Afghanistan's new A-29 Super Tucano ground attack aircraft have increasingly been used against Taliban targets, but only with unguided "dumb" bombs, an official said.
The single-prop A-29s and the new MD-530 helicopters, both supplied by the U.S., were part of the "new capabilities" of the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces that have improved their performance over last year, when the Taliban took over several districts and briefly overran the provincial capital of Kunduz, said Army Gen. Charles Cleveland.
"We are cautiously optimistic about the coming months because overall we do believe that they have some momentum right now," said Cleveland, the main spokesman for U.S. Forces-Afghanistan and NATO's Resolute Support mission, in a video briefing this week from Kabul to the Pentagon.
"We do believe that the ANDSF has performed better this year than they were performing last year," he said, referring to the Afghan forces. "They are getting better in employing their newer capabilities."
Currently, there are eight A-29s in Afghanistan but only four "have reached their initial operating capability. So as of about the first of April, those four aircraft were certified to begin conducting close air support operations," Cleveland said.
"The other four are still going through their train-up period. I don't know exactly when they will become active, but we think it will be sometime in June," he said.
Cleveland said he had no firm statistics on the number of airstrikes conducted by the A-29s, or estimates on their effectiveness, "but I would characterize it as they are conducting multiple strikes a week. When I say multiple, we're not talking double digits, but they are certainly conducting two, three, four strikes at this point every week, maybe even more."
Last week, Afghanistan's Khaama Press, citing Afghan National Army sources, said two Taliban commanders and 15 other insurgents were killed in airstrikes by A-29s in eastern Kunar province.
"At this point, they are not using precision-guided munitions," Cleveland said of the A-29s, "but that certainly is in the forecast and we expect to see that in the coming months."
The A-29s began arriving in Afghanistan in January as part of a U.S.-funded $427 million contract calling for a total of 20 A-29s to be delivered to Afghanistan by 2018.
Eight Afghan Air Force pilots completed training late last year on the A-29s with U.S. pilots from the 81st Fighter Squadron at Moody Air Force Base in Georgia. The A-29s, which were designed for close air support, carry a 20mm cannon below the fuselage, one 12.7mm machine gun under each wing and can also fire 70mm rockets and launch precision-guided bombs.
--Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.