Amer­i­can he­li­copters will re­place failed Rus­sian fleet for Afghanistan

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY ROWAN SCAR­BOR­OUGH

The Don­ald Trump Pen­tagon, in so many words, is say­ing that the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s de­ci­sion to waive puni­tive sanc­tions and buy com­bat he­li­copters from Rus­sia was a bad deal.

The Pen­tagon’s first con­gres­sion­ally re­quired re­port on Afghanistan un­der Pres­i­dent Trump says the Rus­sian Mi-17 chop­per has proved a fail­ure in the long war and will be phased out in fa­vor of Amer­i­can-made UH-60 Black Hawks.

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion came to re­al­ize the fail­ure in its last weeks in of­fice and stopped the deal.

The re­port this month on “En­hanc­ing Se­cu­rity and Sta­bil­ity in Afghanistan” marks of­fi­cial con­fir­ma­tion that the Rus­sian model broke down too of­ten for the Afghan air force lo­gis­tics sys­tem to keep up.

“Along with the in­creased ex­pense and dif­fi­culty in main­tain­ing the Mi-17 he­li­copter fleet, util­ity he­li­copters are in high de­mand and the re­quired main­te­nance ex­ceeds cur­rent ca­pac­ity and ca­pa­bil­ity, lead­ing to main­te­nance back­logs and a re­duced num­ber of air­craft avail­able,” the De­fense Depart­ment re­port said. “In­cluded in the re­cap­i­tal­iza­tion ef­fort is an ini­tia­tive to tran­si­tion the force away from Rus­sian-made Mi-17 he­li­copters to more reli­able, cost-ef­fec­tive, and eas­ier to sus­tain U.S.-made UH-60 he­li­copters.”

The Mi-17 stood as an out­lier in Pres­i­dent Obama’s eco­nomic-sanc­tion­filled as­sault on the regime of Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin in re­sponse to his in­va­sion of eastern Ukraine.

The ad­min­is­tra­tion al­lowed

Rosoboronex­port, the state-run arms bro­ker, to stay off the sanc­tions list as it per­tained to main­tain­ing Mi-17s amid $554 mil­lion in U.S. funds via Afghanistan to sup­ply the he­li­copter. The ar­gu­ment for the full deal was that Afghan pi­lots and crew mem­bers were more ac­cus­tomed to Rus­sian-made weapons sys­tems.

In an era in Wash­ing­ton where any and all con­tacts with Rus­sia by any Trump-con­nected per­son fetches in­tense me­dia and Demo­crat scru­tiny, the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion showed that some­times the po­lit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion dic­tates that Wash­ing­ton must deal with Moscow.

Mean­while, Moscow has lent cred­i­bil­ity to the bru­tal Tal­iban in­sur­gency by ar­gu­ing that it is fight­ing the Is­lamic State ter­ror­ists an­chored in Afghanistan.

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s last Pen­tagon up­date on Afghanistan in De­cem­ber did not an­nounce an Mi-17 can­cel­la­tion or pro­cure­ment of the U.S. Army work­horse UH-60.

In fact, the ad­min­is­tra­tion seemed to have a love-hate re­la­tion­ship with the Mi-17, prais­ing its abil­ity to per­form cargo and com­bat missions “for which it is uniquely de­signed.”

But fur­ther read­ing re­vealed the he­li­copter, of which 46 are op­er­a­tional in Afghanistan, was grow­ing in­creas­ingly un­re­li­able. Lo­gis­tics cen­ters out­side Kabul were not equipped to keep up, cre­at­ing a time­line that would put all Mi-17s out of action in a few years.

“At the cur­rent at­tri­tion and fly­ing hour rates, the num­ber of [Afghan air force] Mi-17s avail­able for 2017 will be sig­nif­i­cantly di­min­ished, and the Mi-17 fleet will be­come un­sus­tain­able by mid-2018, vir­tu­ally elim­i­nat­ing the AAFs ver­ti­cal trans­port and lift ca­pa­bil­ity,” the De­cem­ber re­port said.

At a press con­fer­ence that month at the Pen­tagon, Army Gen. John W. Nicholson Jr., the top U.S. com­man­der in Afghanistan, said Rus­sia has “overtly lent le­git­i­macy to the Tal­iban.”

“This pub­lic le­git­i­macy that Rus­sia lends to the Tal­iban is not based on fact, but it is used as a way to es­sen­tially un­der­mine the Afghan gov­ern­ment and the NATO ef­fort and bol­ster the bel­liger­ents,” Gen. Nicholson said.

“And their nar­ra­tive goes some­thing like this: That the Tal­iban are the ones fight­ing Is­lamic State, not the Afghan gov­ern­ment,” he said. “And of course, as I just out­lined for you, the Afghan gov­ern­ment and the U.S. coun­tert­er­ror­ism ef­fort are the ones achiev­ing the great­est ef­fect against Is­lamic State.”

The four-star gen­eral said this year that Rus­sia is pro­vid­ing arms to the Tal­iban in a di­rect al­liance against the 8,000 U.S. troops sta­tioned there.

Gen. Nicholson de­fended the orig­i­nal Rus­si­aMi-17 deal, say­ing Afghanistan re­quested the chop­pers be­fore Mr. Putin in­vaded Ukraine and be­fore sanc­tions were im­posed as pun­ish­ment.

Rus­sia is not help­ing the U.S. plan to keep the Rus­sian air­craft fly­ing un­til the Black Hawks ar­rive.

“Keep­ing the air­frame in the in­ven­tory but not be­ing able to main­tain it would not be pos­i­tive,” the gen­eral said. “And so the Afghan gov­ern­ment has gone to the Rus­sians and asked for their as­sis­tance in this. The Rus­sians have not pro­vided it.”

The Mi-17 deal was par­tic­u­larly un­pop­u­lar among mem­bers of Congress from Con­necti­cut, head­quar­ters for Black Hawk pro­ducer Siko­rsky Air­craft Corp.

“I’ll never un­der­stand why the U.S. gov­ern­ment sent tax­payer money to Rus­sia for he­li­copters in Afghanistan while Rus­sia was sup­port­ing the [Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad] regime in Syria and in­vad­ing eastern Ukraine,” said Sen. Christo­pher Mur­phy, Con­necti­cut Demo­crat.

To­day, amid the probes into Rus­sian hack­ing of the Democrats, Mr. Mur­phy is a lead­ing ad­vo­cate of a the­ory that Mr. Trump and his Trump Or­ga­ni­za­tion main­tained nu­mer­ous ties with Moscow.

Per­haps such ties will turn up. To date, there have been re­ports of some in­vest­ments by wealthy Rus­sians but no ex­ten­sive re­la­tion­ship.


DE­PART­ING: Re­fur­bished Mi-17 he­li­copters will be phased out and re­placed by Amer­i­can UH-60 Black Hawks for the Afghan mil­i­tary. The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion re­al­ized in its fi­nal weeks that buy­ing more Rus­sian craft would be a bad deal.


A Pen­tagon re­port, “En­hanc­ing Se­cu­rity and Sta­bil­ity in Afghanistan,” marks of­fi­cial con­fir­ma­tion that the Afghan air force lo­gis­tics sys­tem can no longer keep up with break­downs in the Rus­sian he­li­copter model.

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