The Air War In Afghanistan
Expands On Both Sides
27 January, 2020
Under the Trump administration U.S. air attacks in Afghanistan have sharply increased. But it now seems that the Taliban have acquired some means to counter them.
Last year the U.S. dropped a record number of bombs on Afghanistan leading to ever increasing casualties among civilians:
According to the Combined Forces Air Component Commander (CFACC) 2013-2019 Airpower Statistics released in late January, 7,423 missions flown in Afghanistan in 2019 resulted in weapons being released. There were more weapon releases in most months of the year than in any corresponding months since records were first released in 2009, with September recording the most for the year at 948.
The previous annual record was 7,362 set in 2018, and the last two years together have seen more weapon releases over Afghanistan than the combined number for 2012 through to 2017.
Twenty bombing strikes per day is a quite astonishing number. Many civilians get killed in this U.S. bombing campaign. The U.S. often seems not to know who it is hitting. This report from last week is typical:
A drone attack carried out by U.S. forces earlier this month in western Afghanistan that apparently targeted a splinter Taliban group also killed at least 10 civilians, including three women and three children, an Afghan rights official and a council member said Wednesday.
There was no immediate comment from the Afghan military or the U.S. forces. But Wakil Ahmad Karokhi, a provincial council member in Herat, said the Jan. 8 strike also killed the commander of a Taliban splinter group, known as Mullah Nangyalia, along with 15 other militants.
The commanders funeral the following day was held in the Herat provincial capital’s Guzargah neighborhood, and was attended by dozens of militants.
Karokhi criticized the strike as “huge mistake” saying the commander had been a useful buffer against the Taliban in Shindand district, taking up arms with his fighters against the insurgents “when no one else would do it" and leaving the area's civilians in peace.
The U.S. military and its allies and Afghan proxies are not the only ones fighting. The Taliban can hit back at helicopters and planes and, judging from the number of recent air incidents, they now have found effective means to do so. Two days ago they destroyed another helicopter:
Drexluddin Spiveyzai @RisboLensky - 9:44 UTC · Jan 25, 2020
Helicopter hit by missile in Kajaki area of #Helmand 4 soldiers wounded via @TOLOnews #Afghanistan
Its #Moldova flag. Helicopter got hit pretty bad. True miracle there are no deaths
#Taliban took responsibility for shooting down of military helicopter in #Helmand #Afghanistan
This is the 4th helicopter that went down in January
Video from Kajaki
Four helicopter losses in one month is quite significant.
Earlier today there were reports that a civilian Afghan airliner had come down. Those turned out to be false. But a plane had indeed crashed in Ghazni province south of Kabul. It was a military one:
Harry Boone @towersight - 12:37 UTC · Jan 27, 2020
Wreck of plane crashed today in Afghanistan looks like to be a USAF Bombardier Global 6000 / E-11A "BACN" (Battlefield Airborne Communications Node)
Four U.S. E-11As are assigned to the 430th Expeditionary Electronic Combat Squadron and operate usually from Kandahar AB.
Afghan sources say the Taliban claimed that they shot down the plane. Others deny that. What is sure though is that the plane crashed into Taliban held territory. At least two persons on board were killed.
The "BACN" flying radio relay stations have been in Afghanistan for a while. A military report from March 2017 said:
Called “as essential to mission success as bullets,” the E-11A Battlefield Airborne Communications Node flew its 10,000th sortie Feb. 24, 2017 at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, since arriving in Afghanistan eight years ago.
The 430th Expeditionary Electronic Squadron operating out of Kandahar is the only unit in the U.S. Air Force that operates the E-11A with the BACN payload. It was created to fulfill what is called a joint urgent operational need, when it was identified that the terrain of Afghanistan posed serious communication challenges.
There appear to exist only four of these planes which are heavily modified Bombardier Global 6000 ultra long-range business jets. They are only used in Afghanistan.
The loss is significant. The ground troops depend on radio communication when they direct bombers to their targets. Without the flying relay stations they have no chance to do so in Afghanistan's mountainous terrain.
It is not known what new means the Taliban have to take down planes and helicopters. In 2018 a few Stinger anti-air missiles were found during a raid on some Taliban. But those seem to have been old and were probably no longer functioning. Helicopters can be brought down with machine guns or even with anti-tank missiles (RPGs).
But the E-11A usually fly at a significant altitude and the crashed plane was not near an airport. The usual man-portable air-defense missiles (MANPAD) like the U.S. made Stinger reach a maximum altitude of only some 3.500 meters.
That opens the possibility that the Taliban have acquired new supplies of larger missiles. One wonders where those would come from.
On January 5 Hizbullah leader Hassan Nazrallah announced how the 'resistance axis' would respond to the U.S. murder of the Iranian General Soleimani and the Iraqi PMU leader Al-Muhandis.
The response to the blood of Soleimani and Al-Muhandis must be expulsion of all U.S. forces from the region.
Using effective means to take down even high flying U.S. planes would be one possible way to achieve that aim.
But Iran is not the only possible source of such missiles. China and Russia also produce effective anti-air missiles and the military in Pakistan and in Tajikistan have bought those in significant numbers. All these countries usually hold back from providing anti-air missiles to militants as they could also endanger their own (civil) airplanes.
But the loss of five aircraft in one month in Afghanistan might well mean that this has changed.