Georgia Republicans on Capitol Hill have succeeded in saving a military base from the chopping block by awarding it a new mission: training Afghan bomber pilots to rain fire and steel from the sky on U.S. soil.
The Pentagon announced last Friday that 30 Afghan Air Force pilots and their maintenance crews would train at Moody Air Force Base, a sleepy installation outside Valdosta, near the Florida-Georgia border. Moody's workforce was threatened by the military's plan to phase out its A-10 tank-killing aircraft, which has a major presence at the base.
But the plan to train Afghan pilots—whose homeland's topography bears little resemblance to the swampy red-earth lowlands of Georgia and Florida—ensures the base will stay open a while longer.
Moody won the training mission over two other U.S. bases in South Carolina and Idaho. It's unclear why Pentagon planners never seriously considered training the pilots in their native Afghanistan, though safety and security in the country might have been an issue. The Afghan Air Force has also been investigated by multiple U.S. federal agencies for allegedly "using aircraft to ferry narcotics and illegal weapons around the country."
Multiple Georgia congressmen and both of Georgia's senators—including Saxby Chambliss, an influential member of the Senate Armed Services Committee—had pushed hard for Moody to get the Afghan bomber training in recent months.
"I can think of few better missions for Moody Air Force base than to assist these men and women as they prepare to defend their new democracy through the A-29 LAS program," Chambliss said in June, referring to the Afghans' preferred light bomber aircraft, the mosquito-like A-29 propeller plane. "We cannot abandon Afghanistan at a critical point in its history, and this plan ensures our airmen can conduct this important training mission from the safety of one of our premier U.S. bases. I'm proud Georgia is doing its part in this mission."
Neither Chambliss nor his fellow Republican senator, Johnny Isakson, expressed any concern over how the Afghans selected to train in America might be vetted. U.S.-trained Afghan soldiers and police officers have killed hundreds of Americans and fellow Afghans in uniform in so-called "insider attacks," with two high-profile cases this month claiming the lives of a two-star U.S. general and 11 Afghan cops.
In a 2012 Senate Armed Services hearing, one colleague of Chambliss'—Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.)—grilled the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, Marine Gen. John Allen, with nine tough questions about those "green on blue" and "green on green" attacks and what the military was doing to reduce them.
Chambliss voiced no such concerns in that hearing, instead using his question time to ask Allen about whether the U.S. and its Afghan allies had enough "air asset support."
[Royal Air Force Flight Lieutenant Genevieve Rolleston-Smith helps to train an Afghan Air Force recruit. Photo credit: Sergeant Barry Pope, Crown Copyright 2013]