ISLAMABAD - The NATO-led military alliance in Afghanistan announced Tuesday that the Afghan Air Force (AAF) had dropped its first laser-guided bomb on a Taliban compound and had destroyed it.
The Resolute Support Mission said the AAF last Thursday tasked its A-29 light attack aircraft squadron to use the weapon in western Farah province because of the target's close proximity to civilians.
"The drop resulted in a direct hit along the route of a major Afghan National Army clearing operation, marking the first time the AAF dropped a laser-guided bomb in combat," said a mission statement issued in Kabul.
The air action also assisted Afghan soldiers in destroying equipment that the Taliban had stolen.
The statement noted the successful counterinsurgency mission was launched with "minimal adviser input" and it came just three months after the AAF completed training to employ a laser-guided bomb.
U.S. and NATO trainers are helping the Afghan government to improve and expand its air force, which currently has about 8,000 members, with 129 aircraft total.
"That will grow to a force of 11,000; the fleet is expected to triple in size as part of President [Ashraf] Ghani's [national security] road map," according to the statement.
Pilots' skill increasing
U.S. Air Force Brigadier General Phillip Stewart, the general in charge of the effort, acknowledged growing capabilities of the AAF, saying it can effectively engage most of the enemy targets in Afghanistan using nonprecision weapons.
"The Afghan pilots have learned their trade during combat, and our advisers have expanded their skills in a deliberate, step-by-step approach, increasing the Afghan Air Force capability," he noted.
Battlefield activities are due to increase with the advent of spring in Afghanistan. U.S. military commanders anticipate Afghan ground and air forces will do a better job in the coming fighting season while battling the Taliban, who control or contest about 45 percent of the country.
The Afghan government, backed by the international community, also has renewed its efforts to find a negotiated end to the war and recently offered unconditional peace talks to the Taliban. The Taliban, however, have seemingly ignored the overture, raising fears of another bloody year in the 17-year-old war.