Call it the case of the marooned military mechanics of Fort Riley, Kansas.
The commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan said Thursday that an Army aviation brigade deployed to Afghanistan last year without its mechanics because of the 8,400-troop ceiling on U.S. forces.
Army Gen. John Nicholson, commander of U.S. Forces-Afghanistan and NATO's Resolute Support mission, said he had to hire contractors at greater expense to taxpayers to make up for each soldier mechanic that the 1st Combat Aviation Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, had to leave behind.
"We left their mechanics back in Fort Riley and substituted contract mechanics" to work on the brigade's AH-64 Apache, UH-60 Black Hawk, and CH-47 Chinook helicopters, Nicholson said in response to questions from Sen. Deb Fischer, a Nebraska Republican, at a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee on the progress of the Afghan war.
Nicholson said the military had to hire two contractors for every soldier mechanic left behind to keep the brigade flying. The troop ceiling also resulted in the Fort Riley mechanics "not having an opportunity to do their jobs."
"This is one of the issues we've put on the table" in ongoing discussions with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford on the possibility of boosting troop levels in Afghanistan, with either additional U.S. or NATO troops, Nicholson said.
Other senators at the hearing focused on numerous instances cited in a recent report of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction of U.S. overreliance on contractors.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat, cited SIGAR figures showing that the U.S. is spending $13 million daily in Afghanistan.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.