Government seeks more military hardware
14 January, 2013
KABUL: Afghanistan's military leaders are preparing a weaponry wish list ahead of the withdrawal of most international troops, amid concerns about the ability of Afghan forces to take the lead on the country's security.
At the top of the list: more and better aircraft. As first reported by The Wall Street Journal, the U.S. Air Force recently scrapped plans to equip Afghanistan with a fleet of refurbished transport planes, leaving the Afghan military with a crucial gap in its ability to move troops and cargo around the country.
Afghan Defense Minister Bismullah Khan Mohammadi told reporters at a press conference in Kabul that the lack of planes was a "serious challenge" forthe Afghan military. "Sixteen transport planes were delivered but they weren't useful," he said. The U.S. Air Force earlier this month notified Alenia Aermacchi North America, a unit of the Italian defense conglomerate Finmeccanica SpA, FNC.MI -0.46% that it would not renew a contract to maintain and support 20 refurbished cargo planes for the Afghan military because the company didn't deliver enough aircraft in good working order.
"It's all a bit surprising that this decision is being made now when the [remediation] plan is being fully implemented," a representative of Alenia said last week. Mohammadi expressed the hope that Afghanistan's international partners would step in to provide transportation planes sometime next year. "Until then, we will mostly rely on NATO planes," he said.
The cargo plane development cast a spotlight on some major shortfalls in Afghanistan's military inventory. For several years, Afghanistan and its international allies focused mostly on recruitment, drawing 344,000 new members into its army and police forces despite relatively basic equipment. Now, Afghan and coalition officials say the Afghan military will need new "enablers"—military shorthand for more high-end military technology—so Afghan troops can operate without international support.
Maj. Gen. Zahir Azimi, spokesman for the Afghan Defense Ministry, told The Wall Street Journal the Afghan military was talking with the U.S. and its international allies about bolstering its capabilities in several key areas: air power, fire support, intelligence technology and equipment to detect and clear roadside bombs.
Gen. Azimi said the Afghan military was in line to receive at least four C-130 cargo planes from the U.S.-led International Security Assistance Force, but also wants aircraft for surveillance as well as for transportation. The Afghan military, he said, is still dependent on the U.S.-led coalition for the intelligence provided by drones and other surveillance equipment.
Countering roadside bombs, Gen. Azimi added, is a particularly urgent requirement: Over the past year, he said, 85% of Afghan troop casualties were caused by improvised explosive devices, or IEDs. U.S. and coalition troops operate an array of costly equipment to find and clear roadside bombs, and the Pentagon has spent tens of billions of dollars on specialized vehicles that are better able to withstand mine blasts.
"We expect the international community to consider this issue," he said. "The U.S. promised us they would provide this equipment for counter-IED, but it is not enough."
Gen. Azimi said the Afghan military also needs better and longer-range artillery than its current Soviet-made 122mm howitzers. He said discussions about acquiring more modern guns are in early stages. The Afghan military's equipment shortfalls are coming to the fore ahead of a visit to Washington in early January by Afghan President Hamid Karzai—and as top Afghan officials announce that Afghan forces are now assuming responsibility for security in most of the country.
In a press conference, Ashraf Ghani, chairman of the Afghan government commission that is overseeing transition of security to Afghan control, said Afghan security forces are now poised to take the lead for security in 23 of the 34 Afghan provinces and for 87% of the Afghan population.