Afghan Air Force Struggles to Stay Aloft as U.S. Leaves and Taliban Advances


KABUL—First Lt. Ali Rezaie stood by a gutted Black Hawk helicopter in a hangar at the Afghan Air Force headquarters, explaining why the aircraft is broken and can’t be flown.

The Black Hawk was damaged in June in combat against the Taliban in Kandahar, its fuel bladder shot up with holes. Afghan aircraft mechanics known as maintainers patched the leaks well enough to fly it back to Kabul, where it has sat for weeks in need of more serious repair. Soon, American contractors will replace the fuel cell and the helicopter will be off and running again.

But Lt. Rezaie, who leads a small unit of Afghan Black Hawk helicopter mechanics, says when the American contractors depart as expected in coming weeks, a helicopter in need of this level of repair may not get fixed. The contractors’ know-how will disappear, and the morale boost they brought to the hangar each day will be gone, too.

“Right now, they are here, it’s OK, everything is cool,” Lt. Rezaie said of the U.S. contractors. “The aircraft is getting repaired and getting fixed. But once they leave, when we are confronted with major issues that are above our knowledge, that’s a problem.”

President Biden said in April that the U.S. was removing not only all its combat forces but also the thousands of contractors who have quietly supported American troops for years.

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