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Advisers say Afghan air force advancing, continuing to grow capability

By By Capt. Jeff M. Nagan, 438th Air Expeditionary Wing

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May 26, 2015 — KANDAHAR, Afghanistan, May 26, 2015 – Advisers to the Afghan air force say they see their host-nation counterparts assuming more and more responsibility as their capabilities grow.

As a subordinate command of NATO’s Resolute Support mission, U.S. airmen and soldiers are part of the Train, Advise, Assist Command – Air, or TAAC-Air, helping Afghanistan build a professional, capable and sustainable air force.

Members of TAAC-Air here work with the Afghan’s Kandahar Air Wing nearly each day to advise them in a variety of specialties, ranging from aircraft maintenance to security forces.

The U.S. advisers say the progress they see every day working with the Afghan air force is rewarding. “The one thing that motivates me is seeing them succeed,” said Staff Sgt. David Rasmussen, TAAC-Air Mi-17 flight engineer and gunnery adviser. “They’re succeeding, developing their own air force and fighting for themselves.”

From an operational perspective, the Kandahar Air Wing has taken on more responsibility, added Rasmussen, saying that they provide vital resupply, aerial fires and casualty evacuation in support of Afghan ground forces.

“It’s surprising how unafraid they are,” said Rasmussen, speaking about Afghan aircrews. “They’re bold in their maneuvering and their willingness to get close to the fight. They’re a great asset for Afghanistan. They’ll move heaven and earth to pull human remains out, and they’re starting to get to the point where they’re doing that for injured people as well.”

Additionally, aircrews have matured, in that they are considering everyone’s role and importance in accomplishing the mission, said Rasmussen. Although pilots are responsible for flying the aircraft, they have to depend on “backenders” to ensure it stays in the air.

“They’ve departed from the Russian mentality of flying, where the pilot knows all – now it’s a crew concept,” said Rasmussen. “The two enlisted guys in the back and the two pilots now work together as a team. The pilots realize that an aircraft operates as a whole, not as compartments, and they’re in just as much danger as the rest of the crew, and they’re worth as much.”

Not too long ago, Rasmussen said, Afghan pilots would make excuses for everything wrong with a mission, but today’s aircrews are accepting their limitations, inabilities and deficiencies and are actively working to correct them. This ownership creates a more competent and skillful pilot.

“They surprise me every day,” said Tech. Sgt. Sean Courtois, TAAC-Air Mi-17 maintenance adviser. “Maybe because you speak a different language, you don’t know what they’re thinking about. Everybody is so ready to tell them what to do. But most of the time they already know what they’re going to do.”

On the Mi-17 maintenance front, the Kandahar Air Wing is making strides, said Courtois. The Afghan maintainers are making progress toward maintenance autonomy.

“They definitely have the 50-hour inspection down,” said Courtois. “The 100-hour inspection is twice the time and twice the effort, and they’re able to almost do that by themselves.”

Many of the maintainers have been working on the Mi-17 for years, said Courtois. Other aircraft, such as the C-208, are relatively new in the Afghan air force, and it will take time for maintenance to mature.

In other areas, such as security forces, the Afghans require less advising, said Tech. Sgt. James Arent, TAAC-Air security forces adviser. However, advisers look for opportunities to expand their capabilities.

Just a few weeks ago, while senior Afghan security forces officers were on a mission, TAAC-Air advisers provided training to the remaining noncommissioned officers, who in turn provided training to their subordinates.

“We did a quick lesson over vehicle searches,” said Arent. “We had an NCO teach his soldiers how to conduct searches on the vehicles. That was a pretty big success.”

“Ultimately, the goal of TAAC-Air advisors is to work themselves out of job, having the Afghan air force stand on its own as a professional and capable military,” said Courtois.

“If we do a good enough job here, and we’re able to ensure they’re self-sufficient, it’s preventing additional Americans from having to come over here and put their lives in danger,” said Arent. “If I get up every day and put my uniform on and do the best I can, there’s a possibility that someone else doesn’t have to come over here.”

Besides the U.S., other nations contributing forces to NATO’s TAAC-Air, whose mission spans Afghanistan, include the Czech Republic, Denmark, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Romania, and Turkey, according to the Resolute Support website.

Aircraft flown by the Afghan air force include the Mi-17 Hip transport helicopter; the Mi-35 Hind attack helicopter; the MD-530 Cayuse Warrior light attack helicopter; the C-130 Hercules medium lift aircraft; and the Cessna 208B Grand Caravan basic trainer and light lift aircraft.