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Taliban gain access to US military aircraft in Afghanistan: what they can do

After the Taliban seized control of the Afghan airfield in Kandahar on Friday, August 13, photographs soon emerged on social media showing Taliban fighters posing with military helicopters such as American-made Black Hawks and Soviet-made Mi-17s. The edition told in more detail Defense News.

Photo: Shutterstock

After they captured Mazar-i-Sharif airport, new photographs followed, this time Taliban members standing next to an A-29 attack aircraft and an MD-530 service helicopter.

Now that Afghanistan is under Taliban control, the question is no longer whether the organization will gain access to planes and helicopters provided by the Afghan air force, but what it plans to do with them - and what the US military can do. in reply.

The Afghan Air Force operated a total of 211 aircraft, of which about 167 aircraft and helicopters were operational as of June 30, according to a July report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction.

So far, the Department of Defense has not confirmed how many of these planes were captured by the Taliban, how many are still operational, and how many planes have been safely transported by Afghan Air Force pilots to relative safety in neighboring countries.

During a briefing at the Pentagon, Major General Hank Taylor, deputy director of the Joint Staff for Regional Operations, said he had no information on whether the US military would take action to prevent the Taliban from hijacking or using aircraft or other military equipment.

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Bradley Bowman, a former Black Hawk pilot who served in Afghanistan and harshly criticized the US withdrawal, said "there is no doubt that they have captured hundreds of Humvees, artillery and other equipment - and aircraft."

“This should be deeply troubling to the Americans, not only because we are helping to finance and provide for them, but also because the Taliban can win,” he added.

Bowman said that as the administration of US President Joe Biden considers its way forward, its highest priority should be the safe evacuation of Americans from Afghanistan. Then he must destroy the American equipment remaining in Afghanistan, as well as all aircraft and helicopters abandoned by the Afghan air force.

“If we do it now, we will see the Taliban change their attitude towards the evacuation operations in Kabul,” he said. "So get all the Americans out, do whatever you can to get our Afghan partners out."

According to the special inspector's report, the Afghan Air Force used 23 A-29 attack aircraft, four C-130 cargo aircraft and a total of 33 paramilitary versions of the Cessna Caravan, some of which were configured to carry out light attacks.

He also flew about 150 helicopters, including the American-made UH-60 Black Hawk versatile helicopter and armed MD-530s, as well as the Soviet Mi-17, which were in the process of being decommissioned.

Of the Afghan Air Force's arsenal, perhaps the most advanced is the A-29 Super Tucano, a turboprop attack aircraft built by Brazilian aerospace manufacturer Embraer and modified by US defense firm Sierra Nevada, which combines the aircraft with US-made sensors and weapons.

Unlike a jet fighter designed to provide speed and maneuverability in aerial combat, the A-29 is optimized for counterinsurgency operations, the aircraft can fly slowly and low to engage targets on the ground. The aircraft can be flown by relatively inexperienced pilots and operated in harsh conditions.

But according to General Mark Kelly, head of Air Combat, this is not a technology that could threaten the US military in future clashes with the Taliban.

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“It's understandable that people worry about any opportunity. We do not know exactly how they are going to use the technique, whether it is an M16 or A-29 rifle, ”said Kelly.

“But suffice it to say that the technology behind the A-29 is not advanced technology,” he added.

While the Taliban may be looking to sell hijacked planes, none of the planes or helicopters operated by the Afghan air force contain secret technology that would be useful to countries like China, according to Richard Abulafia, an aerospace analyst at Teal Group. or Russia.

“Truth be told, if the Russians or the Chinese wanted to get their hands on the Super Tucano or the early Black Hawk, it wouldn't be that hard,” he said. "They were equipped in a rather low-tech way."

At the same time, the 45th US President Donald Trump said that Russia will study American Black Hawk helicopters left in Afghanistan, writes UniIndia.

“We have new Black Hawk helicopters worth billions and billions of dollars, completely new, which Russia will now study, like China and everyone else, because this is the best military equipment in the world,” Trump said.

The Taliban will face a long list of obstacles if they try to use the equipment on their own, using the remaining planes and helicopters to form the backbone of the special air force.

First, the Taliban do not have trained pilots who can safely fly the aircraft, use sensors, and load weapons.

“They might actually be able to lift him into the air,” he said. "But they are likely to be more dangerous to their own well-being than to people on earth."

In the end, the Taliban will be able to find qualified pilots, “but as far as the threat to the region is concerned, I don't think this is a real threat,” Kelly added.

An even bigger hurdle for the Taliban will be the expense, experience and logistics associated with maintaining the aircraft, an expensive proposition that includes pre- and post-flight servicing, repairs and spare parts.

However, according to Bowman, this problem cannot be solved.

“I'm not so naive as not to imagine a scenario where maybe - maybe - they could find pilots, maybe former Afghan Air Force pilots would be forced to side with them,” Bowman said. "And it is possible that foreign powers that do not maintain relations with the United States can help."

But he noted that the use of aircraft weapons - either against Afghan citizens or against other countries in the region - could ultimately undermine the Taliban's goal of maintaining control of the country.

“The more they use conventional military equipment, the more they become targets,” he said. - There is clearly not a lot of organized internal resistance in the country. It seems they are not eager to fight with neighboring countries. "

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Not all military aircraft remained in Afghanistan.

On Sunday, August 15, in the evening, three Afghan Air Force planes and two helicopters carrying 143 military personnel landed safely in Tajikistan after receiving permission from the country's authorities.

The Afghan air force has also tried to take refuge in Uzbekistan, although it is unclear how many planes and personnel have flown into the country in the past few days.

On Monday, August 16, the General Prosecutor's Office of Uzbekistan confirmed that 14 unspecified military aircraft and 15 helicopters, carrying 22 soldiers and pilots, arrived in the country on August 24 and 585.

The ministry also said that three more A-29 attack aircraft requested permission to land on August 15 and were escorted by the MiG-29 by the Uzbek military, but one MiG-29 and A-29 collided during the flight. The pilots of both aircraft ejected safely.

On August 16, the agency completely canceled its statements, without specifying how many Afghan planes had landed in the country.

As ForumDaily wrote earlier:

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