You can see how this capability could be essential in the current situation, where even a warning strafing run can be carefully applied to keep the enemy at bay or taking out small groups of fighters that are very near civilians without large numbers of innocent lives lost. They can do all this in the black of night and with ferocious frequency, as well.
Simply put, there are no other aircraft in the inventory, or crews so highly trained, that can deliver this level of exacting and close-up and personal close air support and do so repeatedly, with rapid follow-ups, as needed. For protecting a perimeter of an airport deep within a sprawling urban area, this capability could mean the difference between the entire mission failing in spectacular fashion and not.
Only second to the 160th SOAR in terms of precision close air support are the few AH-64E Apaches at Kabul’s airport and the AC-130 gunships that have been circling high overhead. However, they cannot really compare to what the Night Stalkers can do in terms of surgical application of airpower in an urban area when it is needed most. At the most basic level, they are limited by their high-explosive armament compared to the far more flexible, lighter weaponry carried by the DAPs and AH-6s.
Finally, the relatively large contingent of Night Stalkers now at Kabul’s airport also provides the ability to execute complex special operations missions, especially rescuing key personnel, outside the perimeter of the airport. Loaded up with special operators, they have the ability to go out and hit targets with extreme violence of action and save individuals from falling into the Taliban’s clutches. In fact, this may have actually already have happened at least once. The U.S. official says it is not conducting personnel recovery and evacuation operations outside of the airport, even though France and Britain are, but this may need to change as the Taliban are making it hell for people trying to reach the airport. This reality will likely only get worse, not better, as the evacuation crawls on and the Taliban become more settled in and emboldened.
The reconfigurable MH-60s and MH-6s are both capable of supporting these operations, but the MH-47s are especially well suited for them and can recover many people at once, if need be.
Finally, the Night Stalkers have the ability to operate in dense urban areas, which are filled with dangers for helicopter crews, unlike any other flying unit on earth. This exact mission is why they tirelessly train all around some of America’s biggest cities, landing on high-rises, executing mock assaults on complex facilities, and flying blacked-out down city streets. These constant urban training operations cause a lot of public concern and even outright protest, especially from the ‘black helicopter’ conspiracy theory crowd, but this deployment to Kabul under these extremely high-stakes circumstances is a glaring example of why they do that training and why it is so indispensable.
The U.S. special operations community has known for some time now that future battles will be fought in “megacities” and that they have to train for the litany of dangers they represent. Should the evacuation go south for any reason, the vision of battles to come could morph into reality.
With any luck, the Night Stalkers will help keep the Taliban at bay and, if ordered to do so, will be able to go out and help grab Americans and our friends who absolutely cannot make it through the Taliban’s gauntlet in order to find salvation at the airport. Beyond that, they and the special operators they taxi around are likely to be the last U.S. servicepeople to set foot on Afghan soil when the current nightmare of a situation finally comes to an end.
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