New chapter in Afghanistan could boost air power, WPAFB

Flight nursing student Capt. Shauntel Haas, left, listens to flight nurse instructor Capt. Allen Potter as they train in the back of a C-130 Hercules at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in early 2017. Military personnel at the base received aeromedical evacuation training with hands-on simulation techniques. TY GREENLEES / STAFF
Caption
Flight nursing student Capt. Shauntel Haas, left, listens to flight nurse instructor Capt. Allen Potter as they train in the back of a C-130 Hercules at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in early 2017. Military personnel at the base received aeromedical evacuation training with hands-on simulation techniques. TY GREENLEES / STAFF

President Donald Trump is set to visit Fort Myer in Arlington, Va. tonight for an announcement on his military plans for Afghanistan and South Asia.

What could this mean for Wright-Patterson Air Force Base?

Defense Secretary James Mattis indicated over the weekend that the president had made a decision regarding how to go forward in the nearly 16-year-old war, but he said Trump will decide when and where to make his announcement.

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“He wants to be the one to announce it to the American people,” Mattis said. “He now needs the weekend to collect his thoughts on how he’s going to explain it to the American people.”

Loren Thompson, a defense analyst with the Arlington, Va.-based Lexington Institute — someone who is familiar with Wright-Patterson Air Force Base — said a greater reliance on air power in that theater may strengthen the base.

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Wright-Patterson is where the Air Force’s logistics efforts, and much of its research work, is anchored. The base is also Ohio’s largest single-site employer, with about 27,000 civilian employees and military personnel with a direct payroll of $2.2 billion and an estimated $4.3 billion total regional economic impact.

“Wright-Patt is the nerve center for all Air Force weapons purchases,” Thompson said. “That means it will preside over the buying of munitions, such as smart bombs, for the fight.”

He does not expect Trump’s announcement to necessarily entail a “big boost” for Air Force requirements. But he added: “Clearly, air power is one advantage we have that few other countries — really, no other countries — can match. So it’s the logical foot to lead with, if you aren’t going to leave (Afghanistan).

He compared the war in Afghanistan to the one in Vietnam, when Americans saw that the war would go on for a “long time,” and they wanted locals to do the fighting.

“Trump probably will try to avoid suffering a military defeat, which is what would happen if the U.S. pulled out entirely,” Thompson said.

But he believes the president also wants to remove as many troops out of the line of fire as possible. “So that points to air power as the most obvious option.”

Added Thompson: “I think Trump knows that victory is not likely.”

The Afghan government suffers from widespread corruption, he said. “For that reason, that Taliban retains a lot of support among the people.”

From the start, Wright-Patterson has supported the war in Afghanistan in multiple ways, supporting the Air Force inventory there, mobilizing airmen from the 445th Airlift Wing, an Air Force Reserve unit, and other actions.

A message seeking comment was sent to a base spokesman.

As of last October, there have been nearly 2,400 U.S. military deaths in Afghanistan.