IG Finds Major Shortcomings in US, NATO Close-Air Support Training for Afghans

An Afghan Air Force A-29 Super Tucano soars over Kabul, Afghanistan, Aug. 14, 2015. (U.S. Air Force/Staff Sgt. Larry E. Reid Jr.)
An Afghan Air Force A-29 Super Tucano soars over Kabul, Afghanistan, Aug. 14, 2015. (U.S. Air Force/Staff Sgt. Larry E. Reid Jr.)

Afghan ground controllers trained by the U.S. and NATO can't direct airdrops and lack the ability to properly coordinate attack missions by the Afghan Air Force, increasing the risk of civilian casualties and fratricide, according to the Pentagon's Office of Inspector General.

In a report released Monday, the IG said that allied training of Afghan Tactical Air Coordinators (ATACs) who work forward-deployed with Afghan infantry "did not meet its objective to develop ATACs capable of coordinating airdrop operations to resupply" ground units in areas where they lack an airfield.

The report also found that the allies "did not have a detailed curriculum to train Afghan air liaison officers on targeting for airstrikes" and do not track the effectiveness of airdrops and airstrikes coordinated by the ATACs for the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF).

"This lack of training could lead to an increase in unsuccessful air-to-ground missions, as well as an increased risk of civilian casualties and fratricide" within the ANDSF, the report states.

It notes that the ATACs "are considered essential in a guerrilla war in which government troops frequently have to deal with surprise attacks or ambushes and often require quick air action to avoid being overrun."

The report recommends that the allies' train, advise and assist commands should determine whether airdrops coordinated by the Afghans themselves should remain an "operational objective" for the ATACs.

The IG also recommends that the allies develop a curriculum for Afghan Air Liaison Officer training that "complies with Afghan air-to-ground integration doctrine and targeting policies."

In response, the NATO Air Command-Afghanistan Chief of Staff agreed with the recommendation on airdrops, stating that "coordinating airdrops is a valid operational objective" and adding that the training syllabus has already been revised.

However, the NATO air chief of staff said that current training on targeting is in compliance with the "employment of aerial fires in close proximity to friendly forces, while preventing fratricide and civilian casualties," the report states.

In its response to the air chief of staff's response on targeting, the IG's office wrote, "We disagree with the Chief of Staff determination that the air liaison officer curriculum met course requirements for specificity, content and competency."

The U.S. drive to stand up a lethal Afghan Air Force, supplied with A-29 Super Tucano turboprop attack aircraft directed by competent forward-based air ground controllers, has been a main component in the effort to beat back a resurgent Taliban, even as the U.S. conducts peace talks with the insurgents.

The report states that U.S. and NATO training on close-air support has met some goals and fallen short on others, but "the lack of an airdrop capability puts ground units operating in areas without airfields and helicopter landing zones at risk of not receiving critical supplies."

"Furthermore, the inability to coordinate airdrop operations requires additional ground resupply missions, increasing the risk of attacks by insurgents on ANDSF, U.S. and Coalition forces," the report adds.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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