KABUL, Afghanistan –
The Afghan Airforce is set to expand, helping to provide the foundation and an enduring mechanism for superior power projection for the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces.
Gen. John Nicholson, Resolute Support commander, recently visited visited Train, Advise, Assist Command – Air to assess the impact and progress of the AAF in the war against terrorism.
Surrounded by the powerful Afghan airframes on display, Nicholson spoke to aircrew members and maintainers on how their combat success translates into the security not only of Afghanistan but of the world.
“You are the future of Afghanistan,” Nicholson expressed. “This is not a war just for Afghanistan. You are all fighting to protect the world. The terrorists you fight here are a threat not only to you and your families, they are a threat to all of us. This is the reason why we are with you, and we are honored to serve along you.”
The AAF has been described by coalition leaders as the shining star in the war against terrorism, conducting airstrikes every day, and often engaging in operations independently from coalition forces.
“The strategic, operational and tactical value that the AAF brings to the fight is unprecedented. For example, in 2016, within only 10 months, they surpassed the total missions from the previous year. Right now, they are on pace to meet or exceed the total missions from 2016,” explained Brig. Gen. Phillip A. Stewart, TACC-Air commander, during the mission brief to Nicholson and Afghan leadership.
Minister of Defense Maj. Gen. Tariq Shah Bahrami and the Minister of Interior Taj Muhammad Jahid were also present during the briefing and tour of the AAF aircrafts.
“Your contribution is crucial, providing timely support during combat operations,” Bahramee said. “Today’s visit and your daily performance showcase that you are well prepared to face the enemy and to counter their attacks.”
With help from 13 nations, mainly Czech Republic, Hungary, Croatia, the U.S. and Slovakia, the Afghan airlift capability and power projection include both fixed and rotary wing assets. These airframes empower them to function at full capacity, managing their own air logistic support and strike missions.
Their airpower includes the Mi-17 (for air transport of troops and cargo, medical evacuations, and attack), the A-29 (a strike aircraft), the MD-530 (a small attack helicopter), the C-130 (airlift), and the C-208 (airlift with airdrop capability), explained German Lt. Col. Nikolaus Nanasi, MoD Air Advisor.
He also added that the AAF is projected to expand and will include new capabilities such as the AC-208, an aircraft which, for the first time, will provide the AAF an organic intelligence surveillance reconnaissance capability. Also, they will be empowered with 159 new UH-60 Blackhawks and additional A-29s and MD-530s.
During the visit, the leadership also discussed the progression and proficiency of Afghan pilots.
The normal process to train an Afghan pilot takes seven years, Nanasi explained. It includes recruitment, standardized testing, combat military training, and officer school. The next steps include basic pilot training, transition training to learn how to fly, and qualifying training at a squadron to learn how to fight.
Once they are assigned to a squadron, pilots complete several qualifications to progress from being a copilot, to flight lead, to becoming a pilot in command. Some of these qualifications varied from employment of weapons to emergency landing.
“We are stealing a time margin building pilots in shorter time. We are recruiting them directly from officer school, employing an aggressive, advise and assist plan, and we are conducting part-task training, concentrating efforts on the specific areas they will be performing,” explained TACC-Air Command Chief Master Sergeant Shane R. Wagner.
The visit ended with leaders touring several airframes on display.
“This is a promising visit, showing the progress we are looking for … standing shoulder to shoulder makes a difference,” Jahid concluded.