Afghanistan might not use all those planes the Pentagon is sending

An Afghan Air Force C-130 sits on the flightline at Kabul International Airport on April 20. (Photo courtesy the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction)

Check out the photograph above. That’s a C-130 that the United States sent to Afghanistan to be used by the country’s fledgling air force. It’s meant to assist the country with its air lift needs as it takes over its security mission from coalition forces entirely by the end of the year.

There’s a problem, though. The top U.S. watchdog on Afghanistan reconstruction says the country might not have the ability to “absorb” the delivery of two more C-130 cargo planes. The United States already has delivered two, with a third expected to arrive in Afghanistan in August and a fourth coming by the end of the 2015, said John Sopko, the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, in a new letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and top U.S. commanders.

“First, we could not determine why DOD, in order to provide airlift of medium weight loads to the AAF, decided to provide four C-130s rather than different quantities or types of aircraft,” Sopko said in the letter, dated July 10. “Although the decision was made in January 2013 to purchase four C-130s, the AAF’s requirement for those aircraft had not been updated since March 2010. Second, we analyzed flight data for the two AAF C-130s currently in Afghanistan and found that they are being underutilized, which raises questions about whether additional aircraft are truly needed.”

Sopko added that during a visit to Afghanistan in June, he also was informed about problems associated with training, spare parts and maintenance for the C-130s Afghanistan already has. He recommended assessing the country’s “medium lift” needs, which could be filled with smaller, cheaper aircraft, and stopping delivery of the other two C-130s for the time being.

“Even the elimination of one C-130 could save up to $40.5 million through 2017,” Sopko said.

The Wall Street Journal adds the Pentagon already scrapped plans in 2012 to equip the Afghan air force with 20 C-27 cargo planes because an Italian contractor failed to deliver enough of them that were flyable.

“Those aircraft,” the Journal says, “are now parked at Kabul International Airport, a visible symbol of a failed procurement.”

The Defense Department has received Sopko’s letter, is reviewing it and “will respond appropriately,” said Maj. Brad Avots, a Pentagon spokesman.

UPDATE: July 16, 4:40 p.m. This post has been updated to reflect that the C-130s the United States sent to Afghanistan were not new.

Dan Lamothe covers national security for The Washington Post and anchors its military blog, Checkpoint.



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