The United States has redeployed a squadron of A-10 ground attack planes to Afghanistan, bolstering the air campaign against the Taliban being conducted in partnership with Afghan forces.
The U.S. military said Tuesday the aircraft, commonly known as the “Warthog,” supports the increased requirements for close air support and precision strike capacity, while undertaking counterterrorism missions and targeting drug factories funding insurgent activities.
Those aircraft will be joined by MQ-9 Reaper drones for "armed overwatch" and reconnaissance of the battlefield, and HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopters for personnel recovery, according to a military statement.
“Under the authorities granted in the South Asia Policy, precision strikes with A-10s will hit the Taliban where they are most vulnerable: their revenue streams and profits from developing and selling illegal narcotics,” it said.
President Donald Trump’s new policy has already dramatically increased the number of airstrikes against militant targets and the A-10’s return is expected to escalate the war effort.
The U.S. military dropped nearly 1,900 bombs in just the past four months of 2017, compared to only 524 for the same period the year before.
“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,” said Major General James Hecker, a U.S. commander in Afghanistan.
The military said the A-10s will conduct their first strike against the Taliban in “a matter of days.”
Since November, 30 strikes conducted against Taliban narcotics production facilities destroyed more than $20 million in Taliban revenue, according to NATO’s Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan, which mostly comprises U.S. troops.
Tuesday’s announcement also said the Afghan Air Force (AAF) will more than double their fleet of aircraft during the next seven years. The introduction of AC-208 attack aircraft and UH-60 Black Hawk assault helicopters, as well as additional A-29 attack aircraft and MD-530 attack helicopters are part of the planes to strengthen AAF.
Critics have warned the war in Afghanistan is likely to intensify in 2018 in the wake of a stepped up U.S. military campaign in a country where civilian casualties spiked to record levels in the previous year.