US sends A-10 squadron to Afghanistan for first time in three years

US sends A-10 squadron to Afghanistan for first time in three years

For the first time in more than three years, the United States Air Force has deployed a squadron of A-10C Thunderbolt attack jets to Afghanistan. 

The A-10 squadron — deployed as part of a U.S. and Afghan air campaign targeting Taliban drug facilities and counterterrorism operations — is the latest sign of increasing U.S. military involvement in the country. 

“The Taliban still has not felt the full brunt of American and Afghan air power,” Air Force Maj. Gen. James Hecker, head of NATO Air Command-Afghanistan, said in a statement. 

“With the arrival of new air assets and the growing capabilities of Afghan pilots, the Taliban will have a constant eye towards the sky as an integrated unified fight is aimed directly to them.”

The A-10 Thunderbolt, commonly referred to by its "Warthog" nickname, is known for its ability to fly low and slow and is fitted with a powerful gun capable of destroying enemy tanks. The use of the plane will help destroy Taliban opium production facilities. 

The U.S. military first began bombing opium production plants in Afghanistan in November as part of a new strategy targeting Taliban dollar streams. Since then, “30 strikes conducted against Taliban narcotics production facilities resulted in more than $20 million in total impact on Taliban revenue,” the Air Force statement said.

This is the first time in recent days that an A-10 squadron has been used to strike drug facilities. The Air Force several years ago had sought to ground it, arguing the Cold War-era aircraft was too expensive to maintain. It was also argued that other aircraft could perform close air support missions. 

The plans received heavy pushback from Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) and former Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), as well as ground troops, who argued the A-10 was the best close air support platform for troops in combat.

Since November, F-22 attack planes and B-52 bombers have been used in the exercises targeting drug facilities.

The U.S. also deployed MQ-9 Reaper drones to Afghanistan to provide “armed over-watch and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance of the battlefield” and HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopters for personnel recovery, search and rescue.

The arrival of the new aircraft follows a recent decision by U.S. Air Forces Central Command to realign aircraft, airmen and assets already in the area to Kandahar Airfield to help implement the Trump administration’s South Asia Policy, rolled out in August.

The new policy also involves sending at least 3,000 additional troops to Afghanistan. 

The A-10s in the squadron came from the 303rd Expeditionary Fighter Squadron at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo. The planes were meant to replace an A-10 squadron at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey and take part in the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. 

The aircraft were redirected to Afghanistan, however, after officials determined the planes were better needed there.