Afghan Air Force hurt by inoperable aircraft - Afghan lawmakers

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - One-third of the Afghan Air Force's aircraft are inoperable and it has run out of U.S.-made precision-guided rockets amid a massive drop in U.S.-led airstrikes, hampering Kabul's efforts to halt Taliban advances, Afghan lawmakers said on Friday.

U.S.-provided airpower was intended to give Kabul a major advantage over the insurgents with the withdrawal of U.S.-led foreign troops. But Kabul's loss of aircraft and depletion of precision-guided rockets, as well as Taliban assassinations of pilots, are eroding that edge, the lawmakers said.

"We need more support for the AF (Afghan Air Force)," Haji Ajmal Rahmani, the Afghan parliament majority whip and son of the lower house speaker, told a webinar sponsored by the State Department Correspondents Association.

One-third of the fleet of about 160 aircraft is inoperable because of a spare parts shortage or the departure of Pentagon maintenance contractors, he said.

Mir Haidar Afzali, the parliamentary defense committee chairman, said the Taliban have shot down some Russian-made helicopters.

Other aircraft, he said, have reached their lifespan limits, and the Taliban have assassinated more than 10 Afghan pilots.

U.S. President Joe Biden ordered U.S. forces out of Afghanistan after 20 years of war. He says the withdrawal will be completed by Aug. 31, but Washington will continue providing Kabul with security and civilian aid.

The Taliban have made significant territorial gains. That and a lack of progress in U.S.-backed peace talks is fueling fears that the insurgents will recapture power and reimpose their harsh interpretation of Islamist rule.

"If those aircraft cannot fly and cannot target the gatherings of Taliban and then the Taliban become stronger and they storm into the cities, they will create a terrible situation for women," said Naheed Farid, a lawmaker from Herat, who called the insurgents "the army of darkness."

Before the U.S. drawdown, Rahmani said, the United States and its allies staged 80-90% of daily airstrikes against the Taliban. The Afghan Air Force conducted the rest, which determined their allocation of precision-guided munitions, he continued.

It has been unable to make up the gap left by the U.S. pullout, which included the withdrawal of some 40 drones, he said.

The Afghan Air Force needs drones and has requested more rockets, but was told that it will take time to produce and ship them, he said.

The lawmakers spoke a day after the Pentagon announced that the United States staged airstrikes in support of Afghan security forces.

(Reporting by Jonathan Landay; Editing by Giles Elgood)

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