonel Mike Andrews, a spokesman for the U.S. Air Force, told Newsweek.
The Taliban has been increasingly aggressive in recent months, with some saying it is stronger than ever. On Tuesday, the Taliban killed 13 Afghan soldiers in attacks on military posts in two western provinces and in the southern part of the country. In this context, more airpower is seen as crucial to giving the Afghan military an advantage over the insurgents.
“We are using the A-29s almost every day. They’re really suitable for the geography here. You can say they were made for Afghanistan,” Mohammad Radmanesh, deputy spokesman for Afghanistan’s Defense Ministry, told Stars and Stripes.
In August, U.S. Air Force Brigadier General Phillip Stewart, who’s spearheading the U.S. effort to strengthen the Afghan Air Force, said the lack of roads and the mountainous terrain make Afghanistan a country that “screams for airpower.”
The A-29 is equipped with a 12.7-mm machine gun under each wing and can also be fitted with 20-mm cannons, air-to-ground rockets and precision-guided bombs. It isn’t an aircraft that would do well in a more conventional fight against larger powers such as China or Russia, but it’s well suited for the fight in Afghanistan, the military has said. A dozen Super Tucanos are already in service with the Afghan Air Force, and Afghan pilots are also training with them at Moody Air Force Base in Georgia.
Meanwhile, U.S. airstrikes in Afghanistan skyrocketed in September, to their highest point in seven years. The U.S. dropped 751 bombs against the Taliban and ISIS’s Afghan affiliate, a 50 percent increase from August, when 503 bombs were dropped. “This increase can be attributed to the President’s strategy to more proactively target extremist groups that threaten the stability and security of the Afghan people,” the military said in a report on the strikes.
The increase in strikes has led to a sharp uptick in civilian casualties, according to a recent report from the United Nations. By the end of September, at least 205 civilians had been killed and 261 wounded by airstrikes in Afghanistan in 2017 alone, the report said.