President Obama announced the United States will be keeping more troops than expected in Afghanistan for 2017. But the number of troops the United States is keeping in Afghanistan is more ambiguous than just a number.
The United States will now keep 8,400 troops in Afghanistan through 2017, President Obama announced July 6. Originally, the United States wanted to drawdown its troop numbers to 5,500 by that time.
However, a top Army official said the drawdown of troops in Afghanistan may actually be costing the American taxpayers more money.
The United States is spending $100 million this year on private contractors to maintain U.S. aircraft in Afghanistan, a job military aircraft maintenance workers can do for a fraction of the price.
Due to troop caps in Afghanistan, the military has kept aircraft maintenance workers in the United States so it could send combat troops overseas and still meet the troop caps, said Lt. Gen. Kevin Mangum, deputy commanding general at U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command.
In 2015 “the 101st Combat Aviation Brigade deployed to Afghanistan with just over 800 Soldiers of the brigade’s authorized strength of more than 2,800 personnel,” Mangum said at a July 6 House Armed Services Committee hearing. The Army left 2,000 of those troops at home. A large swath of them were maintenance crews for aircraft, Mangum said.
“The limited number of the brigade’s maintainers that deployed only performed minimal tasks required for launch and recovery of aircraft and did not conduct any scheduled or unscheduled maintenance. As a result, contractors provided all maintenance support throughout the deployment. This trend continues today with the current aviation brigade in theater,” Mangum said.
One of the companies providing the maintenance service is DynCorp International, which was awarded a $65 million contract in March to provide Army Aviation field and sustainment services.
A job listing for a full time aircraft mechanic at DynCorp International in Kandahar, Afghanistan posted on June 16 lists some duties as:
-Reading and interpreting manufacturers’ and maintenance manuals, service bulletins, and other specifications to determine feasibility and method of repairing or replacing malfunctioning or damaged components.
-Examining engines for oil leaks, and listens to operating engine to detect and diagnose malfunctions.
-Inspecting turbine blades to detect cracks, breaks or damage.
In response to Mangum’s comments, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) released a statement on the President’s troop level shift.
It is time that the President level with the American people about what it will really take to achieve our goals in Afghanistan, and how much it will cost. The truth is that many thousands more Americans are performing military functions in Afghanistan than even the current troop cap authorizes. The President refuses to pay for them, and his budget does not have room for the troops he is committing,” Thornberry’s statement read.
Meanwhile, Mangum said when the maintainers are at home while the pilots and gunners are overseas they “are not doing a whole lot of maintenance.
“We are building a deficit of experience and expertise in our formations as a result,” Mangum said.
His opening statement went into more detail.
“Evidence of reduced maintenance proficiency is clear. Combat Aviation Brigades are not meeting readiness rates (not a parts issue or resource issue); they are struggling to maintain adequate combat power to meet training requirements and our noncommissioned officers who are attending Professional Military Education have significantly less knowledge and experience in maintenance management than we previously saw 2-3 years ago. This is causing increased operating costs due to a lack of troubleshooting and is increasing the risk of maintaining fully airworthy aircraft.”
Other military services are hurting for experienced maintenance crews as well.
The Air Force has turned to contractors to make up for the lack of maintenance manpower in non-deploying locations. The Air Force is in need of 4,000 maintainers, Gen. David Goldfein told senators during his nomination hearing to be Chief of Staff of the Air Force last month.
Maintainers need to be trained and when maintainers first come aboard they are only cleared to do basic work. It takes up to two years to get them fully trained and up to five years before they are supervisors, Goldfein said.