The U.S. is planning to deliver an undisclosed number of CH-47 Chinook helicopters to an elite special operations unit of the Afghan military, according to a Defense Department report.
The December 2019 report titled “Enhancing Security and Stability in Afghanistan" announced that the U.S. military would provide CH-47s to Afghanistan’s Special Mission Wing to replace the units aging Russian Mi-17 helicopters by 2023.
There were no other details in the report regarding the plan to provide the Chinook’s to the Afghan military.
“As a matter of policy, the Defense Department does not comment on or confirm potential or pending arms sales or transfers before the U.S. Congress has been formally notified," Lt. Col. Thomas Campbell, a Pentagon spokesman, told Military Times in an emailed statement.
Success of the Afghan Air Force will be a key metric for Pentagon planners seeking to draw down U.S. troops in the country. The U.S. is still bearing most of the burden of air support for Afghan troops.
The Special Mission Wing supports Afghan Special Security Forces, or ASSF, and other Afghan forces with night time raids, casualty evacuations and reconnaissance operations.
The DoD says the SMW is the only unit under Afghan security forces with “night-vision and rotary-wing air assault capabilities.”
The DoD hinted it was planning to replace the SMWs aging Mi-17 transport helicopters with U.S. rotary wing assets in its fiscal year 2020 budget request for training and building Afghan forces.
The CH-47s will provide Afghan forces with a heavy lift helicopter and troop transport to ferry Afghan commandos and special operators on daring night time raids and counterterrorism missions.
It’s unknown what variant of the CH-47 Afghan forces will receive. The U.S. Army has been known to operate the MH-47, a special operations variant of the CH-47, to carry American commandos and partner forces on raids against ISIS and Taliban targets.
The DoD has described Afghanistan’s ASSF force as the most competent force within Afghan security forces. The unit carries out the majority of offensive operations in Afghanistan.
“The Afghanistan Special Security Forces (ASSF) remain the most capable force in the ANDSF [Afghanistan National Defense and Security Forces] and continue to grow in their effectiveness,” the DoD report reads.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani pushed a roadmap in 2016 to double the size of the ASSF.
While the SMW is receiving new U.S. Chinooks, the DoD also announced it was cutting its UH-60 Black Hawk program.
The U.S. military intended to provide Afghanistan with 159 Black Hawks, and has since capped the number at 53, according to the DoD report.
The U.S. military also cut the number of armed fixed-wing AC-208 attack and reconnaissance aircraft it originally planned to deliver from 32 to 10. AC-208 Eliminator gunships — which made its debut in Kabul in February 2019 — provides ground and precision attack armed with the Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System rockets.
“These reductions were made on the basis of a review of future operational requirements,” the report reads.
The Black Hawk helicopters are intended to replace the Afghan Air Force’s Mi-17 helicopter fleet.
The SMW is also slated to receive a number of UH-60s.
There are roughly 13,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, but the White House and Pentagon are considering drawing down the U.S. footprint to 8,600.
Peace negotiations between the Taliban and U.S. are ongoing to end the 18-year long war.