Small Wars Journal

The U.S. Spent $8 Billion on Afghanistan’s Air Force. It’s Still Struggling.

The U.S. Spent $8 Billion on Afghanistan’s Air Force. It’s Still Struggling. By David Zucchino – New York Times

The A-29 attack plane was a white speck in the bright skies over eastern Afghanistan as it launched a dummy bomb that exploded just yards from the target, a wrecked truck. “Spot on!” said an American adviser watching the exercise.


The plane’s Afghan pilot had been guided by an Afghan coordinator on the ground — but only after previous bombing runs had struck well wide of the truck.


Eleven years after the United States began building an air force for Afghanistan at a cost now nearing $8 billion, it remains a frustrating work in progress, with no end in sight. Some aviation experts say the Afghans will rely on American maintenance and other support for years.


Such dependence could complicate President Trump’s moves to extricate the United States from the 17-year-old war against Taliban insurgents — a war in which they lately appear to be gaining ground.


“It would be a home run if we got to 60 to 65 percent” self-sufficiency for the Afghan Air Force, said retired Air Force Brig. Gen. John E. Michel, who commanded the air training mission in 2013 and 2014. “You have to have a realistic view of how hard this is.”


For years beginning with the Obama administration, part of the American exit strategy has been to build and train the Afghan military — including the air force — to fight the insurgents on its own.


That strategy appeared to be undermined in December when Mr. Trump was said to have ordered preparations for half the 14,000 American troops in Afghanistan to come home.


At the same time, American military officials have been warning that the Afghans remain dangerously unprepared…

Read on.


Bill C.

Sat, 01/12/2019 - 10:10am

COL Maxwell's thoughts, and the items that he provides below, these seem to be exceptionally important.  So let me take another stab at this, as follows:

Since at least the end of World War II, the overriding "complex civil military problem," that the U.S./the West has had to deal with, this obviously has been -- and obviously still is --

a.  How to prevent the transformation of other states and societies more along non-modern western political, economic, social and value lines (for example: along communist, Islamist and/or other non-modern western political, economic, social and value lines).  And:

b.  How to cause the transformation of other states and societies, instead, only along modern western political, economic, social and value lines. 

As to this such exact "prevent" and "cause" complex civil military problem -- that has been, shall we not admit, at the center of U.S./Western grand strategy since at least the end of World War II -- as to this such complex civil military problem, does not General Sir Rupert Smith suggest, in his The Utility of Force: The Art of War in the Modern World," that the military job therein generally entails such things as (and as I have suggested in my comment below?):

a.  The "holding down" of the non-modern/western desiring populations -- and the great power, state and non-state actors who support same -- this,

b.   While the transformation of these such "outlying" states and societies (only along modern western political, economic, social and value lines in our case) is achieved anyway -- in spite of same -- and, this,

c.  "By other ways and other means?"  (To wit: by ways and means other than by military force?)


In our new paradigm, which I call ‘‘war amongst the people’’, you seek to change the intentions or capture the will of your opponent and the people amongst which you operate, to win the clash of wills and thereby win the trial of strength. The essential difference is that military force is no longer used to decide the political dispute, but rather to create a condition in which a strategic result is achieved. We are now in a world of continual confrontation and conflicts in which the military endeavour (is used?) to support the achievement of the desired outcome by other means.


(Item in parenthesis is mine.)


a.  Thus, while General Sir Rupert Smith, in his "Utility of Force," appears to suggest that industrial war is a thing of the past,

b.  Does he suggest that the tools of industrial war -- which are to be used to "hold down" the non-modern western desiring populations -- and the great power, state and non-state actors who support same -- that these, likewise, lack significant and important utility in these such setting?

(If so, then should we not pay more attention/give greater consideration to COL Maxwell's ideas -- and the other items that he presents below?)

Bill C.

Fri, 01/11/2019 - 10:17am

From the beginning of COL Maxwell's linked "Eight Points of Special Warfare" item provided below:


Special Warfare is the execution of activities that involve a combination of lethal and nonlethal actions taken by a specially trained and educated force that has a deep understanding of cultures and foreign language, proficiency in small-unit tactics, and the ability to build and fight alongside indigenous combat formations in a permissive, uncertain, or hostile environment.

–If there is an indigenous solution or an indigenous contribution to the solution for a complex political military problem conduct special warfare – the essence of which is “through, with, and by” as developed by Mark Boyatt.


Hopefully Good Question No 1:  

If the -- exceptionally well-known -- "complex political military" problem that we are dealing with today; if this is, in fact:

a.  How to stand against and hold down the "resisting transformation more along modern western lines" populations and governments of the world (some of latter of these now, indeed, being interfering/intervening "great powers"); this, while:

b.  The U.S./the West, and its partner nation/host governments, work to transform the outlying states and societies of the world -- more along modern western lines -- anyway/in spite of such resistance and interference. (This, so as to adequately deal with the problems, such as terrorism, which are said to emanate from so-called "weak, failed and/or failing states.")


1.  Exactly as to this such "complex political military problem" (see my "a" and "b" above and -- therein -- do not ignore/do not discount the malign interference of and/or involvement by opponent great powers), 

2.  Is there "an indigenous solution" -- and/or "a  significant indigenous contribution to the solution" -- to said problem? 

Hopefully Good Question No 2:

Turning now to this portion of COL Maxwell's comment below:


Understand the indigenous way of war and adapt to it.   Do not force the US way of war upon indigenous forces if is counter to their history, customs, traditions, and abilities.


Given the "complex political military" problem that I identified here (again, see my "a" and "b" above), would the "indigenous way of war" allow them/us to overcome said problem? 

(Or, in these such instances/circumstances, are more, shall we say, "industrial" ways of war required?) 

Dave Maxwell

Thu, 01/10/2019 - 5:33pm

I would offer my fourth point in the Eight Points of Special Warfare for consideration:


 4. Assessment - must conduct continuous assessment to gain understanding - tactical, operational, and strategic.  Assessments are key to developing strategy and campaign plans and anticipating potential conflict.  Assessments allow you to challenge assumptions and determine if a rebalance of ends, ways, and means is required.
 Understand the indigenous way of war and adapt to it.   Do not force the US way of war upon indigenous forces if is counter to their history, customs, traditions, and abilities