May 23, 2013

Regarding the May 20 front-page article “Afghan troops lose an airlift lifeline”:

The international coalition in Afghanistan has invested in training and funding to provide the Afghan military with a limited airlift capability, realizing that the Afghans’ almost complete reliance on coalition airlift over the past decade of war would have a devastating effect as coalition militaries draw down troops ahead of the 2014 deadline. But the issue is complicated by Afghan leadership priorities, endemic corruption, the lack of other transportation infrastructure such as rail or sufficient highways and a largely illiterate, rural population lacking technical skills.

Afghan operational commanders, already facing rising desertion rates and the quiet brokering of deals by their units with the Taliban and the insurgent group Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin in contested areas, note that their inability to evacuate their wounded will undermine hard-fought advances in the readiness of Afghan Army and police forces.

Yet, the majority of helicopter trips are for VIP transport — moving generals around the battlefield. Kits to counter improvised explosive devices — provided by the coalition — are stolen and sold before they can reach soldiers in the field, as are parts and tools that would be used to maintain the helicopter fleet. Soldiers who show promise during training — the literate, technical and talented — are siphoned off to serve as drivers and staff for senior leaders in Kabul.

Bleeding out from a treatable wound is terrible. But as Afghan forces move to lead their own nation’s security, they must decide to make this issue their priority and to find an Afghan solution. And it won’t be the fleet of Black Hawks they’ve relied on for the past decade.

Heidi Berg, Kabul

The writer is a U.S. Navy captain who has served as the International Security Assistance Force representative to the International Police Coordination Board in Kabul.

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