On Friday, the U.S. Air Force announced an $86 million deal with an American defense contractor Orbital ATK to supply single-engine, turboprop AC-208 airplanes to the Kabul government. The aircraft — dubbed the Eliminator — are designed to deploy with precision-guided munitions and surveillance systems, making them purpose-built for hunting down small groups of insurgent fighters, Breaking Defense reported.
Equipped to carry four AGM-114 Hellfire missiles and two 70mm rocket pods capable of carrying a variety of precision rockets, the Eliminator will head into the fight alongside the A-29 Super Tucano aircraft that Afghan pilots already operate, allowing the two planes to team up while allowing the pilots to be in contact with the thousands of American troops freshly deployed to the war to help the government push back against two years of insurgent gains, in part by helping guide bombs onto targets.
A solicitation posted in December to a government web site said the Air Force was looking for seven AC-208s for transfer to the Afghan government, though Orbital declined to put a number on the contract, referring all questions to the Air Force. The Eliminator is based on the unarmed C-208B Grand Caravan aircraft, 24 of which are already being flown by the Afghans in training, transport, and surveillance roles. The deal is being wholly funded by the United States, with $42.3 million from fiscal 2017 funds being used as the initial funding mechanism
Small aircraft like the Afghan air force’s 12 A-29s — they’ll have 25 in the coming years — and the AC-208 are likely to be highly valuable in this kind of fight, given their slow speeds, new communications gear, and precision munitions allowing them to identify and single out targets in a confused landscape.
The Afghans have been conducting about 40 strikes a week, almost double the roughly 25 strikes American aircraft perform, Maj. Gen. James Hecker, commander of the air war in Kabul told reporters at the Pentagon last month.
In 2017, more bombs were dropped on Afghanistan than all of 2015 and 2016 combined. But a United Nations report released last month reported that the civilian casualty rate increased just seven percent in 2017 from the previous year, reaching 631 civilian casualties, including 295 dead. In response, spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition in Kabul, Capt. Tom Gresback told me, “we do not agree with that estimate,” putting the count at 19 civilians dead, and 32 wounded as result of US/Afghan airstrikes.