Afghan Air Force Getting its Wings, NATO Commander Says

By Terri Moon Cronk
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 21, 2010 - Building a professional, independent and capable air force to keep Afghanistan secure is well on its way to completion by 2014, a NATO commander said today from Kabul.

Calling the new Afghan air force a work in progress, Air Force Brig. Gen. David W. Allvin, NATO Air Training Command-Afghanistan commander, told Pentagon reporters that his work is nearly halfway completed.

With a force of 400 strong, he said, Afghan airmen will eventually total 8,000. The air force now has 56 aircraft, and Allvin expects to build the force to 146 old and new planes and helicopters.

Also the commander of the 438th Air Expeditionary Wing, Allvin said the United States and nine other countries are partnered to teach Afghans to fly and teach them English, the "global common language of airmen."

Advisers from the 10 countries are assigned to one of three wings to work with Afghan airmen in Kabul, Kandahar and Shindand.

The wing in Kabul is the most mature and the largest, Allvin said.

Kandahar's wing is still growing, but is becoming "mission capable," he added.

And Shindand is the only wing that will have its own runway belonging to the Afghan National Security Forces, Allvin said. Kabul and Kandahar share a runway.

Shindand also is home for Afghan air force rotary-wing and fixed-wing aircraft training. Allvin pointed out its importance: "This offers the capacity and capability for the Afghans to sustain their air force by having organic pilot training capability."

By 2014, the Afghan air force inventory is expected to comprise nine Mi-35's and 20 C-27's, Allvin said. Additionally, by then, there are to be six rotary-wing trainers and six fixed-wing trainers at Shindand and various locations that will have the light-lift capability, he said.

Also expected, the commander said, is other close-air support assets to support the Afghan National Army in its counterinsurgency fight.

Last week, Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan, and Afghan President Hamid Karzai were doing a battlefield circulation, Allvin said, and the entire operation was run by the Afghan air force and presidential airlift squadron.

"It was a seven-ship formation, very complex, and all the trappings of a complicated mission, including low visibility, high winds, very fluid changes," he said. "But through it all, the Afghan air force performed in a professional and precise manner and executed the mission very well."

The elite presidential airlift squadron has made so much progress, it's "on track to take over the lead for all of the core capabilities for that squadron by this spring," Allvin said.

That's the sort of progress, he added, that he expects to expand throughout the Afghan air force.

While still relatively small, the fledgling Afghan air force is "doing something that no other air force in the world can do," which is "legitimizing" the Afghan government, Allvin said.

"Whether that is through saving lives in flood-relief operations, delivering backpacks to school children, or delivering and retrieving ballots in support of the parliamentary elections," he said, "when that aircraft has an Afghan tail flash on it and it's operated by Afghans, that has a positive impact on the public's perception of their government.

"I've got to believe it's got a little more impact when the Afghan people see it's one of their own doing those missions," he added.

Allvin said it takes time to build an air force -- much longer than ground forces -- but that "doesn't mean that they aren't actually delivering and significant progress isn't being made."

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