A lot of American blood has been spilt and a lot of treasure has been spent since 2001 to ensure that Afghanistan won’t once again become a base from which terrorist organizations can strike globally. Worryingly, a key part of the U.S. and NATO strategy there—building the capabilities of the Afghans—was under threat last week in the House of Representatives.
Since 2005, the Department of Defense (DOD) has been procuring Russian-made Mi-17 transport helicopters for the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). Many would like the U.S. to provide American-made helicopters to the Afghans instead. But at this stage in the game, the Mi-17 helicopter offers the best capability required for the ANSF at the best cost to the U.S. taxpayer.
However, this does not mean that the DOD’s purchase of Mi-17s for the Afghans is without problems.
Recently, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) rightly criticized the purchase of 30 Mi-17 helicopters for Afghan Special Mission Wing (SMW)—part of an Afghan special forces unit—not because the Mi-17 is not a capable helicopter but because “the Afghans lack the capacity—in both personnel numbers and expertise—to operate and maintain the existing and planned SMW fleets.”
The SIGAR report rightly acknowledges that the SMW has significant recruiting and training challenges. It even states that the DOD’s significant investment is at risk because of these challenges.
So what was Congress’s response? Instead of authorizing the required resources to ensure that Afghans are trained and that the U.S. taxpayers’ investment is not wasted, Congress voted to pull the plug on future funding.
The House passed an amendment to the 2013 Department of Defense appropriations bill, sponsored by Rosa DeLauro (D–CT), to prevent DOD funds from being “obligated or expended to train the Afghan National Security Forces Special Mission Wing to operate or maintain Mi-17 helicopters.”
Like it or not, and despite the concerns of the SIGAR, the DOD has already gone ahead with the purchase of Mi-17 helicopters and will be delivering them to the Afghans. Surely, the sensible thing would be to ensure that there is funding to train the Afghans to fly and maintain these helicopters. Otherwise, there is a risk that taxpayers’ money will be rusting away on some dusty airstrip in Afghanistan.