KABUL: A US F-16 was struck by enemy fire in Afghanistan, military officials said on Monday, in a rare instance of an advanced fighter jet coming under a Taliban-claimed attack. The multimillion dollar aircraft sustained significant damage, forcing it to drop its fuel tanks and munitions before returning to base.
The attack took place in the Sayid Karam district of eastern Paktia province, much of which is under the control of Taliban, who have been waging an insurgency against the US-led Nato forces and government troops since being ousted from power in 2001.
The militant group, in a statement posted on Twitter, claimed they had downed the jet. When contacted for comment, the US military initially said it had no “operational reporting to support the Taliban claims”.
Photographs of the site obtained by AFP and seen by J. Chacko, an open-source military analyst based in London, indicate the jet lost two “drop-tanks” – fuel tanks used to extend flight time, an air-to-ground missile and two other unguided bombs. They also show masked militants posing with the hardware.
The US military confirmed the attack on Saturday.
The Taliban have shot down several military helicopters using small-arms fire, but never an F-16 – an advanced jet capable of supersonic speeds and reaching heights of 50,000 feet. The jets have been deployed in Afghanistan since the beginning of the US-led military invasion in 2001.
Chacko, as well as two other military analysts contacted by AFP, said the jet would have had to be flying very close to the ground to be struck by Taliban fire – perhaps as low as a few hundred feet.
Small arms fire can reach a maximum height of around 1,500 metres, another analyst said.
Minister defends bombing
Meanwhile, Afghanistan’s acting defence minister has defended the recent bombing of an MSF-run hospital in Kunduz, claiming the facility was being used by insurgents as a “safe place”.
The hospital was bombed by a US gunship on October 3. The attack left at least 22 people dead and wounded many more.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 20th, 2015.