Should the United States and NATO consider deploying their current airpower in Afghanistan more assertively? In a May 21 Wall Street Journal op-ed, that’s what retired general and former Afghanistan commander David Petraeus and I contend. Under current rules of engagement, their airpower is used only against al-Qaida or ISIS targets, or when NATO troops are in imminent danger—or, in extremis, when there is a strategic threat to the mission from Taliban attack. As a result of this and other factors, the employment of ordnance by U.S. airpower in Afghanistan is far less than in Iraq and Syria—perhaps by a factor of 20 less, in fact.
But the Taliban can and should be targeted more comprehensively in Afghanistan. An American drone strike over the weekend in the Pakistani province of Baluchistan killed the leader of the Afghan Taliban, Mullah Akhtar Mohammed Mansour. That’s welcome news, since the organization he led is the group that allowed al-Qaida to use Afghan bases to prepare the 9/11 attacks; they continue to kill many innocent Afghan and NATO troops, including with horrific attacks in Kabul and elsewhere; they continue to favor draconian measures if they are ever able to regain power in Afghanistan in the future; and they remain a serious threat to the Afghan government and people. The fight against them is far from lost, but the Afghan military’s airpower remains underdeveloped and in need of considerable help from the United States and NATO for at least a couple more years.