A new key to defeating the Taliban in Afghanistan during the so-called spring-fighting season is a small propeller plane reminiscent of World World II technology.
The Pentagon first started training the Afghans to pilot the A-29 Super Tucano last year. And the Afghan Air Force got another eight just in time for the spring-fighting season, when the snow melts and the Taliban gears up to defend the opium poppy fields, fresh in bloom.
It’s an annual escalation of violence that always begins with a Taliban press release, sent out this year on April 28th. They named this year’s offensive “Operation Mansouri” after the Taliban leader killed by a U.S. drone strike.
In just the past few days, the Taliban reportedly overran a district in Northern Afghanistan, causing thousands of people to flee. A bombing at a religious school killed the chief cleric and four students. Afghanistan’s Air Force struck Islamic State targets in eastern Afghanistan.
“Our focus right now continues to be down in the south,” said Brig. Gen. Charles Cleveland, “where we believe that the Taliban will want to protect their poppy investments and their drug trafficking.”
The brigadier general described the various efforts and resources poured into preparing the Afghan government forces to tackle the Taliban, including 900 new Humvees, new weapons and new training by U.S. Army troops and Marines.
But one of the newest, “most important” weapons will be the new propeller planes piloted by U.S.-trained Afghans.
“This time last year they had zero. This time today they have eight attack aircraft, and by the end of 2017 they will have another eight. It's gonna provide a tremendous bump and a tremendous extra piece of what the Afghans need to defend themselves,” Cleveland said at a press conference in Kabul.
They’ve already seen action. Late last month, the Afghan Ministry of Defense said an A-29 Super Tucano killed at least four Taliban manning a Russian-built DShK heavy machine gun in southern Uruzgan province. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis has publicly accused Russia of moving weapons through Iran to arm the Taliban.
Despite looking like a small private propeller plane, the A-29 is neither old nor frail. The Pentagon says the Brazilian-made A-29 was designed in the mid-90s to operate in rugged, extreme high and low temperature environments like Afghanistan. It’s currently being used by 10 militaries around the world.
The Afghans are hopeful that it will make a difference this spring-fighting season, after 5,000 Afghan army deaths just the past year.
“This aircraft has the ability to fire rockets and machine guns,” said Col. Bahadur Khan of the Afghan Air Force. “This fighting aircraft will provide security and combat support for our ground units."