Arthur J. Villasanta – Fourth Estate Contributor
Washington, DC, United States (4E) – The war against Taliban terrorists in Afghanistan has turned for the worse since the United States withdrew most of its combat forces in 2014. As of August 2017, the Taliban was estimated to control 13% of the country’s 407 districts. They’re also the biggest producers of opium in Afghanistan.
Absent any re-commitment of its ground troops, the U.S. has decided to boost the number of General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper hunter/killer aerial drones deployed to Afghanistan and operated by the U.S. Air Force,, both to attack Taliban military targets and opium laboratories.
The Air Force has announced that its force of MQ-9 Reapers at Kandahar Airfield is now the largest deployment of the type to a single base ever. It said there are now nearly three squadrons of Reapers at Kandahar, but refused to give specific numbers.
Some of the MQ-9s are the newer Block 5 version, which carry an external fuel tank that allows the drone to fly even further or loiter over a target area for a longer period of time.
The large scale deployment of Reapers has triggered a need for more close air support and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance aircraft “to make sure that they can accomplish their mission successfully,” said Air Force Maj. Gen. James Hecker, who is charge of both U.S. and other coalition air forces in the country.
In addition to the drones, the Air Force has deployed Republic Fairchild A-10 Warthog ground attack aircraft and Sikorsky HH-60G Pave Hawk combat search and rescue helicopters to Kandahar.
The large number of Reapers will give the U.S. military and Afghan and coalition partners a better ability to monitor the Taliban along Afghanistan’s dangerous border with Pakistan.
The Reapers carry precision guided bombs and missiles, allowing them to engage any targets they’re aimed at. This gives commanders a better chance of attacking fleeting time-sensitive targets such as small groups of terrorists meeting together or planting IEDs.
“We’re going after the enemy, we’re going after the vehicles they use, we’re going after the buildings that they try to hide from us in,” said U.S. Air Force Colonel Stephen Jones. He added that he can put a Hellfire missile “right into somebody’s chest if I needed.”
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